Although I’ve had my fair share of skin problems in the past such as hypersensitive skin, eczema as a child, and more recently cystic acne (read my post PCOS & Acne), I’ve also had to deal with another, perhaps more uncommon condition that also affects my skin. This condition however, unlike the others, is not biological but rather psychological and comes down to me. Me and my actions. Actions of which at the time feel uncontrollable…
Dermatillomania is that condition.
I started to wonder what was happening when I had a severe outbreak of hormonal, cystic acne, for which the root cause was my Poly Cystic Ovaries (…read What is PCOS? if you haven’t already). But being at such a low point in my life; having just been through a break-up, revising for exams and having high anxiety and stress levels, I would attempt to take control over my pimples by squeezing them and excessively picking away at them. This could be understandable to some extent as we all pick spots from time to time… but then it got worse .
I then started to pick at skin defects that were barely there… ‘Imaginary’ if you like. It could be the tiniest of bumps on my legs, arms, hands, or even moles and freckles, and I’d pick at them. It got to a point where I would get intense urges to pick and the tension would grow and grow until I gave in. I felt absolutely compelled to pick.
A person with dermatillomania will habitually and excessively pick, scratch, gouge or squeeze at otherwise healthy skin. It’s an impulse control disorder. NHS- Dermatillomania
After picking, I would feel a sense of relief but then I’d see what I’d done and regret it seconds after. I’d be embarrassed and try to cover up with fake tan or blot foundation on the affected areas. This made my already low self-esteem even worse and, with my cystic acne to deal with also, I felt like I had no choice but to cut my nails really short, hide my mirrors and tweezers and anything I’d normally use to help me pick, and ultimately avoid others until my picking had stopped. Easier said than done for sure… but I finally stopped.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get urges to pick now and again but with no acne to deal with and having a happier state of mind, these urges are nowhere near as intense as they were. Plus, I’ve sort of developed ‘coping mechanisms’ when they do come. Sometimes, when I catch myself fidgeting with a bump on my skin, I’ll chuck on a hoodie or throw on some joggers to cover that area up. Better yet I’ll just get up and distract myself whether that means popping downstairs to make a cuppa, tidying my room or taking the dog out.
Dermatillomania was a toughy. It’s undeniably still in my nature as I do have a little bit of OCD anyway. But I’ve taught myself how to resist picking, how to distract myself, and to keep reminding myself of the damages it can cause, both physically and mentally.