Sometimes a symptom of OCD can be so bad that it needs a name, a disorder borne by yet another disorder. Dermatillomania — sometimes called excoriation disorder, or “derma” for short — is a body-focused repetitive behavior. BFRBs are really common amongst folks with OCD, though you certainly don’t need to have OCD in order to have a BFRB.
People with derma experience an uncontrollable urge to pick at their skin, often to the point of causing more damage than the perceived blemish they are trying to excavate from themselves. My derma is also linked to my obsession with hygiene. I see any blemish or flake of skin as “dirty,” and feel an urgent need to remove the dirtiness from my body as soon as I can. This feeling can be abstracted as well; if I do something that I consider as “bad” or find myself in an uncomfortable situation, I often pick at my skin in an attempt to clean myself of that feeling.
It doesn’t just help to cover up the evidence of skin picking; it truly acts as a “war paint” of sorts.
This has resulted in a fair amount of scarring, especially along my neck and across my chest. It often leaves me with large irritated spots on my face, places I’ve picked so intensely that ugly scabs have formed over them. The skin around the distressed area is often sensitive and discolored. The compulsion can be downright disfiguring. I don’t like how I look during a derma flare-up, which often leads to yet more picking. It’s a really tough cycle to break free from, but makeup has helped me come a long way.
I am a big fan of all things beauty: makeup, skincare, perfume, and the YouTube channels dedicated to reveling in said topics. One of my favorite things to do on a bad day is to sit myself in front of mirror, turn on a “Get Ready With Me” video from whatever beauty guru I’m obsessing over at the moment, and put on a full face of makeup. Even if I have no plans to leave the house — or if I had plans to leave the house and got too anxious to follow through with them — I find a great deal of power in the simple act of painting my face and commemorating the ritual with a selfie.
When I have a full face of makeup on, I am much less likely to tear at the skin on my face. Granted, there are other parts of my body that I can easily rip to shreds, but something about wearing makeup at least makes me pause to consider the consequences. And even if I do slip up and pick, makeup is there to help me as well. It doesn’t just help to cover up the evidence of skin picking; it truly acts as a “war paint” of sorts.
I’m much more likely to wear makeup when I’m having a difficult time. It is an extra special way to adorn myself in the times that I feel least deserving of adornment.
There are not a lot of things in life that I can control, no matter how badly I would like to. I can’t control the weather or the news or the receptionist at my psychiatrist’s office. I can’t control the serotonin in my brain or anyone else’s. I can barely even control this insatiable urge to pick at and wound myself. But I can always steady my hand long enough to give myself a cat eye. I can bend the shadows of my face with some NARS Laguna and a fluffy brush. I can put on Black Orchid and know, come hell or high water, that I will smell like a fancy witch.
I can sit down and spend twenty minutes with my face and my self, and for those twenty minutes, it does not matter that I can’t control the whole world. I am reminded that I don’t need to. There is plenty of power in controlling the face I wear to confront all that chaos. And for me, that’s a victorious battle all its own.
#OCDame is a weekly column about chronic mental illness by Jenni Berrett. While she’s no doctor or counselor by any means, she does have extensive experience in being batshit crazy — which she doesn't think is as bad a thing as the world would lead you to believe. Each week she puts that ongoing experience to good use by writing things that have been stuck inside her heart for too long in the hopes that they will help unstick somebody else’s heart, too.
Find more articles from OCDame by clicking here. You can also shoot Jenni an email (at any time and about any thing, just so long as you remember the whole aforementioned Not Being A Doctor situation) at firstname.lastname@example.org.