Lauren McKeaney has been picking her skin for 27 years. As a writer, film-maker and comedian, Lauren’s life has always been about storytelling. But, there was one story she’d never dare share…until recently.
Lauren picks her skin daily. In her early years there was a great deal of hiding with no rhyme or reason given for the condition of her picking. She quit competitive figure skating because her tights would tear her scabs off. Names such as “Leper” and “Polka-dots” were normal coming from school bullies. Sleepovers were rare, unless she found friends who would not make fun of her black sheets (incase her scabs bled). High school nurses, college counselors, and health-club managers made Lauren’s situation harder. She had been accused of self harm and taking meth. She had been asked to leave a locker room because she was making other people feel uncomfortable. Lauren’s skin picking was a barrier to intimacy. Excuses like bug bites, chiggers, rashes, and chicken pox were used multiple times.
After multiple professional visits, Lauren felt like this mystery within herself was unstoppable. After two decades of skin picking, Lauren’s skin was not the only thing that was marred by her condition. Her identity was too.
Finally, in 2013 the medical world seemed to be understanding Lauren and her skin picking. The DSM-V included her Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior. Lauren was diagnosed with Dermatillomania! YAY! She had a name after all these years. It felt tangible to her.
Unfortunately, Dermatillomania was so under-reported, misunderstood and under-diagnosed that Lauren could not research it enough to be satisfied. With the newly found name came a newly found stigma. Dermatillomania is a mental health disorder and is often rendered as a “bad habit” and no attention was given towards it.
When 2014 came around, Lauren picked an area into extreme inflammation for the sixth time. It was so severe that she contracted the life-taking bacteria MRSA and almost lost her right leg. Instead she had eight inches of her inner thigh removed. For months she needed a walker and physical therapy to recuperate.
One day a stranger asked Lauren the once dreaded question, “What happened to you?” She could not hold it in any longer and she told her skin picking story. Lauren McKeaney found a new compulsion: sharing the truth.
Her old skin picking compulsion became her new passion. The mental health community was underserved; Lauren was now an advocate for it and founded her nonprofit, the Picking Me Foundation NFP.
This foundation is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing stigma, just like HabitAware. Picking Me wants to inspire acceptance, be a supporter, and educate communities. Lauren and the organization she is growing wants to change the negative connotations around “picking” and let everyone know that these behaviors are not anyone’s fault.
Picking Me is the only nonprofit in the world that solely focuses on Dermatillomania. However, there are many partnerships, other mental health nonprofits, and the University of Chicago that team up with their mission. Picking Me provides Derma art therapy programs, support groups, habit reversal training through the Fiddle Pack Project, and self-acceptance practice with the Picking Me Pledge. These programs help build awareness around the world. It takes one person, or foundation, to start a ripple of change.
We are so proud of Lauren for choosing herself over her disorder and serving others through her storytelling. In the same way, the HabitAware team wants to help others not feel afraid anymore.
If you feel inspired by Lauren’s mission, please consider JOINING her on May 18th for a special fundraising event in Chicago, MENTAL (WILLNESS), OR making a digital donation to the Picking Me Foundation NFP.
Love, Strength & Awareness,
Aneela & the HabitAware Team
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Together with Abbe Greenberg and Maggie Sarachek, of the Anxiety Sisters, and Lauren McKeaney of PickingME Foundation we recorded a podcast to share treatments for body focused repetitive behaviors like trichotillomania and dermatillomania, along with our mental health stories.
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