Dermatillomania.

For my class, we were once supposed to come up with an artifact which represented ways in which we were “not normal”. The point of this exercise was to a) have us ‘face our fears’ by re-purposing the object and creating new meaning and b) I think, to demonstrate that we have all felt excluded or ‘abnormal’ in our own lives, in so many — too many, ways.

I brought a stuffed animal that I cherished as a kid and used to take everywhere, despite being teased mercilessly for it. Teasing left one of many black marks on my childhod and has influenced the shut-in person I’ve become (to some degree, though this introversion has gotten ‘better’ as I’ve gotten older…). The other one — one which I prefer not to draw attention to but easily could have included as part of this activity, is the fact that – and I will admit this now, despite never really having talked about it before – I have Dermotillomania. 

What does this mean? It means I mercilessly destroy the skin on my cuticles and fingers through picking, through biting, through peeling. It’s an anxious habit, a habit I engage in out of boredom, a habit I’ve lived with since I was about 9 years old… I find it insatiable and satisfying, picking the skin on my fingers. I find it relieving and enjoyable. I find it irresistable. If I turn around for a while and realize I haven’t done this in a few days, it’s not ‘oh, the habit is gone’; it’s, ‘I need to do it again’. My fingers have always been destroyed like this. I can’t remember a time when I had nice hands. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t ashamed of my hands. I can’t remember a time when at some point, my hands were not picked raw, so much so sometimes that they bled, and I had to hide the welling red from my fingers…

I’m not calling for help with this, I’m currently in the process of trying to quit, and I felt like I needed to say something in hopes of stopping this vicious habit before it starts affecting my relationships more than it already has. I feel enough shame for my body. Finger-picking isn’t something else I want to be ashamed of anymore. I want to set a good example. I want to look clean, professional and presentable. I don’t want strangers and friends who don’t know to ask me anymore, “What did you do to your hands?” If going through an Education degree program is supposed to help me gain maturity, wisdom, career and life changes, then I want it to change this habit as well. I want to turn around next year and realize that this horrible habit is no longer a part of my life and I don’t have to feel that burning shame anymore.

I’ll write about this again. I think people like me, who do this, tend to be under-represented and talking openly about this is something I’d like to do more of.

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