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Love Strength & Awareness Podcast, Episode 4 + 5: Lauren McKeaney's Dermatillomania Story

Love Strength & Awareness Podcast, Episode 4 + 5: Lauren McKeaney's Dermatillomania Story

October 04, 2020

In this episode, Lauren McKeaney, founder and CEO of Picking Me, joins Aneela to talk about her BFRB, ways to take control of it and what Picking Me is all about. Also included is a quick Mindset Reset. This will allow you to take a minute or two to reflect and take control of your mindset.

BIG thank you to Lauren for joining us for this conversation. She has created such a beautiful space for individuals with BFRB to be open and inspire each other. Just like us at HabitAware, Picking Me has a mission of raising awareness for BFRBs, and they are doing amazing work everyday to lift up and amplify the voice of the BFRB community in the mental health world. We can't imagine the community without Lauren & Picking Me!

And immense gratitude goes to Jackie Biederman, co-founder of StoryPop, who brought our podcast to life! Learn more about how she can help YOU start your own podcast at or find her on LinkedIn!

Episode 4: Lauren McKeaney's Dermatillomania Story 


Episode 5 - Mindset Reset: Small Wins



Learn more about Lauren's effort to educate, advocate, and offer support for dermatillomania, and offer your own support to her nonprofit the #PickingMe Foundation.


Take a step forward in your BFRB journey. Invest in a Keen bracelet today.



Lauren: I think my parents started to take note even as early as nine, ten; just my bed sheets would be spotted in blood constantly. Or my clothing even to the point where I remember having a switch to black bed sheets. Because it was just so common that I'd be picking and end up with spots bleeding and bleeding through band aids or just picking in my sleep or as soon as I woke up or when I went to bed. And I think there were times when I was getting noticed when I was more visible, you know showing on my forearms or on my calves if I wore shorts.

The comments that were made, some even getting back to my parents. Some even school nurse asking me if areas were infected, how come this was happening to me. It was a really confusing time because I, I knew I was picking, I knew what was happening to me, I knew I was doing but I didn't know how to explain why and to anyone who would listen it kind of seems hard for them to even fathom that this would be something I was doing to myself unless of course I was self-harming, which was not the case. So, it's like self-harm. A lot of the time the goal is to feel and often to feel pain whereas in BFRB’s or my skin picking, I find the goal a lot of times is an accomplishment feeling. I think the best way for me to explain some of my thoughts behind, like my skin picking, or kind of an inside look at my skin picking would be to describe what I call more my focused picking. By breaking my skin picking down to focus or standing or automatic picking, its kind of helped me understand my picking better so in looking at focus picking, it might, an episode might go something like, I can be entering my home after work and I know that I really really want to turn the TV on to watch this TV show that I've been waiting for. And so I have my coat on, my bag on, everything, and I open my door to get home and the first thing my body does is turn to this hallway mirror, and that's just what it does. It always does. And I look and I'm checking out anything on my face at a glance but if I see something, I lock in on it and I can be sucked into this zone where I am compelled to fix these perceived imperfections and I still have my jacket and that bag on and I'm, you know, have that wanting to see that TV show somewhere in me, but there's something stronger in the moment that is satisfied and made by being in front of that mirror and picking at what is feeling perhaps foreign or out of place or otherwise different on my skin that I can see in the moment. Other times if it's maybe, if my fingers seem to be kind of just wandering on their own, this can be like I am driving or I’m watching TV and all of the sudden I go to reach for the clicker and I noticed that there is blood under my fingernails and I'm wondering where this blood came from and maybe at that moment I'm thinking about something that's kind of wrapping me up inside and my fingers are wandering, this kind of finger energy on their own, scanning for these places to fix things and that's the way that my body is alleviating this excess energy at that moment. On paper it looks like the turning point for me was when my skin picking, my Dermatillomania got to its most extreme kind of case, was after an episode that landed me in the hospital for the seventh or eighth time with an abscess and an infection. And this time I contracted MRSA. And, you know had a chance of losing my leg to this disorder and gratefully I only had just a few inches removed from my inner thigh and recovered from this, but it was in wearing a wound vac, a vacuum in my thigh that was taking care of the infection. Wearing that like a purse 24/7 and being on a walker. There was somebody, in talking to the stranger who had asked what happened and because of hearing a medical assistant at the hospital just mention the word Dermatillomania and me jotting it down and Googling it later, I was able to say a word. To say a term. To say something that, that I had, and it felt like it didn't have me and it was in that hearing that I felt that first taste of taking some of that control back from what had been controlling me so much that I just really wanted to learn as much about it and help as many people with it that I could. My M.O. when it came to my BFRB was to not share my story. To not talk about it. To not, what is misdirection, you know was to answer anything and everything else I could to get you to not ask me anymore questions, but when I first shared that I had Dermatillomania, when I learned a word for it and was able to share and own that part of my story, that's like when I was able to lead the way with it or take some control back from it.


Aneela: Yeah, yeah. I think that the hiding and the secrecy gives it more power than it needs.


Lauren: Yes


Aneela: Yeah. So, going on that, right, you've not only shared your story, you've not only opened up to your family but you are now founder of a nonprofit who is one hundred thousand percent dedicated to sharing your story in the stories of others. Tell us about how you are Picking Me.


Lauren: Hahaha, yes, I love that. I am totally Picking Me. I am picking me over my skin picking because there is a community of us out there that need a home and Picking Me really started from choosing myself over the disorder that chose me. Sharing my story, owning my story and giving that identity a chance and a purpose. And the more that I share, the more that others kind of shared along with me, kind of popped out of the woodwork, raised their hands too, and this little community started to form, and little by little it grew and grew and kind of fortified this foundation. This little home for skin picking awareness, advocacy, support, community, resources. Really just trying to be this all-encompassing platform for help when you need it when it comes to skin picking.


Aneela: So, Lauren you've been on this journey since five years old. Now you're at a point of kind of, as you said before, being in recovery and in management. What is working for you?


Lauren: Yes. So, what is working for me in recovery and management in my skin picking is first, really realizing I had to want to take this on. I think there were a lot of times where I flirted with the idea and was really, really just of course wanting to stop, wanting to not have the end result of what was happening from all the skin picking, but I don't know if I was really ready to fully let go of all the picking or to face not having picking being part of my behavior. So, I think first I had to really want to get this under control and really want to be the person in control of this disorder. And in getting to a space where I wanted to control it, I think I found that setting many goals and experiencing like, many wins was at first most helpful to me. Kind of what I mean by that is like, instead of thinking that my goal right now is to stop picking but perhaps my goal is to hang a scarf over my hallway mirror for the afternoon, or for the day and just kind of maybe notice how many times I end up peering at that scarf or checking over at that scarf because I'm really looking for that mirror but my eyes need the scarf instead. Just kind of notice how often that happens and maybe making that goal that of just doing that, that's my goal. And then I get to experience this mini win. And that, kind of setting these mini goals and experiencing these mini wins has offered me this, like momentum this kind of, progress, this perpetual progress and I find that maybe that living with that progress, that perpetual progress is a bit more where happy happens for me than shooting for pick or pull free, in my case pick free.


Aneela: Right.


Lauren: You know even one more part to add there is we, we tend to, in the BFRBs really think there's a lot of all or nothing in the, in the action, in the behavior, in the feelings of the aftermath. And maybe if we can be more, find this middle ground perhaps we can experience just a little more lightness, you know?


Aneela: Yeah, like give ourselves a little bit of a break in a sense. Yeah. I feel like we're probably the hardest on ourselves when it comes to all this.


Lauren: Oh gosh, yes.


Aneela: Can you tell us a little bit about what you're working on now with Picking Me or even in your own personal journey, like, maybe that's two questions. So when you working on now with Picking Me and then also, what's the mini goal that you're working on right now?


Lauren: Oh, sure sure, okay. So right now, at Picking Me, we’re still implementing and trying to grow the use of #PickingMe to chat about all things skin picking disorder. Definitely encourage people to check that out, but more excitingly we've reached out to our next level of skin care professionals which are Estheticians. So estheticians and cosmetologist are actually the next group that we've been targeting in our outreach for skin picking disorder awareness and growing our support group was always one of our main stays here at Picking Me. Love our support group and open to BFRBs here in Chicago. And really, really just trying to see where we can take Picking Me to the next level, next stage, for all of our little initiatives on our website. Me personally, I would say, let's see. A mini goal that I set personally was to remove the kitchen silverware from my drawer by my stink and to put in place was some face wipes. And I just wanted to make that the goal. It wasn't, the goal really had nothing to do with picking, you know there was nothing about not picking that day or only picking a little or going pick free. The goal was to replace the kitchen silverware with some face wipes and kind of set myself up to do some of my, take off my make up or skin care at my kitchen sink without something triggering like a mirror or the bathroom light and allowing the barrier of the face wipes to kind of help preventing my finger from face contact. When I do take that on I'll give myself a little mini reward as, you know, to really feel that mini win.


Aneela: Okay, awesome. So, you pair the mini goals, the many wins with a reward system as well.


Lauren: Yeah, I do. I really tried to in the support group and it's kind of made the support group a way to make this support group accountable for us. And when I am on my own and setting these mini goals you know like randomly, I'll set them, I’ll set a couple in a day, but if I do it on my own it might not always be with the reward system. But I do try to do it in the support groups.


Aneela: Cool, that's awesome. So, having the support group gives you some sense of accountability. How often do you meet, like weekly, monthly?


Lauren: Yeah, we meet every first and third Tuesday of the month and a support group has been one of the best on going therapies for me. It's a place where we can talk and be you know, as you and I just open and vulnerable and share about our BFRB with other BFRBers and sometimes really hearing other people say some of the things you thought only were in your head about the way that you are picking or the way that you're pulling. Just having that moment with somebody else it's really powerful. And I found that having that set up as kind of an ongoing theme to my skin picking management has been super helpful.


Aneela: That's awesome. Yeah, I really find that having that human connection really helps to keep that perpetual progress as you said before, to keep that momentum. So, going back a little bit you talked about the strategy of basically making your kitchen sink the bathroom area for you so that you wouldn't have the mirror kind of triggering you. That's like a huge, that’s such a smart idea. It's like it has everything you need. The face wipes just being there so that you can almost can you sell that moment of self-care to take care of yourself. In, in right? Is that basically what that strategy is about?


Lauren: Yeah, yeah you know it took me having to notice what was really triggering me in the about the bathroom and where a lot of my picking was happening so really becoming aware of where most of my picking was happening, and once I was able to do that I came up with some strategies to move myself out of my bathroom. You know there are still times in that I use my bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, but there's things that I've had to develop, different little barriers and strategies to make my bathroom workable. Just like how, yes, I’ve made my kitchen/night time routine area workable.


Aneela: Yeah, cool that's awesome. I think that's a huge point to note, right? It's not just how am I going to change what I do, but how many change my environment to ensure that I am setting myself up for success? And, like you said, trying to remove things that cause triggers whether it's mirrors or, you know, hiding the tweezers, that kind of thing like so that you can’t, you can't just like jump back to those old ways at the sight of some of that stuff and training yourself like, okay, you leave the mirror open for a little bit today and making sure like, you know, giving yourself that exposure you need so that one day hey, it won't matter if you see a mirror. It won't trigger you in that way.


Lauren: Right, right.


Aneela: Is there anything else you want to share that I haven't covered?


Lauren: Well some other just strategies I could offer, you know again, working with our bathroom situation. Sometimes having a game plan ahead of time knowing, okay I'm going to go in, I'm going to dim the lights, leave the door ajar, sprinkle water on the sink top so that I'm not as tempted to lean forward because I don't want to get wet, and also run the faucet so that there's this kind of timing length queue happening. And I found, you know that's a personal little routine that I sometimes take on. If I'm having a lot of trouble with my picking at the moment or I’m in an episode or kind of on the bottom of a wave and, I found that those strategies and been helpful in my one of my most triggering environments which is the bathroom.


Aneela: So, in your work you're talking with a lot of people, you're on Facebook with them, Instagram on your Picking Me account, your meeting them in person at, I know you go to a ton of conferences to share Dermatillomania with hair stylists and dermatologists and other BFRBers. What are you finding and observing as kind of, some common threads, common challenges that people with BFRBs are facing?


Lauren: I think one of the things I still run into, just the one of the most common things is the shame that we all feel. The shame that we've all experienced at least. You know, no matter what type of conference it’s been, I always run into pickers and pullers who come up to me, you know at the conference, at my booth, at my advocacy booths, and might even share about their personal picking or pulling tendencies and it's so common and the main thing they're sharing with me though is, you know I'm the first person they're telling, that they never told anyone else and I really run into a lot of shame and isolation from the BFRB. From the kind of community first learning about that this is a disorder and say as well. Besides shame and some isolation, one of the main challenges is advocacy or understanding about the BFRBs and the disorder. Sometimes just finding the right help or the right direction to find help proves to be one of the hardest points still.


Aneela: Yeah. I think that the cool thing there is that people are finding each other on social and starting to, you know, share tips, strategies, you know therapies. I don’t know, what else like fidget tools smart bracelets to help them, but it's still very much a very, very introspective condition. Maybe introspective is not the right word, but I think, like you said it’s isolating.


Lauren: And it feels isolating. You feel quite alone in it but you know what I've found is just how many of us there are out there you know it’s so many of us. You know we're not alone.


Aneela: Thank you all for taking time from your day to hear how Lauren went from picking skin to Picking Me. If you are in need of more soul-fueling, visit for more inspiring success stories as well as strategies for overcoming compulsive hair pulling, skin picking, and nail biting. And be sure to subscribe for the release of HabitAware’s next Love, Strength, and Awareness Podcast.


Aneela Idnani:

Hi everyone this is HabitAware’s Love, Strength and Awareness podcast. I’m Aneela here with a short mindset reset. What I want to focus on today was inspired by my conversation with Lauren McKinney of the Picking Me Foundation. When I asked her about the turning point for her and her journey with skin picking, she shared that she finally realized she had to want to take this on. This desire, to me, is absolutely key as well as understanding that recovery takes work. I think so many of us are holding out for some magic pill to arrive, to cure us of our compulsive hair pulling, skin picking and nail biting. But tell me what medical conditions you know for which there is such a care. Mental and physical healthiness takes effort and practice makes progress. Take someone with diabetes. Every day they have to get up and measure their blood sugar levels and track what they eat and how much they exercise. Every day they have to put effort into managing their chronic condition. I believe it's the same for BFRBs. We must want to take this on and do the work. Now of course I don't want to overwhelm you. Again, I think here, Lauren shares a critical insight when she talks about how she sets many goals for herself, actionable tasks that she can take on rather than proclaiming a daunting feat of, “I'm going to stop skin picking today.”. I want to leave you with this: we with BFRBs work so hard to hide. Just imagine what would happen if we worked just as hard to heal.  Please check out for more inspiration. I'm wishing you love, strength and awareness on your BFRB recovery journey.


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