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I can't stop doing damage to my face says Telford student

Oswestry | News | Published:

A Shropshire student has spoken for the first time about a compulsive disorder which means she spends up to six hours a day picking her face until it bleeds.

"Sometimes I actually look like I've been in a car crash," said Samantha Wake, 20, from Telford.

She has dermatillomania, a condition that affects about one out every 500 people in the UK, mostly women.

"People ask me what on earth has happened to my face," she said. "The truth is I've done this to myself and I don't think I'll ever be able to stop doing it. It's a very real condition with very real consequences."

If she detects even a minor blemish Ms Wake will enter a trance-like state where she picks away for hours on end – sometimes even causing her to miss her animal management classes at Walford and North Shropshire College in Oswestry.

"It's like my mind isn't linked to my body," explained Ms Wake, from Dawley Bank. "If I detect even the tiniest flaw in my skin I will obsessively pick at it until I can't feel any sign of it.

"Unfortunately I'm always left with a much bigger mark – like a graze the size of a penny.

"I know my face is covered in scars but I can't tell the extent of it because there are so many scabs. My nose will be the worst and I have a dent in my left cheek.

"Mornings and evenings are the worst. The first thing I do when I wake up is look in the mirror. If I let myself start picking I can't think of anything else.

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"Hours can pass and I will miss my morning classes at college. At night I'll leave my boyfriend on the settee watching a film while I disappear into the bathroom only to return raw and covered in sores. I'm trying my best to keep it under control but every day is a battle."

The ritual is having a damaging impact on Ms Wake's emotional health too, as afterwards she can be left feeling guilty and depressed.

And that in turn means she is ashamed to be seen in public and often shies away from going out.

She said: "I usually wear a thick layer of makeup when I leave the house but it doesn't cover everything. When I talk to people I can see them looking at the marks instead of my eyes.

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"People ask me what's wrong and I'm pretty honest about it now. I used to be embarrassed but now I see this is who I am. It is having a big impact, though.

"It's made worse by anxiety and stress. If I've got a big event coming up like a holiday or a night out with friends I will desperately want my skin to be clear – but the pressure of that will make me pick more. So now I just don't go out as much."

The condition, related to obsessive compulsive disorder, is thought to be caused by anxiety and has similar traits to trichotillomania – where sufferers pull out their hair to calm their nerves. Ms Wake first started picking at her face at the age of 14 when she developed some minor acne.

She said: "I went on tablets and the acne cleared up by the time I was 16, but the picking continued. It got worse and worse and finally when I was 18 I decided to see a doctor. I felt like a freak.

"At first no one would take me seriously. I remember leaving one appointment feeling so alone – like I must be the only person in the world doing this.

"It was only when my mum got involved that I was sent to have cognitive behavioural therapy. It helped me recognise some of the triggers and we talked about ways I could control my urges, like distracting myself by playing a game on my phone.

"My worst trigger is simply looking in the mirror. I wish mirrors didn't exist."

Ms Wake, who plans to one day work at a zoo, added: "I want other people like me to know they aren't alone. I've recently connected with other sufferers on the internet and it feels amazing to know there are people out there like me.

"I want people to realise this condition is real and I'm not just some person with horrible spots or some skin disease.

"And I hope more effort is put into researching the condition so maybe one day there will be a cure.

"But I've decided I won't let it beat me. I have a really supportive family and a lovely boyfriend. I will keep a smile on my face and try harder every day to pick a bit less."

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