I don’t know why I feel the need to share my issues and secrets with you all but, apparently, I do. It’s probably easier than having to discuss it face-to-face with someone. Better to look like a dufus in front of hundreds of strangers, than to actually connect and confuse (possibly repulse and alienate) people you know in real life, right? But I also tell myself that I do it in the interest of public awareness. I am providing a service. Or something. Really, I am just an over-sharer, let’s be honest and not kid ourselves.
So, this week, I discovered the annoying, gross and disgusting habit I have of picking and chewing at my fingers until they bleed has a name. I have Dermatillomania. Yay! Or, rather, not yay. I thought it was just a bad habit, like biting your nails or saying “y’know” a lot in sentences. But, apparently, it’s a real THING. An obsessive-compulsive thing. I just thought I was a weirdo who couldn’t get my shit together.
If I think back, I have always had this problem, even as a kid. I used to pick my lips ALL THE TIME. I suppose I am lucky I never really had acne, because face-picking is apparently one of the more common kinds of dermatillomania, where people pick at real or imagined blemishes, imperfections etc. My face needs all the help it can get, so I am glad I didn’t go in for that kind of self-mutilation. As it is, I am horribly ashamed of my hands. My fingers are dreadful – I don’t let anyone see them if I can help it. I never wear nail polish on my fingernails – I don’t need to draw attention to my sore, red, usually scarred fingers.
I don’t always recognise it at the time, that I pick when I am stressed or anxious, but now that I am becoming aware, I have noticed that I do indeed start the picking and chewing cycle when in stressful situations. It’s compulsive, so I do it before I even know I’m doing it. And then I feel bad. And then I get anxious and guilt-ridden and ugly-feeling. And then I start picking again.
Funnily enough, when I was sick , at an extremely stressful time in my life, my hands were lovely. This was partly because I was laid up in hospital for weeks on end, unable to move or do anything, especially where it involved my hands. I couldn’t hold a spoon, let alone coordinate my fingers to actually pick at anything. So they became smooth and blemish-free and baby-bum-soft. They were excruciatingly painful (nerve damage – oh my God, it hurt!) so I wouldn’t have been able to touch them anyway, but very nice to look at. There had to be a pay-off somewhere. I’m not even sure if I was suffering with the dermatillomania around that time anyway. I was probably doing something else just as gross. I did go through a foot-picking phase. I know – disgusting!
Things I am doing to combat it include :
- Cutting my nails really short – it makes it very difficult to pick when you have no nails. It still means I can chew, but I am less likely to cause as much damage and also I am less likely to do that in public (for some reason).
- Making myself a “fiddle string”. Using a bunch of ugly beads I will never use for anything else, I have made a little beaded thingy to fiddle with when I am in the car. When I am stuck in traffic I pick like a crazy person.
- Stock up on Bandaids. If the area is covered, I can’t pick at it.
- Addressing my anxiety. This is tricky and the hardest thing to tackle. I’m going to try and be more mindful and look for the triggers and just be AWARE of my feelings and what I’m experiencing. And yes, it’s time I started some therapy again. I have been putting it off, but I know I need to start the process again. I have lots of issues that are holding me back from having what could be a really happy life. So I need to take ownership of that and try and fix things.
- Keeping otherwise busy and occupied whilst at home eg crafting, reading, writing. If my hands are busy doing other things, they can’t be busy picking.
If you suspect you may have this condition, there is an online test you can do (although, I think, if you’re thinking of taking the test, you’ve probably answered your own question). Or you could be sensible and see a medical professional about it. The internet is not always your friend and can’t really answer your questions, give you a hug or pat you on the back sympathetically. So seek advice from an actual human being if you’re really concerned or need more help to overcome it. And maybe share with others, like I’m doing. Employ someone to slap your hands every time you start picking or chewing – that could work too. Some sort of assistance dog that attacks you when you’re tempted to self-mutilate 🙂
I don’t mean to be facetious. If you are suffering with this condition, I am very sorry, and you have my sympathy. And support from afar. I wish you happy hands and cute cuticles, and freedom from whatever is causing the issue in the first place.