My first memory of my BFRB was back in the fourth grade when I was about nine or ten and had just lost my cousin to a car accident and had just begun to suffer from intrusive thoughts as a form of my, at that time undiagnosed, OCD.
I remember I was laying in bed, trying to focus on the Pet Rescuers book I was reading, but those intrusive thoughts kept coming into my mind. They kept telling me that I was going to burn in hell forever and that I was a terrible person. I remember my hand going to to brush a stray piece of hair back from my face and feeling a small bump on my scalp and picking at it until it bled. Then moving onto another spot, and another after that, and another after that.
I had been picking at scabs and my nails for years before this, but it hadn’t really been anything to worry about. True once I lost half a nail to the picking but it didn’t matter to me. It was what my family referred to as a “bad habit.”
As I pulled away my hand from my scalp and saw my fingers stained with blood, my blood, I realized that this was something different than anything I’d done in the past before.
This was the beginning of a obsessive behavior that would last with me for the rest of my life.
Eventually I began to pick at the bumps on my face, at moles and freckles on my arms and legs, and even began to bite the flesh off around my fingers and all my nails. When I was around 14 or 15 a few years later the nail picking got worse and evolved into me spending hours using nail clippers to shred away layer after layer of my nail and resulting in the disfigurement of my right middle finger nail.
At this point I had been living with the diagnosis of OCD and depression for about a year and a half and I was terrified of having yet another mental illness and being labeled a “basket case” that I denied to myself over and over again what I already knew. That what I was doing wasn’t normal.
I was so desperate to prove to myself that this was normal, that there were others out there that had the same problem. Those like me who picked at things relatively small and unnoticeable and made them large angry red scabs.
Eventually I stumbled across a tumblr tag called Dermatillomania and Dermatophagia. The tag had photos of nails ripped up and text posts by girls and boys who said they compulsively picked at their own fingers and face and legs and arms and bite the skin around their nails. I wanted to cry with joy and fear.
Joy because I realized that I wasn’t alone. Joy because I was not the only one who felt the need to pick and pick and pick at things that nobody else noticed. Joy because what I was doing had a name, the name of Dermatillomania and Dermatophagia, a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and for the first time since it al started, it all made sense.
I was scared though. How would I tell my family? Would they be supportive or just label me a nutjob and think I was overreacting?
Luckily my parents were supportive. My mom took my nail clippers away so I couldn’t ruin my nails anymore than I had, and she made an appointment with my psychologist to help come up with things I could do to stop the picking.
I was already on Zoloft at that point to help manage everything else so my doctor prescribed an amino acid, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine , to help. I just started taking two six hundred milligram tablets everyday when I get up and go to bed. I don’t think I’ve seen any changes so far, but still, at the time I’m writing this I’ve only taken it for a few days so maybe it takes a while for them to kick in.
When I get the urge to pick or bite I try to distract myself by using my hands to do something else. I don’t have a fidget toy but I do usually have a laptop or pencil with me. What I’ll usually do is move the pencil around in my hands for a while or pass it back and forth between my hands. If I have my laptop near me, I’ll write something. I’ll add to my fanfiction or create a new chapter in my book or whatever I feel like working on. I use two hands to type so this normally really works because if I only have one hand typing and the other picking I won’t be able to work as fast as I want to, and so I’ll stop.
Sometimes I feel ashamed of my Dermatillomania and Dermatophagia. Sometimes I’ll look at girls at my school, the ones with the smooth skin and perfectly manicured finger nails and I’ll wish I had that. I’ll wish that I didn’t have to worry about getting a manicure only for me to pick it off the next day. I’ll wish that I didn’t need makeup if I wanted smooth skin.
Then I’ll stop myself and remind myself of all the good that is in my life. My love of literature, my internship working for YA authors promoting reading on social media, my sister who aggravates me past my boiling point at times but I love no matter what, my mom who is the most supportive person in the world, my dad who makes me laugh everytime I see him, my two cats and how cute they are, the way my two cousins say they love me when I have to go home after family dinners.
Dermatillomania and Dermatophagia are just chapters in my story. Yeah they’re sad chapters but they’re still chapters in my story, a part of me that I can’t change. And what great book doesn’t have a few sad chapters?