High-functioning loons, represent!

Another high-functioning loon has decided to represent.  Jen McCreight suffers from dermatillomania.

I pick at the skin on the pads of my thumbs and fingers, and at my lips. It starts with a bit of dead skin that many people would pick off. But my problem is I can’t stop. You know how little kids like to put glue on their hands, let it dry, and then peel it all off? It’s the same fun – except I’m pulling off skin that’s not ready to come off.
Sometimes I go too deep, or go too far, and I’ll bleed. The result is bright red, scarred thumbs that look miserable and hurt to bend, or bruised and chapped lips that I perpetually blame on the weather. It’s clear that it’s a compulsion. You’d think the first time I made myself bleed I’d stop, right? But I’ve done it probably hundreds of times, and most of the time I can’t even stop while I’m bleeding – the job has to be “finished” until everything that can be removed is.

Jen is a public figure, so this type of admission is daunting.  However, as I’m well aware, it’s like skydiving – once you make the leap it’s freeing.  She has gotten so much support in the comments section of her post and elsewhere, but she is also getting something else: people coming out of the woodwork, many who may have previously thought themselves freaks, with the same disorder.  Some are now seeking help, as Jen has done.

I feel like I’ve never been confident of anything I do because of it.   I’m going to make an appointment with psych tomorrow morning.

This is the effect of putting a successful face like Jen’s on mental illness.  It speaks even more highly of Jen that she has excelled at all she has done despite the illness.  She has greatly assisted in dissolving the stigma on mental illness and, in doing so, she has made the lives of many more valuable, more enjoyable, and she may have actually saved a life.

Mental illness is normal.  Period.  Jen puts it very well.

If we don’t mock people for being deficient in insulin, we shouldn’t mock them for being deficient in serotonin.

True fact.  Of course, I have long known that Jen is the type of person to be this brave, so the fact that she has done this is no surprise to me.  Vindication is so sweet though, and it was awfully sweet of her to prove me right.  ;)  I am grateful to Jen for her strength as are hundreds out there who now enjoy solidarity with a malfunctioning brain.

Congrats Jen, and thank you.  You’re amazing.

MENTAL ILLNESS & PERSONAL: Pictures of my brain.
MENTAL ILLNESS: I see affection as a competition.
MENTAL ILLNESS: Today's session.
MENTAL ILLNESS: Time to go be a lab rat.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Russell P

    I do the same thing JT, but I never thought of it as a disorder. When I was younger I played Trumpet and I was always picking at my lips, it’s more of a habit now than anything else. I’ve had to start biting my thumbnails down to keep myself from picking my lips to pieces.
    I know I have a problem with depression, which is why I self medicate with weed. Problem is, it’s so hard to get when you are 50 something.
    Sometimes it’s better to accept yourself the way you are, and not mess with it.
    When I turned 50, doctors became obsessed with my ass. I’ve had a few ailments that point to problems up there, but my theory is that if I let them look around they are bound to find something, (life threatening or not) that they will milk for insurance money and or feel they have to treat to cover their ass.
    I know it’s a chance I’m taking, but very soon life will take that downhill course anyway due to age. I’d rather just live till I die.
    I don’t even think I’d do anything about it if they did find something.

  • http://en.allexperts.com/q/Atheism-2724/indexExp_111189.htm Jeffrey Eldred

    I do exactly the same thing. Jen’s admission makes me feel more comfortable talking about it.

  • Lena915

    Bravo to Jen. I also work daily with my own mental illness, and I agree that it is a great thing for a well-known person to be comfortably upfront about their own humanity.

  • http://www.epiphanyhealth.wordpress.com Gayle Jordan

    High-functioning loons, indeed.

    Every time I think the atheist community has taken on every issue it can, a member goes and does it again.

    Jen and JT, way to kick ass and take names on speaking up, speaking out, and doing what is right. Balls and ovaries to the moon and back.


  • Kay

    I’m glad that she came forward with her compulsion. The more people we have speaking out, owning and publicly acknowledging their illnesses, the better. It is understandable, especially for someone in such a public position, to want to keep something like mental illness under wraps. But doing so does nothing to dispell the myths and misconceptions about mental illness and the people who have it.

    Wonderful, as always.

  • Taylor Grenga

    “If we don’t mock people for being deficient in insulin, we shouldn’t mock them for being deficient in serotonin”
    LOVE. This is going to be my new line. Thank you, Jen!
    And as always, thanks, JT. You always make me feel better about being crazy. At least I’m in good company.

  • http://moltosostenuto.blogspot.com/ vltava

    I experience this too and it’s embarrassing – I often hope that when I am compulsively sneaking my hand under my shirt, people don’t realize that it’s to viciously pick at something until it’s razed and I’m bleeding. It’s one of the reasons I always wear dark clothing, so people can’t see the blood stains.

    “If we don’t mock people for being deficient in insulin, we shouldn’t mock them for being deficient in serotonin”

    While I agree with the sentiment – depression and other mental disorders should be no more cause for embarrassment than an appendicitis or a broken leg, Jerry Coyne recently discussed some of the current literature which, among other things, addresses the myth that depression is due to lack of serotonin, rightly comparing it to a claim that a headache is due to lack of aspirin:


  • Frank

    Relatively new commenter here! This is, I think, my second post ever here.

    Good point about serotonin vltava! I wonder if Jen and others refer to depression and other illnesses that respond to SSRI’s as “being deficient in serotonin” because it’s simple shorthand. It is, however, a lot more complicated than that:

    First of all, if depression were simply caused by serotonin deficiency then antidepressants would work instantly instead of taking 2 to 6 weeks to *start* working because they do block the reuptake of serotonin after a single dose. And if serotonin were the culprit behind depression the why would a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor – Wellbutrin – be an effective antidepressant?

    Antidepressants work, to the best of current knowledge, by first increasing the amount of the monoamine neurotansmitters serotonin and/or norepinephrine and/or dopamine, which then change the sensitivity and number of post-synaptic receptors which ultimately affects gene expression, in paricular genes that regulate brain growth factors such as BDFN(Brain derived neurotrophic factor) which result in neuronal growth, This is why antidepressants are particularly effective in conjunction with psychotherapy – antidepressants provide the fuel, so to speak, for neuronal growth and therapy (assuming a good therapist) helps to ensure that the new connections made are healthy neuronal connections (therapy alone can do this as well, but it has been consistently shown that meds and therapy work best in combination, particularly for very severe illnesses along the depression/anxiety axis such as JT’s, Jen’s and mine* (therapy unfortunately is often not particularly effective for schizophrenia)).

    *Dysthymia (chronic mild depression) with recurrent major depression.

    Now I’m off to read Jerry’s post. I was computerless for a week so I’m behind on reading my favorite sites and blogs.

  • dk1045

    Just want to say that I love the term “high-functioning loon” and think it describes me perfectly.