As I’ve grown up I have always had a problem with stress. I label it “subconscious stress” because while things may seem fine and manageable on the outside, my hair, nails and skin would tell a different story.
In my younger grade school years if I encountered any anxiety-inducing scenario I would feel ill and without realizing it I began to pick at my hair. In middle school it became such a problem with hair pulling that I had a large spot of thinned hair front and center on my forehead, almost no eyebrows, and an obvious thinned out line down my part. Children in those years aren’t known for their kindness and understanding and I was questioned and teased about it regularly. I used to joke about it as my “reverse widow’s peak” and blame it on brushing my hair too hard. Over time I learned to discipline myself not to pull my hair when I’d sit and watch television or before I went to sleep. I had to actively tell myself not to do it because I hated what this habit had done to my appearance.
I’ve always had short nails. I could never grow them past nubs until just before I graduated from high school. By then I had other bad habits to let off that excess steam and I really wanted to be able to show off my class ring without being ashamed of my hands looking hideous.
Since middle school I’ve had occasional acne, like most people. I would pick at it mercilessly, taking up my post atop the bathroom sink with tweezers in hand, poised an inch from the glass to get up close and personal with each and every pore. I still find myself doing this from time to time. I have to remind myself that while it’ll make me feel better to have removed something impure and unsightly from beneath my skin I’m only drawing more attention to it by creating a tiny sore that will now require time and patience to heal. Another method I’m trying is using strong but natural skincare products to clear my skin and prevent having something to pick at in the first place. When I’m stressed I have a hard time going into my bathroom and not picking up my tweezers. Often I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I’ll waste hours inspecting each pore. Habits like this aren’t easy to hide, and I used to have to ask my partner to hide my tweezers so I would have to be held to some measure of accountability. This person knowing what I was doing made me conscious of the amount of time and damage I was doing, and it helped, but I had to be able to hold myself accountable.
My brows have grown back and my skin has healed, but from time to time I still find myself spending more time than I ought to, picking at myself, wanting to remove all the negativity from my life through my face. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I realized these behavioral traits were actual disorders; I realized that they had a name and other people dealt with them as well. Googling pictures of other peoples’ faces and seeing that they look just like mine really resonated with me. While I’m still able to blend and look “normal enough” I know that only after a lot of concealer and a well-blended layer of foundation do I feel like it’s safe to go out in public.
To someone who has never had an issue with behaviors like this before, these actions and their results seem senseless and repulsive, but they brought me a sense of relief. I try to find that in other activities that allow me to calm my restless nerves. Cooking, video games, and tasks that require the use of my hands are usually good. Social interaction- especially where there’s lots of laughter- is the best release, as well as exercising when I can find the time. I’m still one to put a lot into being well-groomed, so I can’t get rid of my tweezers but I make a point not pick them up more than twice a week and not to study my face in the mirror for too long. I’ve stopped because I don’t want scarring. I want healthy skin, and that requires an active effort that I’m putting in and I encourage others who deal with similar problems to do as well. The first step for me was acknowledging that I have a problem. The next step was taking control of my actions. If I can do it, as weak-willed and indecisive as I can be, anyone can. Behavioral disorders are something people as individuals can face head-on and over time they can be conquered. If you need help, ask for it. If you want to stop, change your routine. Don’t be discouraged if you have an off day and revert back to bad habits. Every day is a new opportunity to be who you want to be.
Andrea’s blog: letters-intertwined.tumblr.com (personal blog, not specifically for behavioral disorder, though I do discuss it from time to time)