My Personal Story - my interview with Anxious times magazine UK
How old are you and whereabouts in the country do you live?
I'm 28 years old female and I'm based in the UK, I have a degree in philosophy and I'm now a stay a home mum.
Can you remember whether there was something which triggered you to start picking 14 years ago?
I remember having a lot of anxiety and stress from a young age. My parents separated when I was 6, it wasn't a pleasant divorce, I was an only child. I was actually a very good child, well what I remember. I was very quiet and studious. I used to dig my nails into my skin when I was scared as young as 4.
I also had a extremely tough time at primary school. I moved primary schools when my parents split up. But we moved to a completely new town about 2 hours away from where i grew up. Although I didn't know what anxiety meant or hadn't even heard the term, I am sure I've always suffered with it. I moved from Yorkshire to the north-west between 6 and 7 and I remember being scared and worried to go to school mainly between the ages of 6 and 11. I was badly bullied, both psychically and mentally. I remember thinking there was something wrong with me. Why would I get bullied? I assumed it was because of the way I looked. Maybe because I was pale, skinny and shy and only had one friend at a time. I suppose all the pain I felt as a young age, must of contributed to my picking. I internalised my pain and took it out on myself.
I finally got a bit more confidence at secondary school, however this is when my Dermatillomania started. (Some of my memories aren't very pleasant of my picking, and I understand if you can't publish these) going into to much graphic detail. People in my family picked a great deal, in some form you could say I learnt the behaviour. Before spent a lot of time looking in the mirror practising putting makeup on, it was the 90's so i spent a lot of time over plucking my eyebrows, I was so obsessed i went into my skin I still have a very distinct scar on my eyebrow. I can't remember how it got so bad. but when I was 14/15 years old and we'd moved in with my step dad, I was doing my GSCEs I picked so badly I used tweezers and my sharp nails to pick one area on my body. So badly that i couldn't stop I went through layers and layers of skin, and it couldn't stop it bleeding. I felt like there was something under my skin I had to get out. I assume I'd found the subcutaneous fat it was white and a hair follical as it was hard and I had to pull it out. After I'd scratched at the hard bit I can't remember if I got it out but I was sat in the bath for 2 hours. I realise now that I was the start, as I was doing real damage and I couldn't stop, I was obsessed. I had a lot of time to my self as I would eat on my own in my bedroom. There was about 8 mirrors in our house and every time I was on my own and looked in a mirror I'd pick to the point my legs would go numb or I'd get pins and needles. It didn't seem to affect my social life at the point but at sixth form I became very flaky, i'd miss classes, miss meeting with friends but I still managed to get my A-levels. My new friends a college were pretty accepting of my marked arms and face but they didn't know I did it to my self, I wasn't a spotty person, not ever I'd just pick any skin. When It first started 14 years ago I had know Idea there was a name for it Excoriation Disorder/ Dermatillomania I just thought I was really weird and felt very guilty.
You mention that you were wrongly diagnosed – can you tell me bit about that – what did psychiatrists think it was, and when were you finally diagnosed with Dermatillomania?
My first 2 therapists
All the picking aside, I was very down I struggled with my home life, thats when my mum took me to the doctors when I was 16 and they referred me to the Gp councillor, So I wasn't diagnosed with anything at this point (just a teenager with issues) the councillor I was seeing said I had low confidence and with low mood, we mostly just talked but there was some activities we did together. once she printed off a survey to about me whether i was pretty, unattractive ugly and average and got the patients in the surgery to fill it out, it came back mostly with pretty or very pretty. I don't think this particular counselling helped, but it was good to talk, without triggering my mums depression. I finished that bout of counselling, then started seeing a new sixth form councillor she was lovely I cried every time I saw her. We talked about how I struggled to get on the bus I thought people were staring at me I was constantly worried about the way i looked and covered my face in makeup.
Doctors and medication
Then finally when I turned 18 I went to my university doctor and told him I thought I was depressed, He laughed me out of the surgery saying I'd come to the wrong place and I need to see the college support team. I later complained the manager of the practise and they rescheduled another doctors appointment, they put me on Citalopram which wasn't the right medication for me but was the first go to medication for low mood. My mood just got worse and worse, I started going out 6 nights a week, picking all day, living in halls was hard. If I picked my face I would hide in my room for days and not eat. When I went back to the doctors, they kept bumping me up from 10 to 20 and eventually I was on 80 Citalopram, I don't even think they give out that dose anymore, or whether even I should of been on that much. In my second year of uni, all my picking and depression made me suicidal. It was like I was in a black hole, but yet when I was out with my friends at night drinking and all dressed up they had no idea I had this other life where i rarely ate and left my room in my student halls.
Mental health team, mental health nurse and panel interview
I then got allocated my first mental health nurse, she used to film our sessions. I spent a great deal of time talking about my skin picking and not wanting to be here.
The pressure got too much in my third year, I had extensions of my dissertation but that didn't help, I cut all my face and my arms because of the stress, and then got referred to a panel interview at the QMC hospital Nottingham, they said I wasn't 'extreme enough to be put on the psychiatric ward, there was nothing they could do for me. They listened to how I felt, I cried and told them I didn't want to be here. They said because I hadn't actually attempted suicide they couldn't help me or take it any further. I realised then and there, I wasn't going to get any help I could either decide to try and fight how I felt or I just ended it. something clicked in to place, I had no real friends and I had no family anywhere near me, but I decided to live. I had no where to live when I finished uni, I had no job no money, I'd finished uni and had nowhere to live so I went on emergency housing aid, and started lodging with a single man in his 70's little did I know he would save my life, and help me with my mental health issues. Thinking about it now, my medication could of been making my depression worse, or just living 4 hours away from my mum with no real friends doing a course I didn't want to do.
Psychiatrist and new psychologist
My new friend and landlord got me into a good doctors near him and around about this time I had googled my skin picking. Lots of information came up, I saw that there were clinics in america that specialised in skin picking, I couldn't believe it. It was me, all of it, I'd had it for so long and not known. When my doctors got me a psychiatrist I immediately told him about the clinics and my skin picking. He said theres no clinics like that in the UK and that he hadn't heard of skin picking or come across it before. He diagnosed me with OCD and depression and then put me on Trazodone but didn't take me off the Citalopram. He printed me off information about Trichcollomania, to which I couldn't relate to. I had compulsive behaviour yes but I couldn't dream of pulling my hair out. I was annoyed that there was no information given to me about my condition. I then got a psychologist called Steven Coles, he was lovely we chatted and did a few exercises but I was still very flaky, I struggled to keep track of appointments and remember dates. I let it all go, carried on with the medication, carried on working and was so busy was working 70 to 80 hours a week managing a bar, which didn't give me hardly any time to pick.
Pre-natal anxiety and postnatal depression and severe anxiety and the mother and baby psychiatric ward.
I thought university and getting though depression was the hardest part of my life but when I found out i was 4 weeks pregnant around 3 years ago, I had to go cold turkey on all my meds. My doctors just said to stop, it was hard as I was on 100 mg of Trazadone and 60 mg of Citalophram. I had no therapist or mental health nurse this time but luckily I'd been with my partner 1 and a half years, he knew everything about me and still wanted a baby together. It wasn't that easy though my anxiety was so bad that I struggled getting on the tram to work, I was so nervous I couldn't work the tills, all of a sudden I dreaded going into work I cried ever time before I got to work and nearly made myself sick with worry. My midwife referred me to the pre-natal health team, when I tried to throw myself down the stairs at 2 months pregnant. The doctor who saw me was pregnant so I thought she'd understand, but then I got a letter in the post saying they couldn't help me at this time and that I should get help from my GP instead. My midwife was so shocked she couldn't believe they wouldn't help me so she tried again. In the end when my baby was born I had extreme anxiety, everyone could tell, I couldn't physically sleep , I only slept for 2 hour at the most a day, I didn't bath or shower, I was obsessed with my baby, I wouldn't stop breast feeding her, or holding her I wouldn't let people hold her. I was extremely anxious when people did hold her or if we were out with people. I had lost the plot. After an overdose of my anxiety tablets and doctors coming round to my house, a mental health nurse took me and my baby to the mother and baby psychiatric ward, I was then diagnosed after a 4 week stay on the ward as, having severe anxiety with secondary depression. My psychiatrist was wonderful, she had said I had suffered all my life with anxiety and the depression came after that. For a year after then the mental health nurse came to my house every 2 weeks and I saw my psychiatrist every month. I finally had the support i needed and I didn't feel anxious, I wasn't constantly talking or moving my hands or picking. My mental health nurse talked about everything with me, from Dermatillomania to medication, to how to manage a baby with a mental illness. Now I have a new psychiatrist and psychologist and I'm much more capable of describing the issues I face and can observe my mood
Has medication / psychotherapy helped you, and which part have you found most useful?
My mental health nurse once told me I may never be able to live without medication but thats okay. I have to take my medication regularly and on time and I have to as I know what I'm like without it. I haven't had any specific therapy for picking, mainly I've helped my self with Dermatillomania. I think the most useful part was getting the correct diagnosis after all these years. Also having that time out in the mother and baby unit really made my think that living with mental illness is okay. Most people in my life know I have medication and have mental health issues, but only some of them don't because me and my partner have tried to explain but they don't understand/ can't comprehend mental health they still believe it is a choice or that it is to do with your surroundings. I'd have to say living with someone who loves and cares about you despite your highs and lows any everything else, is very very helpful. My psychiatrist says I need to take more credit for my progress, but I'm modest I always think that if it wasn't for the medication and the people who have helped me I wouldn't have got here but who knows.
You mention you are now in a better place and are getting married; was there a turning point for you when things started to feel better?
I suppose theres such a lot that had happened to me I'm not sure when exactly it got better, but I know that at different point things have improved and slowly I've got here. For example not long after finishing university and my friend/landlord helping me, before my current partner/fiancee I was in an abusive relationship, once it ended I felt so strong out of no-where after everything I'd been through I couldn't believe I could get out of a situation like that. I think when I had my daughter my whole life changed she is the best thing thats happened to me, loving her gives me a million reasons everyday to fight the downsides to my mental health. Theres so many things that have helped do I still pick now and again but I very rarely get down, which is so important to me. My anxiety is under control but not fixed. I truly believe that there is not just one fix and that some people (like me) will live with anxiety for the rest of there life and just to manage the condition rather than stopping it completely. I recently started a blog, www.14anxiousyears.com I hope to write about my journey and my tips and health other people on there. that was defiantly a turning point being able to create a blog was a huge thing for me. Its in its very early days I only made it 2 weeks ago so there is only 4 blogs on there but its a start trying to get some information about anxiety out there.
When you feel the need to pick, is there anything that you do to try and distract yourself, or any coping mechanisms you use that others could learn from?
How often do you pick these days?
Sometimes I go weeks without majorly picking but sometimes I have a bad day or a bad few days or a bad few weeks but I know it will pass as long as I try and I keep to my rules,
The biggest help is stability, regular sleep, regular medication, sort of set bedtimes. I haven't drank alcohol in 4 or 5 years as it really does not help mental health issues, I don't smoke or do drugs I believe that I have enough issues without adding to it. I also believe that keeping you self busy and going OUT of the house its key. I am a different person when I'm out the house. I love getting fresh air, after years of being stuck picking in my house or room or student flats, and been stuck inside for days. Going out is an achievement it is more than anyone thinks it is. Also unfortunately I can't have mirrors in my house or any reflective surfaces. I am not that strong yet and I've lived without mirrors for 3 years and my picking has reduced significantly. I also never have long nails I cut them so short I can barely pick, If I can still pick with them there too long. Also no tweezers no cocktail sticks, no sewing kits. It sounds extreme but skin picking disorder is extreme. I will do anything not to pick if that means I have to put makeup on without a mirror or when I go out then so be it.
Is there anything you would like to say to people in a similar situation to yourself?
I'd say read my story and think about the ways I've reduced. Theres no instant fix, as with all mental illnesses cures are rare but you have to journey through it. I used to tell my self that 'I'm not going to do it again', and 'I'm going to stop completely' but that made my picking worse, it doesn't always work like that. I believe you need to look a mental illness as a whole and look how you get better for all aspects of mental illness not just one aspect of it such as Dermatillomania, the less I focused on skin picking and the more on mental health as a whole the more I got better, it really helped. I'd also say get a good support system, write a list of your support network, even if its just doctors now, say your mum or a close friend and then work from there. I don't think having loads of friends who aren't close and you can't talk to, because thats not going to help. Start small, its like building a wall, you start brick by brick. I know it sounds silly but don't dream big yet just get the basics. I soon realised that even without picking I didn't eat regularly, sleep regularly, I needed stability and to get back to the basics. e.g. good meals, not forgetting about my psychical self. It started with one good friend, then 2 and it went from there. It started with eating and sleeping because if you can't manage a basic routine or you can't function 'normally' then its hard to fight compulsive skin picking. Also I'd also consider getting help from a professional and not just anyone, I'd look for someone who has heard of Dermatillomania or works with serve anxiety.
Also I you want someone to talk to I have an email firstname.lastname@example.org.