On Being Brave

On Being Brave

There’s a girl I know. She is bald and beautiful and brave.

Maybe it’s being brave enough to peel away the facade built to hide our insecurities that must come first. Loving the person we find that we are beneath all of the layers, I think, is the only beauty we should aspire to realize.

I want to be this girl; this bald, beautiful, brave girl. I could joke and add, “When I grow up,” to the end of that sentence. I may be old enough to be her mother, but I’m not going to pretend that this means I am smarter. I’m most certainly not as brave.

Depending on the time of the month and how my body is reacting to hormonal imbalance and multiple food allergies, I can either suck it up and face the world anyway or hide myself behind my words. My skin is a mish-mosh of rashes and welts and wounds that never fully heal. I suffer from multiple food allergies and sensitivities, which only serve to real havoc on my skin when combined with skin irritations resulting from hormonal imbalances. It gets really fucking old having to smile away the Oh it’s okay’s and I Don’t Mind’s every time a curious child points to my rashes and various other sores I’ve managed to make worse. It’s a fair question. It’s hard to ignore the marks in my skin that would otherwise be there had I just managed to keep from pick, pick, picking at myself.

Dermitillania, or Obsessive Skin Picking, is defined as “repetitive picking at one’s own skin to the extent of causing damage”According to the aptly named SkinPick.com, the behaviors associated with dermatillomania often result in the discoloration of skin, scarring and possibly severe tissue damage in serious cases. Classified as a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB), dermitillomania is one of many mental health conditions, such as Trichotillomania (a condition in which sufferers pull out hairs from his/ her scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or facial hair) that has the potential to harm or damage one’s body and physical appearance. This fits with my eating disordered past and lifelong body image issues that are referred to “recovery.”



PICKING at myself.

I’ve lost hours this way, looking down at mosquito bites so new that the only indication of any trauma to the skin is the niggling feeling in the back of my brain telling me exactly where to scratch and scratch and scratch. I’ve taken horribly painful rashes on my legs, arm, and face, and picked, picked, PICKED with such concentration and intensity that I had been able to push through any physical pain while focused on my task. It’s only after that I see (feel) and wonder (why) the kind women offered me a crisis center phone number right before the two uniformed officers gently asked me if I a okay while I waited for the Q in a New York subway.

No, I’m okay. Really.

No, he doesn’t beat me.

It’s okay, really. It’s food allergies and hormones and my doctors are looking into it.

All of this is true. Still, their eyes blink back doubt. I can’t tell them that I am also lying by omission.

I don’t bother explaining that the known 2-3% of the general population suffering from this condition. I think that trying to explain dermitillomania and obsessive compulsive and impulse disorders will only make me look like a liar, further convincing them that I am lugging my too-heavy suitcase through the subways because I am trying to flee an abusive relationship and not because I have good friends sparing me the cost of another night in a hotel room for my last night in the big city. I would use too many fancy words with too many syllables with these strangers trying to help the battered looking woman who had managed to lie to herself (and cake on enough foundation) for yesterday’s speaking gig. I’d had no qualms about standing in the spotlight with a microphone. Did I look this shitty then, too? Was the rash that pink and swollen? Had my left eye been this puffy? Had my fingers been this stiff due to the newly forming scabs I was sure to be picking at later that night?

I’ve taken great care to expose as little skin as possible when I’m a mess, but I can never hide my face, hands, and collar-bone area. I always wear a shrug or long-sleeved loose sweater over my cute, sleeveless tunics, preferably with arms ling enough that I have just enough material to scrunch it up between my fingers and my palms. It gives me something to fidget with and sometimes, distracts me from myself long enough to walk away unscathed. I don’t wear shorts. Maybe that used to be more about my body-image issues than anything else, but these days, I’d rather just avoid the inevitable domino effect that happens every time one person verbalizes pity because Oh, Honey! What happened to you because Murphy and his laws are a pain in the ass. It only takes one domino before they all fall. I wear newsboy hats with my staple boots, leggings, tunic ensemble to cover food allergy breakouts made worse by my inability to leave well enough alone.On Being Brave

My daughter, 8, gently puts her hand over my own to stop the behavior. She always makes eye contact with me, a gentle smile on her lips. My therapist is getting ready to write up a letter for travel with my dog, Nibbler, as an emotional support animal because it seems I pick at myself less when he is around.

Why do I need these things? Why can’t I move forward without tripping on all the emotional baggage behind me?

I know it’s harmful and I know that eventually I will stop being lucky and will not heal as thoroughly as I do when I have managed to stay away from a particular site long enough that my body is allowed to do it’s job.

Scab. Heal. Renew.

I know these things and yes, because OCD and impulse control disorders are very real and often misunderstood, I also know that judgements will be cast. Not everyone will believe me when I say that I am not doing this thing for attention and/or that I relish the pity, soaking up the limelight like the diva I am sometimes assumed to be. I also know that eventually I’m going to run out of excuses every time my daughter begs me to Just Go By a Bathing Suit, Mom! I wanna swim!

I’m not brave enough to stand before you with all my flaws, arms and legs uncovered and vulnerable.

There’s this girl I know. And she is bald and beautiful and brave. Her name is Quinn and she suffers from trichotillomania. I know this because her mother, Julia, posted a Facebook update celebrating her daughter and her bravery as she sat in the stylist’s seat, smiling as her hair was shaved off. Quinn told her mother that I could write about her and I am because I am humbled by her bravery. This girl stepped out of her box and wrote her own rules. I’m still fiddling with the too-long sleeves on sweaters.

I need to stop doing that.

I need to be brave.