Hello again Friends!
This is another one of those “I don’t see people talk about this often but I know other people suffer with it” kind of posts, and I’m posting it for that reason alone. I can’t offer solutions, but I can share my experiences, and hopefully make people more aware that this is a real thing and it sucks.
Dermatillomania was not a word I was familiar with until sometime in late 2011, maybe even early 2012, though it was something I had struggled with from a very young age (if I had to guess I’d say I was probably five or six when it started).
Dermatillomania (also known as excoriation disorder or skin-picking disorder among others) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by the repeated urge to pick at one’s own skin, often to the extent that damage is caused. Source: Wikipedia
It can, in some cases, be a symptom of anxiety, others do it as a form of self-harm, and for others still, it’s a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I imagine there are other reasons people do it, but those are the ones I’m aware of.
Anyway, I don’t really remember how or why I started picking at my skin, I just remember being scolded frequently because I’d made my lips bleed, so I moved to a more secretive spot (the shell of my ears) but that was found out fairly quickly, as well, and eventually I settled on a “hotspot” which was my scalp. The picking was really bad for a long time. I couldn’t go more than a few hours without picking at my scabs, which more often than not weren’t even fully-formed scabs yet!
Looking back on it, I’d say it’s safe to say I picked mostly from anxiety and poor coping skills at first, but over the years it turned into a nasty self-destructive habit because I didn’t like myself, on top of the anxiety and poor coping skills.
When my best friend and I started our Internet support group in 2012, we waged a war on self-harm. We were actively fighting our demons together, and sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.
October 2014 to around December of 2015, I think, was my longest stretch without picking. I thought I had broken free of its filthy hands, but unfortunately I fell back into it and still struggle with it today, though it’s nowhere near where it used to be, thank God.
It’s a filthy, nasty, shameful disorder. In the thick of it, I couldn’t go near mirrors without stirring up insane amounts of anxiety within myself because I’d end up checking for scabs, which led to picking most of the time, which led to worrying about leftover scabs in my hair. I’m not a social person on the best of days, but when I was dealing with the worst of my dermatillomania, I didn’t want to go anywhere because I knew I’d be too worried about people seeing my scabs, or worse, I might actually pick in front of someone without paying attention, and I knew it would gross people out.
I wrote a poem (sorta?) about it, and I’m going to post that at the end of this post, but before I go I just wanted to say that there is help out there, both professionally and DIY routes.
When I got clean for the year, I tried just about everything I could think of. It really depends on your personal triggers, but for me, since I struggled most with my lips and scalp, these were some things that did help, and still do when I put the effort in:
Lipstick (because I’m less likely to pick if I know I’ve got lipstick on)
A stress ball or silly putty (anything to keep my hands busy rather than picking at my skin)
If I put my hair up, it would often work (this one is not foolproof, though)
Again, silly putty or a stress ball to keep fingers busy is almost always a good idea
I’d heard putting lemon juice on your fingers helps, too, because it’ll sting in your open wounds and hopefully deter you from creating more, but I’ve never tried that and honestly I am a little afraid of that method.
Oh, another thing I tried was The Butterfly Project (*WARNING, descriptions of self harm on this page*) which worked for a while but I had a breakdown when I “killed” like, fourteen butterflies in a row, so I had to stop. But I would still recommend it! If I wasn’t so easily upset, I would’ve stuck with it for sure. (I’m actually considering going back to it now that I’m older and I don’t pick as often to begin with. Let me know in the comments if you want me to name a butterfly after you and I’ll post pictures on my Instagram)
Anyway, I’ll leave you with this poem for now, and I’ll write again tomorrow 🙂
Mirror, Mirror, on the floor,
I can’t bear to look at you anymore,
So I covered you over,
With some dirty clothes,
But I’m not fooling anyone, I know.
I hear them calling my name,
They say it’s okay,
They say I can pick you up now,
Because I just want to look.
How long have I been combing my hair?
The scarlet burn lingers there, as I try to remove my delicate trophies without ruining them.
I have a jar full of past experiences,
My friends think they’re ugly,
But to me, they make sense.
I’m sorry, Mirror,
It’s not your fault,
But in your presence, I can’t resist the call.
I smash your face, and tell my mother it was a mistake,
Though I’m secretly glad that you’re gone.
It’s been a year, and the call goes to voicemail,
You invite me out to dinner,
Say it’ll be different this time,
You say we won’t spend the whole night in the bathroom,
Desperately trying to cover my lips with colour, so no one will notice the dark bruises I left on myself because of you.
I thought I was smarter than this. I thought if I put my hair in a ponytail and wore balm on my lips, I could resist their call, but you knew I’d fall all along.