When people think of self-injurious behaviors, they usually think of cutting. There are so many myths surrounding self-harm, so much shame involved, that most people don’t talk about it.
Since I’m a chronic over-sharer these days, I thought I’d breach this taboo topic. Not that I’m the first person. I’ve seen a few articles that have had me thinking about it for a while now.
Let me confess to the gross, dirty, and most physically disfiguring of my little habits. I’m a skin-picker. It’s a little bit like a nail-biter, but not nearly as acceptable. It’s only been recently given a name, Dermatillomania. No, it’s not in the DSM yet, but that will likely change.
I’ve struggled with this issue for some time now. It started when I began having flare ups of painful cystic acne. I tend to pick in areas that aren’t visible, on my back, my scalp, the back of my neck, under my hair, and my chest. But when I’m anxious or hormonal the urge to pick gets worse, it becomes visible. Picking acne spreads it, feeding into my anxiety as I struggle to hide it.
I can’t wear swim suits without a cover up. I almost always refuse to go swimming with my son, as terrible as it makes me feel and as much as he begs. Sometimes, low cut shirts are completely out, as well as tank tops and anything that reveals my back. My upper arms sometimes get picked at as well, which eliminates sleeveless shirts.
I’ll pick to dig out the core of a blemish that may not be there. I’ll dig and pick until I feel relief. As it heals, I’ll pick at the scabs because those bother me too. I’m extremely sensitive to a lot of things, and scabs pull and itch.
Nasty, right? Why would anyone pick at their skin with their dirty nails and chance infection and scaring?
Trust me, I know how disgusting it is. I know I’m risking infection, I do trim my nails and try to stop. I have gone to therapy a number of times and tried various medications for anxiety and depression.
The most helpful advice I’ve received was from my eye doctor. I’d been dealing with an acne flare up on my chest. The collar of my shirt got pulled down a bit from my fidgety boy sitting in my lap. The red, picked at acne was clearly visible.
After adjusting my glasses, my eye doctor just comes out and says, “I noticed you have an acne flare up. It looks like it’s caused by (bacteria type I can’t remember the name of now). BHA gel should help with it.”
He was right. My favorite BHA product is Paula’s Choice. When I use it, it helps a great deal.
Not everyone who picks has acne as an underlying factor. For some people, it’s just digging hairs out or some other random imperfection. Self-harm comes in many forms. Head-banging, hitting one’s self, cutting, picking, nail-biting, and even compulsive hand washing and nose-picking. If you’re doing it to the point of causing bleeding, bruising or damage to your body, it’s self-injurious. And yet, these habits are just… weirdly soothing.
Yes, we realize we’re scarring our bodies. Yes, we know its gross and dirty and ugly. Yes, we’d like to stop. But many of us just cant.
Please, be sympathetic. Don’t stare if you see fresh, red wounds, nails chewed, arms or legs picked raw, or back full of scars. We don’t need to be told to stop, or all the risks and dangers. We don’t need shame or judgement. We need compassion and love.
I know when I see evidence of self-harm, I just think: Hello fellow sufferer. I understand. You’re not alone.
And it’s a small relief to know I’m not alone either.