Mom left traumatized after medics insisted she had GONORRHOEA… but it was actually compulsive skin-picking
- Angela Hartlin, 36, used to have hour-long skin-picking sessions
- An ER doctor said she had gonorrhea due to an open wound beside her bikini line
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A mom was left traumatized after a trip to the emergency room where medics insisted the scabs on her body were marks of gonorrhea when in fact, she suffers from compulsive skin-picking.
Disabled author and mental health advocate Angela Hartlin, 36, from Nova Scotia, Canada, has endured the behavior almost all her life.
While seeking medical attention for pain in her abdomen, a doctor was convinced Ms Hartlin had gonorrhea because she had a slightly open wound beside her bikini line.
After explaining to the physician that she was happily married and gonorrhea could not have been the case, the doctor still assumed she had indulged in risky sexual behavior.
Ms Hartlin’s condition worsened at age 13 because of anxiety, partly due to her father being left mentally and physically impaired due to a blood clot in his brain
Since then, mom-of-one Ms Hartlin has always suffered from excoriation disorder, also known as skin picking, which means she has the compulsive need to pick at her skin constantly, leaving her with torn skin and open wounds
The abdominal pain was later diagnosed as a twisting fibroid — when a fibroid (benign lump of muscle and fiber typically in the uterus wall) twists on its stem, cutting off its blood supply.
She said: ‘Despite explaining that I’m married, he made an assessment that included the realm of possibility that I engaged in risky sex or was drug-seeking instead of simply desperate for help.’
This was unfortunately not the only time that Ms Hartlin had experienced unpleasant and even dangerous reactions from healthcare professionals because of her skin picking.
Ms Hartlin’s condition worsened at age 13 because of anxiety, partly due to her father being left mentally and physically impaired due to a blood clot in his brain.
She said: ‘I’ve always picked at scabs, scrapes, etc., but it definitely became a problem by the fifth grade.’
Since then, mom-of-one Ms Hartlin has always suffered from excoriation disorder, also known as skin picking, which means she has the compulsive need to pick at her skin constantly, leaving her with torn skin and open wounds.
Another doctor denied Ms Hartlin help for an infection on her chin, because he felt as though she deserved it because it was her fault that she had picked at her skin, causing the open wound to get infected.
As disgusted as Ms Hartlin has been about the treatment she has received for her physical ailments, the mental toll it has taken on her has been immense.
She said: ‘I’ve always picked at scabs, scrapes, etc., but it definitely became a problem by the fifth grade’
Stress is a huge factor that has affected Ms Hartlin’s condition, meaning in times of extreme stress, she is still susceptible to flare-ups
Many medical professionals did not take Ms Hartlin seriously because there was no real diagnosis for skin picking until May 2013, when it was categorized as excoriation disorder in the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Before this inclusion, it was classified as many different disorders, such as dermatillomania, psychogenic or neurotic excoriation, and compulsive, chronic, self-injurious, or pathological skin picking – but it never had its own diagnosis until 2013.
After going through 12 intensive weeks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy with a licensed therapist and BFRB expert Karen Pickett, Ms Hartlin and Karen wrote a book seeking publication called ‘Embracing Dermatillomania: Through Pain and Recovery’, detailing the step-by-step recovery process Ms Hartlin took.
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Because of all she has learned through therapy, Ms Hartlin has been able to use her knowledge to get through her skin-picking recovery.
Stress is a huge factor affecting Ms Hartlin’s condition, meaning she is still susceptible to flare-ups in times of extreme stress.
She said: ‘Eight years later, I do experience flare-ups, but have learned how to manage most of them.
‘I don’t have hours-long ‘pick-sessions’ anymore, though I still get triggered by something on my skin I feel shouldn’t be there, or I may be feeling a certain way that prompts my hands to wander in search of something.’
Ms Hartlin and her husband had a baby girl the month before the first Covid-19 lockdown and hopes that she will get the right help to be a better mother for her daughter.
‘The month before the first lockdown, my husband and I became proud parents to our one and only little girl who brings us more joy than we could have ever imagined,’ she said.
‘My focus is doing what I can to get the healthcare I’ve desperately needed for years so I can be the wife, mom, and person I want to be.’
She added: ‘Whatever you’re going through right now, you are not alone.
‘Even if you don’t have access to treatment for any health condition, get involved with an online community to share your story, feel understood, and support others who understand.’
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