1 Voice in a Million – My life with OCD-Skin Picking Disorder

Self PortraitArmsRight arm and legLeft arm and legThe art of the pickBloody forehead
DamageBloody fingersBloody fingernailsHusbandShameDoctor
MedsHealing armsNew jobLove

I am a story teller by nature. My original degrees are in theater and print journalism. For me it’s a natural reaction to want to use my portfolio to tell a story. At the time we were assigned this project, my doctor and I had our regular 8-week appointment in which he asked me about my picking.

Roughly 2.5 million people in the United States have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). My particular OCD type is called Compulsive Skin Picking (CSP). This is repetitive picking at one’s own skin to the extent of causing damage. Usually, my face is the primary location for skin picking. However, CSP may involve any part of the body. Some with CSP may pick at normal skin variations such as freckles and moles, but for me, I pick at actual pre-existing scabs, sores or acne blemishes. Sometimes I pick at imagined skin defects that nobody else can observe.

Individuals with CSP may use their fingernails, as well as tweezers, pins or other mechanical devices. As a result, CSP may cause bleeding, bruises, infections, and/or permanent disfigurement of the skin. My skin is like the rings of a tree documenting every moment in which life got too stressful for me to handle.

My skin-picking is preceded by stress, anxiety, worst of all boredom, and a strong “itch” or “urge”. Sadly, a feeling of relief or pleasure usually follows picking my skin. A CSP episode may be a conscious response to anxiety or depression, but is frequently done as an unconscious habit. On top of my CSP I also have Rosacea, a chronic skin condition that makes my face turn red and causes skin sores that look like acne. This increases my need to smooth my skin, to find relief.

My theme for this project is to document my journey through my illness and treatment. I am trying hard to not over-dramatize my illness. Instead, I want to show my illness as it affects me physically and mentally. I am trying to be open about my illness by photographing how I pick, when I do it, what I pick with. Finally I want to show how I am being treated for my OCD with my doctor and medication, and how my family and I deal with it day in and day out.

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2 responses to “1 Voice in a Million – My life with OCD-Skin Picking Disorder

  1. Wow, this is an incredible post… and for lack of a better word, this is fascinating. Not that I enjoy your condition, nor do I look for your relapses for entertainment, but its quite brave of you to open up to the interweb world and say “hey, this is my problem, and here’s what i”m doing about it–follow along.” I am going to add your blog here to my own blogroll so I can keep up with your progress… good luck, W! -d$

    • Thanks, David. I don’t know if I’ll continue posting about it unless I feel like I think the portfolio needs an update. I’ve relapsed Friday. Stress from final projects weighing heavily on my mind. My doctor suggested I go back to behavioral therapy and try something there. Skin picking disorder is so tricky. I’ve done research on it. I talked with my former therapist about it and there’s like nothing to help except to learn how to control my stress. The problem is that I don’t always picked when I’m stressed out. I pick when I’m reading and not paying attention. Some girls twirl their hair mindlessly. I pick my skin mindlessly. It’s all very frustrating. And I hate how it makes me look. I hate the blood and the gore and the embarrassment that it causes. I hate having people ask me, “oh my gosh, what happened to your arms?” I’ve had a doctor ask me if everything was okay at home, implying that I was being abused. When I say I have OCD I get the standard, “You need to talk to someone about this.” Ya’ think? *sigh*

      Anyway, thank you for looking at the portfolio. My professor and classmates have been incredibly supportive. The process is supposed to be about the photography, but it became very personal look at what I am doing to myself.

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