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Coping with Dermatillomania at ComicCon

Guest blog post by Elizabeth Banks – The Uncustomary Housewife

Who is your favorite celebrity? Now, imagine being given the opportunity to shake hands with that celebrity. How would it make you feel? Excited? Honored? I want to talk about what this experience is like for someone who is living with a skin-picking disorder.

Comic Book Conventions give fans the opportunity to meet the celebrities they admire. It’s an exciting time but it can also be a difficult time for a fan that lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I attended two Comic Book Conventions this month, both were enjoyable, but they also came with struggles. I want to share one particular struggle with you.

For people who are unaware; Comic Book Conventions, more commonly referred to as ComicCons, are typically weekend events in which comic book and film fans gather to meet actors, creators, and each other. For the purpose of this post I want to focus on one particular aspect of ComicCon: meeting celebrities.

Coping with Dermatillomania

I’m living with Dermatillomania; an obsessive compulsive skin-picking disorder. To clarify, I don’t mean picking at a hangnail. I mean picking relentlessly and obsessively at my hands and arms. This obsessive behavior is heightened when I’m anxious, and I’m normally pretty anxious at ComicCons, so I tend to skin-pick to relieve my anxiety.

As a positive coping strategy I use Band-Aids to cover up the spots that I pick. Using Band-Aids keeps my picking to a minimum and covers my visually unappealing wounds and scars. As a result, my hands and arms are normally covered in colorful and decorative Band-Aids. I wear long sleeves to cover my arms, but there isn’t much that I can do about my hands.

Shaking Hands with Dermatillomania

This becomes a problem when I’m given the opportunity to meet celebrities. Here’s how the process at ComicCon typically goes; the celebrity is sitting at a table, you walk up to the table, shake the celebrity’s hand, ask for an autograph, hold a conversation, take a photo with the celebrity, and walk away. Seems simple, right? Not for me. My primary fear starts with the handshake.

Band-Aids are normally seen as unsanitary. People don’t enjoy looking at Band-Aids, let alone shaking someone’s hand who is wearing a Band-Aid. Yet, my hands and arms are covered with them. So, as I approach the celebrity table my mind starts racing. I fall into an anxiety ridden thought spiral; “What if they get grossed out by my Band-Aids? What if they think I’m unsanitary? Should I deny the handshake? Oh no. They are reaching out their hand. They want to shake my hand. Remember to smile. Please don’t notice the Band-Aids. Please don’t notice. Please don’t wince. Please don’t be grossed out. Reach out your hand. Say something. I shouldn’t have come. Please, don’t let them be grossed out.”

I deserve to be excited. I’m meeting celebrities that I admire. I’m meeting celebrities that I’ve waited years to meet. Yet, I can’t truly enjoy myself because I’m so terrified that my skin will gross them out. I’m terrified they will think I’m weird or unclean. It always puts a knot in my stomach, and casts a depressive and dreadful shadow on an experience that should be enjoyable.

Luckily, I’ve never had a bad interaction with a celebrity due to my Dermatillomania. Although many celebrities have inquired about my Band-Aids, and I’m always happy to explain. When asked, I pleasantly reply; “I have a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that causes me to skin-pick. I cover the spots I pick with fun Band-Aids.” Sometimes the conversation continues, and they have questions, which I’m always happy to answer. Other times it’s acknowledged as a fact, and the conversation quickly goes back to film and comics.

Abnormal Normality

I don’t want to be the weirdo who is covered in Band-Aids and picks at her skin obsessively, but that’s who I am. This obsessive compulsion is a constant reminder of my abnormal normality.

Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be difficult at times. This disorder can be all-consuming and it often overwhelms me with awkwardness and inconvenience, but I won’t let it stop me from living. I will continue doing the things I enjoy, and I will continue finding healthy ways to cope with my disorder. I’m picking myself over my skin-picking disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a part of me, but it isn’t all of me. If you live with this disorder, please remember: you are not alone.

You may be wondering why I share vulnerable and personal information like this. I share this side of myself for two main reasons; I want to raise awareness for mental illness, and I want to show people like me that they are not alone.

I Can’t “Just Stop” Picking

Many people ask me; “why don’t you just stop picking?” Believe me, I wish I could. It’s not that simple. I have a disorder, and it is driven by a series of obsessions and compulsions. My obsessions are repetitive and intrusive thoughts that are very unwanted. I know that my skin-picking obsession is irrational but I’m unable to divert my attention from the obsession. I’m well aware that I don’t necessarily need to pick, and that my obsession is illogical, but that doesn’t matter. I can’t ignore the obsession, and it is extremely stressful. My compulsions are the irrational and excessive urges I feel which cause me to actually skin-pick. Skin-picking can temporarily relieve the stress brought on by my obsession. I often try to deny the compulsion, I try to not skin-pick, but I but feel forced to do so to relieve anxiety. For instance, I get extremely, and painfully, anxious if I don’t pick, and when I do pick, it’s like a weight has been lifted. So, no. I can’t “just stop”. Not yet, anyway. But I will continue working to find healthy coping strategies.

Sincerely, Elizabeth — The Uncustomary Housewife

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