Dermatillomania

February 8, 2016 § Leave a comment


Over the last year or so I’ve endeavoured to share more about my mental health. I don’t really think anyone needs to hear my ‘truth’ but the idea of discussing mental illness and harmful feelings needs to become so mainstream that it’s frankly BORING and you’d go to your doctor at the smallest signals, just like flu.

So, here’s something I’ve never shared. I have something a doctor might tell me is dermatillomania. It means I find flaws in my skin that are basically not there or unnoticeable to another person, then scratch and pick at them until they become an actual problem – which I can then scratch and pick at.

I’m lucky enough to focus this mainly on my fingernails and scalp. Being blessed with reasonably good skin gives me less to pick at on my face (though Lord knows, I sure try) so I doubt anyone would guess who hasn’t noticed that one of my hands is nearly always at the back of my head, digging my nails into my scalp. It hurts – dying my hair with open cuts is a burning hell neither I nor Garnier would recommend – and it makes me ashamed. I loathe this about myself and wish I could stop.

When I went back to the doctor about my anxiety the year before last, I mentioned the scalp gouging but it got lumped in with the rest – filed under ‘Citalopram’. Yup, that shit works on the old palpitations and panic attacks. But the dermatillomania is still there. Worse than ever as I’m now back on the skin around my nails. As I type, my right forefinger is sore and red, bloody around the nail.

Having tried cognitive behavioural therapy, I’m afraid the NHS isn’t going to cut it for me, counselling-wise. I heard on the radio a while ago that thousands of children – some abused – are turned away without counselling each year. I can see why shoving pills at people like me is the easiest option. And I’m SO GRATEFUL for the pills. But I’m still bleeding and sore and ashamed, like any self-harmer.

Boyfriend says: “Just don’t do it!” Unfortunately, I often don’t know I’m doing it. And once I’ve started, it’s easy for me to write it off as a bad day and keep going. I’ll try again tomorrow. Every time I wash my hair, I feel like it’s a fresh start – today could be the day I manage not to hurt myself. It hasn’t worked out so far.

It’s not like I’m taking a razor blade to myself but the cycle is the same: release, guilt, anxiety, release, guilt, anxiety. Apart from my nervous cough, it’s the only physical remnant of my awful times, so things could be worse. I just wish they were this tiny bit better.

But hey – if a sore finger is the worst part of my day, that’s a good day.

Update: find out how it’s going with the old dermatillomania now.

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