For the past six years I have been a vocal advocate about a disorder that not many people have heard of: dermatillomania. This means that I have been compulsively picking at my skin for years without any end in sight of how to break free of this chronic condition.
After publishing FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary at the end of 2009 I started gaining followers who were primarily sufferers of this disorder. I had no idea that this, on top of the making of the first documentary about this condition, Scars of Shame, would put me on the map to be "discovered" and afforded the right to treatment.
Unlike most other mental health afflictions where you can walk into a therapist's office and at least have a professional know about your condition, I have been rejected and ridiculed by many who shared the personal opinion that I could stop this behaviour anytime I wanted to.
With this mentality there was no possible way to gain access to treatment. As far as I knew, only a small handful of people have gone into recovery from this disorder. With few Canadian professionals being trained to treat people with Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs), I had accepted that I would have to live the rest of my life covering my legs due to the damage that I've inflicted on them for over a decade.
Years ago I contacted Dr. Phil in the hopes that I would be able to get help on his show. Needless to say, my multiple attempts at getting help through this avenue proved to be pointless; after all, I live in a tiny east coast province in Canada so why would he fly me across the continent when there are thousands of Americans he could choose from?
Unexpectedly at the end of 2014 I received an e-mail from the show "The Doctors" looking for a candidate to appear for a segment about skin picking. A few days later, I was in Los Angeles awaiting my appearance on national television.
When I was a little girl, I never dreamed of becoming an advocate for a disorder that faces high stigma rates. I chose this path because it was unfair that people like myself did not have access to adequate treatments let alone acknowledgements from professionals that BFRBs can become an interference in a person's life. Although I felt stuck in having this disorder, I still wanted to create change for future generations of sufferers so that they did not have to experience the embarrassment and shame I did for so many years.
While I still have a lot of work to do to remain in a healthy state of recovery, it's surreal when I look down at my legs and see clear skin. My desire to advocate for this disorder has grown tenfold because I can now advocate for the skeptical woman who appeared on "The Doctors" and tell her that this condition can improve no matter how severe it is.
Unfortunately, societal barriers are what keeps BFRBs hidden away from the public. With more people coming forward to tell their stories, we are getting closer to the goal of global awareness. In order to achieve this we need mental health professionals to get properly trained; just because you learned how to perform Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques in University for OCD does not mean you can tell us that this is the be-all treatment method. Many of us are told that if it doesn't work, we are doomed to fight with this disorder forever. Just know that this a reflection on the therapist you are with, not the state of your condition.
There are days I wish I had any other widely-known mental health affliction so that I didn't have to expose my life in a book, documentary, and on national television just to get help. Help should be available at a local therapist's office with pamphlets on the wall with other disorders. We may be "on our own, but never alone" in trying to find answers that our doctors can't provide but the network of organizations and individuals dedicated to raising awareness is what makes our community one of the strongest and most accepting -- one I am honored to be a part of.
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Many women start to feel like they're dragging in their late 30s and 40s. They're losing testosterone, which may act as an antidepressant, and experiencing a flux in their levels of estrogen and progesterone, which may also influence mood and energy. One of the most effective tactics for perking up comes down to how you plan your meals. "Many of my clients seem to think that by filling one meal with energy-generating nutrients -- say, a green smoothie for breakfast or a salad at lunch -- they've done their duty for the day," says dietitian Ashley Koff. "But your body needs several energy pit stops so you can refuel." Koff suggests small meals every three hours that combine a variety of nutrients. Her energy-boosting meal plan: Breakfast: Oatmeal with hempseeds. A.M. snack: Half cup of cottage cheese with berries. Lunch: Half a turkey sandwich with salad. P.M. snack: Half cup of tuna salad with wheat crackers. Dinner: Wild salmon with nonstarchy veggies.
Two free surefire solutions: diet and exercise. Losing even a few pounds can provide tremendous relief. One study found that for every pound you drop, you take four pounds of pressure off your knees. "Low-impact exercises -- walking, swimming, cycling -- help maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass as well as release endorphins, all of which can lead to a decrease in pain," says Roxanne Wallace, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin.
Down, girl. As long as you have no open wounds, you can welcome Sparky's affection. "A healthy immune system is strong enough to fight off most bacteria in a pet's saliva," says Jennifer Gabriele, a vet at Heart of Chelsea Animal Hospital in New York City.
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Sorry, cupcake, it doesn't look good. Too much of the sweet stuff can wreak havoc on your entire body. Added sugars have been associated with inflammation, a condition linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. In fact, a 2014 study found that people who consumed 17 to 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who got only 8 percent. For most women, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories from added sugar daily.
You can ignore the old eight-glasses rule: Six is typically plenty to hydrate you and keep everything in working order, according to a review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
You may have small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition common among those suffering from chronic bloating. SIBO can occur when bacteria in the colon migrate up into the small intestine and ferment the carbs passing through, creating gas. Consider switching to a diet low in fermentable foods (which include dairy, wheat, and high-fructose fruits) so the bacteria will have less to feast on, says Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Gerard E. Mullin, MD, author of The Gut Balance Revolution. Research has shown that the plan works: A study in the journal Gastroenterology found that the majority of subjects with irritable bowel syndrome reported significantly less bloating when they followed a diet low in bacteria-loving foods.
"If you misrepresent the facts, you limit what your doctor can do for you," says Lissa Hirsch, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Some of your lies will be revealed by your blood work or the number on the scale, but otherwise your doctor has nothing to go on but what you report -- and that could be dangerous. Say you fib and tell her you're following a diet and exercise program to lower your blood sugar. When your "plan" doesn't seem to be working, she may prescribe medication you don't need, unwittingly putting you at risk for unnecessary side effects. In other words, when your pants are on fire, you'll be the one who gets burned.
Depends on what you're eating, says health reporter Catherine Price, who spent three years putting that question to more than a dozen top doctors and researchers for her recent book, Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection. "If you're eating a good amount of foods naturally rich in vitamins, like produce, and those that are fortified, like cereal or bread, a multivitamin is probably superfluous," she says.* But if you do decide to take one, keep in mind that the FDA doesn't test dietary supplements to ensure that what's on the label is actually what's in the bottle. Check for a seal that says NSF or USP VERIFIED -- both are respected third-party companies that vitamin-makers can pay to review their products. *A multivitamin containing folic acid is always a good idea for women during their reproductive years.
Of course no one has a magic formula, but Marie Bernard, MD, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging, has a few ideas: See your doctor regularly. "At the turn of the 20th century, the average American life-span was about 45 to 50 years," says Bernard. "Today people live well into their 70s and beyond, and many experts believe that increase is due in part to preventive health measures." Maintain friendships. A new Brigham Young University review revealed that social isolation increases your risk of mortality by up to 32 percent -- on par with obesity. Learn a new skill. A recent University of Texas at Dallas study found that people who mastered a new and challenging skill (like digital photography or quilting) showed greater gains in memory than those who performed passive activities, like crossword puzzles. So get out there and start learning!
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