Giving a Face to the Facts

By Claire Shinn

This year’s Cause Camp experience was a memorable one. The presenters brought their A-game, but what was truly inspirational were our nonprofit attendees that helped make it all happen.

Over those two days, we heard some unforgettable stories from organizations near and far. We got a glimpse of their stories from the impact video booth, but more arose throughout the week without the help of a script.

Lauren McKeaney was a Cause Camp attendee who sat in on our final session, an interactive workshop focused on nonprofit storytelling. Small groups were encouraged to choose one new lesson they learned and decide how they could use it to create a powerful story for their nonprofit.

Her group formed their narrative around a previous storytelling session. Their central focus was this: good stories have more faces than facts.

As the session went on, McKeaney shared her own fact: 2 out of 50 people suffer from Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior, also known as Skin Picking Disorder. McKeaney is one of those two. Now she’s on a mission to put a face to her story. She’s gone from being a quiet victim to becoming the founder of a nonprofit that advocates for the same disorder.

 

Fighting the Finger Energy

 

For as long as she can remember, Skin Picking Disorder has been a constant in McKeaney’s life. Her “finger energy” has left her covered in red polka-dot scars, an external mark of an internal battle.

Whenever she was asked about her scars, McKeaney brushed it off, excusing them as a rash or chicken pox. “With sufficient confidence and an answer for everything, I really was able to appear fine and flourishing.” Meanwhile, her mother looked high and low for a cure—they visited hypnotists, psychiatrists, dermatologists, Chinese herbalists, acupuncturists and more, but still nothing worked.

After decades of suffering, McKeaney was diagnosed with Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB) in 2013. “I wanted a button and a t-shirt and a certificate all printed with this finally tangible illness on it,” she said. “I was eager and ready to research everything about it, start some medication, go through the treatment and finally be cured of this behavior.”

There were still hurdles left to jump, though: the disorder lacked medical studies, research and funding for treatment. Without any further explanation for what was going on, McKeaney continued to live with her BFRB. “I became a master of deflection, rewriting my life events to ward off picking questions,” she said. The front that she had covered up with for so long started to take its toll on her dating life, friendships, family relationships and career.

More Than a Disorder

One year after her diagnosis, McKeaney was hospitalized for picking an area of her leg into an abscess. During her visit, she contracted a bacterial infection, meaning she would need to have surgery. McKeaney spent two weeks recovering before she was able to leave the hospital in a wheelchair.

Later, in a different city, McKeaney came across a stranger who openly inquired about her leg. There, the unexpected happened. She told the truth.

“Owning my [BFRB] made me feel whole, authentically and vibrantly myself again,” said McKeaney. Since then, she has founded the Picking Me Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization that’s dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring acceptance about Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior. McKeaney hopes to combat the negative stigmas that are associated with BFRB, help patients and parents understand that these behaviors aren’t their fault, and educate the medical world on the funding that this condition needs.

Because of her intimate experience with BFRB, McKeaney is passionate about helping other people understand that they are more than their disorder. Right now, McKeaney sends Fiddle Packs filled with toys and BFRB information to day cares, schools and babysitting organizations to help sufferers use their energy in a different way.

The Cause Camp experience helped Lauren navigate and prioritize what comes next for the Picking Me foundation. "Attending Cause Camp was eye-opening and heart-lifting. I personally have never been in a room where so many people like and cared and truly loved their job. It was refreshing,” McKeaney said. Picking Me won the Firespring raffle there, meaning she’ll receive a website overhaul to help her young nonprofit flourish. Apart from that, the support and advice that Lauren received from speakers, founders, project developers, interns and more is pointing her in the right direction as Picking Me approaches its one-year mark.

Cause Camp 2017 had no shortage of inspiring stories to go around—including Lauren McKeaney’s, who went from being a silent sufferer to an adamant advocate. Whether or not your nonprofit’s mission has personally impacted your own life, we’re grateful for your inspiring work nonetheless. Until next camp season!

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