For as long as I can remember, my mum would tell me that I have been picking ever since I was born. I never sucked my thumb, I would pick. I started out picking my mum’s skin whenever she held me, I would find a free patch of skin and pick. As I grew up I would still pick my mum’s skin as I held her hand, but as my fingers grew more powerful and my nails stronger it hurt her more and she would drop my hand when I started picking. To keep my fingers occupied I started picking at my own fingers. This probably started when I was around 4 or 5 years old.
In elementary school I would pick my fingers whenever my fingers were not busy. Recently I found an old journal I kept in elementary school where I said I was going to give up picking for Lent (I was raised Roman Catholic), for multiple years but I never was able to stop picking even for a day, let alone 40 days. In grade 5 and 6 the sores on my fingers became infected with warts. That was a difficult time since the warts were much more obvious than the sores therefore I was teased a lot over having warts. Whenever a wart would clear up I would start picking that patch of skin again and it would get infected all over again. Eventually I went to a doctor to treat the warts but the skin picking was never brought up.
In middle school I never brought up my picking. I knew students that were cutting themselves and how the other students thought they were just doing for attention. I never wanted people to think that I was just picking my skin to get attention or as self harm, I just have to pick so I did it in silence.
High school came and went with only my parents knowing that I pick my fingers. High school was also the start of my struggles with anxiety and depression. I have another health condition that was diagnosed in high school, which I believe that my parents used as an excuse to explain my anxiety and depression. Just like with the skin picking my parents saw it but just did not want to believe it to be true.
University brought with it many different highs and lows. I found out that my skin picking was actually called dermatillomania and that other people do it too but I also engaged in some of the most extreme forms of skin picking that I’ve ever done. Before I started university I would just pick the skin around the cuticles or in the folds of the skin on my thumb joint, but at university I started to use the edges of paper to pick at the skin under my fingernails. I destroyed the corners of all of my notebooks picking under my nails.
In the second year of university I caught whooping cough from a friend and though it was easy to treat with antibiotics, the isolation and abandonment I felt at that time caused my anxiety and depressions to rear its ugly head with a vengeance. I had been in a pretty stable place before whooping cough but that brought every thing crumbling down.
After whooping cough I saw doctors and therapists to help manage my anxiety and depression but I never mentioned my picking. My picking had now progressed to a more extreme form which involved ripping large chunks of skin off my fingers and picking at the flesh underneath. My picking was getting harder to hide, small cuts and scabs on your fingers no one notices since everyone gets little cuts and scrapes on their fingers. But my scabs were now covering large sections of my fingers so people started to ask how I got them. They must have thought I was the clumsiest person since I always said I tripped and scrapped my fingers on the pavement. To try to stop picking I started pulling the hair out of my eyebrows, but instead of stopping picking I now do both.
In the last semester of my 4th year I learned about dermatillomania. I saw this Upworthy post about a video that Beckie0 made where she shows the progression of her trichotillomania and depression every day for 4 years.
This video was a life changer for me. It was the first time that I saw the word dermatillomania and that other people pick their skins, that I’m not alone or a freak because I can’t stop picking. I live in a small town so I still have never met another person who has a BFRB but just knowing that other people pick their skin made it easier for me to look into different ways to stop. I mentioned it to my doctor and therapist since I want to stop but neither really knew anything about it or how to treat it. I am not worried about the visual scars that my picking has caused but I am worried about the scarring in my thumb joints. I’m only 23, I don’t want to get arthritis by the time I’m 30. I’ve just been accepted into medical school to become a doctor, therefore I need the full use of my thumbs.
It has been really great discovering the BFRB community and the support it provides. Right now I’m not seeing any professionals to try to treat my skin picking. I find knitting is the best way that I can keep my fingers busy though I need to find something to do with just one hand when I’m at work on the computer. I’ve tried multiple different fidget toys but so far nothing has worked.
The next step for me is to tell my friends about my dermatillomania, anxiety and depression. My parents have realized that my anxiety and depression are real and not just the side effects of something else. I have also started to talk to them about dermatillomania and they have been very supportive in finding ways for me to manage it. I still have to work up the courage to tell my best friend who did not attend the same university as me. Even though we grew up together so she did not see the worst of it while I was at university since during the summer my picking would not be as extreme.
I’m scared to tell other people since they may not take me seriously or if they do take me seriously I don’t want to be pitied. I just want to people to know since these conditions are something that does not just affect me but the people around me so just a heads up: dermatillomania is the reason for the sores on my hands, anxiety is the reason that sometimes I can’t do anything since it feels like I’m being crushed under some invisible weight, and depression is the reason that even though everything maybe going perfectly well in my life I will cry uncontrollable over what seems like nothing. So thank you for understanding my story.