A warning before you read: My post this and next week have to do with self-injury. I understand if you’d rather hit the back arrow and Google some puppies instead, as this is pretty difficult subject matter. To make it worse, I’ve also included pictures to give those who are reading photographic evidence of how severe my problem is. If you don’t feel like you can handle it, those puppies are just a click away…
For those of you brave enough to read on:
I am surprised I made it this far into my blog before dedicating a post to my most obsessive and damaging habit: Dermatillomania, or skin picking. Maybe it’s because I’ve only just recently come to terms with how out of control it’s gotten. When I sought out therapy last spring, it was mainly because I wanted to find a way to kick this habit—or at least decrease its frequency.
You’re probably thinking, ‘Dermatillo-what?? What the hell is that?’
Skin Pick’s website states that Dermatillomania is classified as a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior. It is defined as “repetitive and compulsive picking of the skin which results in tissue damage.” Dermatillomania has been grouped with other body-focused repetitive behaviors–such as Trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling)–because it demonstrates a similar urge. Although related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Dermatillomania qualifies for its own category because skin picking is the primary disorder and it has clearly defined clinical features. Research suggests it affects 2-3% of the general population (primarily females), but because many cases go unreported or unrecognized, its prevalence may be much higher.
I’ve been picking my cuticles and lips since I was ten or eleven years old. There was no inciting incident that made me start. All I remember is that when I was in fifth grade I started to feel really, REALLY bad about myself. I looked like I was eight years old and other kids in my class felt the need to comment on it constantly. I had just mastered pronouncing my “R’s” correctly the year before and I stuttered–a speech problem that I still haven’t kicked at 25. I didn’t have many friends. I had been excluded by different groups of girls for years. Surprisingly, kids don’t prefer hanging out with hyperactive stutterers who like spending their recesses writing poetry. I think they all just had poor taste in friends.
In the beginning, I picked when I felt particularly anxious or restless. I did it on occasion to relieve all the anger, frustration, and nervous energy pent up inside me like a balloon swollen with air. Picking allowed me to “deflate.” Over the years, it became my main coping mechanism for life in general.
You just failed that math test? You moron. *pick*
You’re spending another weekend alone because no one likes you? *pick*
You’re super bad at driving and that guy in the Suburu just glared at you for cutting him off? *pick*
This three-hour class makes you want to plunge yourself out the nearest window? *pick*
I’ve described my Dermatillomania like this in past writing:
My one constant in times of fear, anger, happiness, or sadness. A beast that once fed on my weaknesses but evolved to consume even my strengths. My feeble attempt to self-sooth and repair damage from an attack that never took place. A once benign habit that mutated into a cancerous obsession.
Even as I type this post, I’ve picked my fingers. When I wrote as a child, this NEVER happened. Writing made me happy. It was the area in which I excelled. Teachers and other adults praised me for it. I felt nothing but good all over when I wrote.
Then, something changed. As I got older, negative thoughts clouded around my head while I wrote. I realized my writing wasn’t special. I wasn’t as great or talented as I thought I was. I wasn’t creative, smart, or focused enough to be a professional writer. I was just some anxious, weird girl and no one cared what I had to say. A lot of times when I’m writing, the voice in my head telling me these things is louder than the one telling me to push through it, so the cruel voice wins.
Other nights, the kinder voice wins, which is why you’re reading this post now.
Thanks for sticking around, by the way. You could have Googled pictures of puppies, but you looked at pictures of my chewed up fingers instead. Here’s a cute puppy pic for not bailing on me.
For now, I’m signing off. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ramblings of my black hole mind.
P.S. Look out for part 2 of this post in the weeks to come!