On Having Dermatillomania, The Compulsive Skin-Picking Disorder

Anita Jankovic / Unsplash

Dermatillomania, also referred to as Excoriation Disorder, is the repetitive and compulsive picking of the skin, which results in tissue damage. The disorder can often be linked with anxiety.

Having anxiety is bad enough, without physically wearing it in self-induced bloody tick marks and bruises on your skin. Not to mention, bloody nails and fingertips, or a bloody chin from picking at bloody lips.

In high school, the cute boy with the pretty blue eyes approaches you for the first time, and your heart stops. You forget to breathe as he leans in close to whisper something in your ear. Of all the things you hope to hear him say, “Your lip is bleeding” isn’t one of them. Embarrassed, you pull away and thank him for telling you. What you don’t tell him is that the math test from last class period was really stressful, and you spent the whole hour compulsively ripping chunks of skin off of your lips. You’re just thankful he didn’t see your fingernails.

You wake up from a nightmare in the middle of the night, to blood dripping down your chin and staining your pillowcase. Damn it, you did it again! You were picking in your sleep, and now, you can’t stop the bleeding. You stumble to the bathroom in the dark, turn on the light, and are greeted by your bloody reflection. You look like you belong in some kind of vampire horror flick. Another shirt ruined, just like your self-esteem knowing you have to go to school the next day with sores on your lip, looking as if you lost a fight in the darkest alleys of your mind.

In gym class, you change in the bathroom stalls so the other kids won’t notice the red marks from a night of picking at the skin on your stomach and thighs in your sleep. You wear long sleeves and hoodies on 80+ degree days in buildings that belong to a school district too poor to afford air conditioning. Heat stroke is more appealing than facing the potential embarrassment of trying to explain the bruises and marks on your arms from pinching and picking at yourself while trying to calm yourself down from a pending panic attack in the cafeteria: The result of being surrounded by too many people.

The hardest part is trying to explain to your closest friends and family that you don’t mean to harm or mutilate yourself on purpose; It just comes as naturally and compulsively to you as scratching at a bug bite. Most times, you go into such a trance while doing it, you don’t even feel it; You do it absentmindedly. By the time you even notice you are picking again, it is too late; The damage is already done.

One day, you stumble across a post on Tumblr that informs you that your compulsion to pick at your lips or your skin isn’t normal, but it is a fairly common symptom that manifests itself in people whom suffer from anxiety. The post even gives this phenomenon a name: Dermatillomania. You Google that strange word for hours on end, until finally, you feel at ease. This strange behavior is a medical condition that actually exists. There is validation in those seven strange syllables of that pretty little word. There is comfort in the fact that, for the first time, you know that you are not alone.

You are not alone. TC mark

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