Victoria is 21 years old and lives in Louisiana. She’s had Dermatillomania for six years. This is how she’s Conquering with Keen Awareness, in her own words.
I’ve struggled with Dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking) since high school. I didn’t know there was a name for it of course, because just like everyone else struggling with it, it started off small. At first I would just pick at blemishes a little while taking off makeup. Everyone knows it’s bad to pick but most people secretly get some form of relief from it.
As my life became more stressful I noticed I spent more and more time looking for that relief. I was lucky enough to not really struggle with teenage acne so most of the time it was only one or two pimples. But when those were gone I kept looking for more. I continued this pattern not really thinking it was a problem until my freshman year of college. That’s when things got bad.
The stress of college was getting to me and I began to spend hours in front of the mirror trying to get everything I could possibly get out of any pore. I even began looking in other places when I had run out of space on my face. I would move to my shoulders, then my arms, then my chest, then my legs. It never ended. Where there was nothing, healthy skin became sores. My mission to get rid of blemishes was actually creating more by my constant skin picking, but by that time it didn’t matter. At that point it wasn’t about getting rid of pimples anymore, it was about escaping from the rest of the world. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it.
I would be putting on makeup for the day and notice a pimple that appeared overnight and of course I would pop it. Before I knew it three hours had passed and my face was super red and puffy and it hurt. I wouldn’t even remember the three hours that passed, it was almost like I was in a trance and couldn’t snap myself out of it unless something else did, like someone walking in my room. I wouldn’t be able to put on makeup afterwards, not only because it’s bad for all the open wounds, but many times makeup would make it look worse. I would end up just staying in my dorm and coming up with some excuse as to why I didn’t make it to whatever I was supposed to do.
I lost out on so many things over the years because of Dermatillomania. After I would have an “episode” I would isolate myself for up to a week until I had at least healed enough to cover it somewhat with makeup. I missed countless classes and my GPA dropped. The emotional toll it took was even worse. I had absolutely no confidence because of my secret.
The worst part was how alone I felt, I couldn’t really tell anyone because most people don’t understand why I would purposely do this to myself. What they didn’t get was that I wasn’t purposely doing it to myself. In fact, I put more energy into trying to stop than anything else in my life. It was a coping mechanism. Any time things became too much for me I immediately went to the mirror and didn’t even realize I was doing it. It was like a reflex. If someone trips and falls it’s instinct to put your hands out to catch yourself. That’s what this was for me. You don’t think about it, it just happens.
Once I put a name to it I could finally look for a solution. I researched everything I could find on how to treat Dermatillomania. The problem is that it’s not a well known disorder. Very few people even know it exists, much less how to treat it. I found a counselor who specialized in impulse control disorders and called her to explain my situation. I couldn’t find anyone who was experienced in the disorder, but she was pretty close.
Before our first appointment, the counselor did her research and tried to help. It helped me in many other aspects of my life but I didn’t find it very helpful with Dermatillomania. Since all she knew was what she read online she didn’t really understand why I couldn’t “just stop” either. When I was alone and vulnerable I didn’t have her there to stop me which was really the only thing I could see working.
After a really bad episode one night I’d had enough and dove deep online for help, which was how I stumbled upon Keen. It was exactly what I needed: something monitoring me 24/7 to basically just snap me out of it if I started picking. This was my savior, for the first time ever I finally saw hope. Once I got it I trained Keen for just my face at first until I became accustomed to it, then I gradually added other body areas. I would only wear it when I was home since that was the only time I would have episodes.
Within a week I immediately noticed a difference: I was becoming more aware of how much I actually “scanned” for bumps and blemishes. I thought it only happened when I was in front of a mirror, but I was constantly raising my hands to my face without even knowing. Within just one week I had learned something about myself that I didn’t even realize was one of the biggest causes of this six year struggle.
While I am not fully recovered since I’ve only been using Keen for about one month, I am so much farther along than I ever dreamed I’d be. I really thought I was a lost cause. Keen changed my life. Not only is my skin clearer than it has been in years, but I feel confident when I’m in public. Instead of hiding in the back of the room hoping nobody notices me, I actually go up to people and introduce myself now.
This week I did something that I literally never dreamed I’d be able to do my entire life: I left my apartment without any makeup on! This is a feeling better than I could even try to describe. I’m now able to work towards healing my scars because I don’t have broken skin everywhere to worry about. I didn’t see a point in trying to heal them before since I figured that at some point I’d ruin all those spots again. Keen has given me my life back. I can’t explain how truly grateful I am to the creators of Keen for giving me a second chance to actually experience my life while I’m still young instead of having to constantly hide away from the rest of the world.
I would recommend this product in a heartbeat to anyone even slightly struggling with any kind of subconscious behavior, whether it’s skin picking, nail biting, or hair pulling. There is hope and you’re not alone! There’s an entire community out there that understands what you’re going through.
Some advice for when you start using Keen is to follow the guidelines provided with the bracelet of course, but there are some additional things I’ve learned from using it.
My quick tip for training the Keen bracelet:
When you start, turn both the sensitivity of your motion and body location all the way up. You will more than likely find that this is too much and from there you can slowly lower each setting as you find best for you. I was able to figure out my preferences within one day. Make sure you test it while doing other activities like writing or eating while you’re figuring out the adjustments. While one setting may work perfectly for you when you’re playing around with it, the sensitivity may be too high for daily activities. Starting higher is better than starting lower because too many reminders won’t cause nearly as many problems as too few.
By wearing my Keen bracelet it reminds me that there are enough people out there going through what I am for people to get together and develop a product specifically for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). It reminds me that I’m not alone in this and I’m part of a community with the same goal as me.
Victoria, wow. Just wow. Our heartfelt thanks for sharing your story to inspire hope and courage for others. To know that we’ve done our part to help you “get a second chance at life”, well, it makes my eyes water with joy. You’re definitely not alone and as part of the Keen family, we are here to support you every step of the way. Your story is a reminder that we BFRBers no longer have to “hide away from the rest of the world.”
Wishing you love, strength & “keen” awareness,
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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.
It's important that Keen fits snugly. Here's a quick guide to help you decide which bracelet size to order: