Living with A compulsive Skin Picking Disorder

Skin Picking, the technical term is Dermatillomania. It's a disorder where you can't stop picking at your skin.

life with a compulsive skin picking disorder and how to overcome skin picking. mental health blogger.

All people pick at their skin, fact. But for people with a skin picking disorder it goes beyond picking. It's where someone causes bleeding and damage.  It's obsessive and has ritualistic aspects and is linked to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder). It's not something that people can stop doing, even if it's painful and causing sever problems. It's a method used when someone is feeling depressed, low, anxious and sometimes for the sake of it. People sometimes enjoy picking and gain much pleasure from it and it's sometimes used as a form of self harm.

I have been an obsessive skin picker for a very long time. I can date it back to me doing it when I was very little but over the years it's got worse - especially when my BDD was at it's lowest. My skin picking isn't a form of self-harm, it's not because I want to hurt myself but more to make things look perfect and also it's a way I deal with stress, anxiety and because I like it. Mine all started with biting my nails off. I would bite them down to the lowest of the low and once there was nothing else to bite I started picking at the skin at the sides. I would start pulling away at the skin, sometimes it would even pull off around my finger. They would never heal as I would keep picking at it, day by day.

The truth is, this still happens now and as I'm writing this post I found myself picking at my thumb, it's become a habit, a really bad one. My skin picking goes onto many other aspects of myself. I have become obsessed with having smooth skin, most of all on my face. I pick away constantly trying to make it all even and smooth. I can spend ages looking at myself in the mirror or feeling my skin looking for something to pick at. At my lowest point with my face I was spending hours scrubbing it trying to get it smooth then picking away with my fingers and even tweezers trying to get every last speckle. This isn't all about vanity, of course wanting to look good plays a part but the truth is what I'm doing makes things look way worse. I scrub my face everyday now but I have got it lower to what it was.

 For me now I'm left with very saw, dry, cracked fingers which never heal because I'll be back at it the next night. Putting it into perspective I will pick mostly when I'm watching TV and sometimes in the evening I can do four episodes of a box set so that's four hours of picking my fingers. Four Hours. I think I do it at this time because I'm relaxed and it's something that does indeed relax me in it's very strange way.  Sometimes my picking can even go into the form of biting, so I might sit and bite the skin off.. not the best thing but hay-ho.  If Iv'e got nothing left on my fingers I move to biting the inside of my mouth. This one for me is the worst regarding pain and discomfort but I don't do it as often, anymore. It was a huge thing when I was little but now, once in a blue moon, thankfully. 

For me having OCD I worry about being contaminated, mostly just food and things that are really dirty. I can't touch chicken because I'm scared it will make me ill but I'm also worried it's going to get into my cuts and thus make me really ill.  Sometimes I have to wear gloves because I'm so scared. I know most people with a cut would be worried about this but my intrusive thoughts make it so much worse. I can't wear plasters on my fingers because it would be all of them and thumbs and I don't want to draw to much attention to them. Instead I just make sure my hands are super clean and I mean super clean! 

If I'm honest, I'm really, really embarrassed about it. It's not something I have really spoken about to people and most of the time the reason I have is because I'm worried I might get ill. It's not something I want to have even though I gain a lot from it, it's a true love hate relationship. It's something that I fight now, everyday to stop myself from doing. I try to keep my hands as moisturised as I can and I have even got the husband involved in telling me when I'm doing it. I know it's going to be really hard to stop but I really can't wait. One because of the pain and two because I can finally have nice nails. 

Symptoms of skinpicking 

  • Can't stop picking at your skin in all areas
  • Pick imperfections obsessively such as spots, blemishes, scars.
  • Using objects such as tweezers, scissors to pick
  • Do it more when anxious or stressed.
  • Not ever allowing skin to heal
  • Don't even realise that you are doing it.
  • Gain pleasure, satisfaction from it.
  • Can't stop doing it, no matter what you have tried.

Things you can do to help skin picking

  • Keep skin moisturised and soft.
  • Keep sharp objects away from reach.
  • Keep the wounds clean.
  • Cover the areas with clothing and wear gloves.
  • Try and keep your hands busy with something else.
  • Know when your most likely to do it and have a plan.
  • Tell people to let you know when you are picking.
  • Try to resist picking for as long as possible.

Of course if it's getting out of hand, where the cuts don't heal or the skin is getting more damaged, it's time to see the GP. They will be able to give you advice on what to do next. They might give you some medication such as, antidepressants and anti-anxiety tablets. They might even refer you for talking therapy, such as CBT or Counselling. Remember it's okay to talk about your skin picking and there is nothing to be scared about. It's also not something you should hide, especially if it's causing serious problems.

Stacey Barber