A conversation with Beth Washburn about how Instagram has helped her cope with Dermatillomania
Sophie- Do you mind introducing yourself?
Beth- I'm Beth. I'm a married, 40-year-old mom to 3 boys
Sophie-What made you decide to transform your Instagram into a photo diary of your recovery?
Beth- I started doing a photo journal as part of my therapy with my therapist. I decided to create a journal on IG as a way to help myself accept my disorder. If I shared it with the world, I could no longer keep it hidden to anyone, including myself.
Sophie- I found your Instagram by searching the #OCD. I saw that your page was dedicated to a photo diary of your life with Dermatillomania, trich, depression/ anxiety and self-harm. I had never heard of Dermatillomania and feel as though it is not publicly discussed or represented at all. Do you find that too? What is Dermatillomania, and how does it manifest for you?
Beth- I suffered for 23 years before I knew that Dermatillomania was a diagnosis! I thought I was a freak, that I was alone and that I was the only person suffering. This disorder is not very well known, even in the medical community. Dermatillomania, now known as Excoriation Disorder, now included in the DSM-V (the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals) is somewhat known by mental health professionals in my experience. I've even encountered mental health professionals that know nothing about it.
For me, Dermatillomania manifests as first, an obsession with my skin. Although other areas of my body are affected, my face is my largest affected area. I obsess for hours on the way it feels and looks. Then, the compulsions start. I begin to hyper focus on the areas I see that look different, feel different. I begin to pick at my skin using my fingers and tweezers. I dig holes in my face until I feel satisfied.
Sophie- For me, I find when a depressive episode hits me my OCD is much worse but sometimes I can get OCD without depression, so it’s kind of odd that way. Do you find that your mental illnesses trigger each other or do they usually appear isolated?
Beth- For me it's a vicious cycle. I feel depressed or stressed, it causes my feelings of compulsion to increase. I pick. After picking, I feel incredibly stressed, anxious and depressed. Then the cycle starts again.
Sophie- Social media is such a great outlet nowadays for exposing our vulnerabilities that we otherwise wouldn't have the platform to expose and it can be very therapeutic. How has showcasing photos of yourself been helpful for your recovery?
Beth- I have received such overwhelming support from others on IG! I've been able to see that I am not alone and that there is hope for recovery.
Sophie- Do you have any other creative outlets/therapies that you find helpful?
Beth- I love to draw and color. My therapist encouraged me to draw my feelings and traumas. It became a great comfort for me. Adult coloring books help me hyper focus on something positive.
Sophie- What do you find is the most difficult part about living with Dermatillomania and what do you wish people understood about it?
Beth- Being misunderstood. People sometimes think I do it on purpose, or for attention, or that it's self-harm (which it's not). Or that I can control it or just stop if I really wanted to. I can't. I wish people understood the deep suffering I go through trying to manage my illness. I don't always understand my illness. I'm trying hard. I'm going to have bad days. I need your support, not judgement or advice.
Beth Washburn is a wife and mom to 3 boys. Born and raised in Iowa, USA, she has lived the majority of her adult life just south of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. She spends her days caring for her young goddaughter and her sister, and taking care of her family. She is passionate about mental health awareness, mindful and gentle parenting, and showing love and kindness to her community in practical ways.