What is Skin Picking Disorder?
Skin Picking Disorder or Dermatillomania is characterized by the repetitive picking of one’s own skin. Sometimes it can cause discoloration, deformities, or scarring. Many people will begin picking their skin during adolescence when they start getting acne on their face. According to the OCD Center of LA, this disorder has obsessive-compulsive features that are similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
My life with Skin Picking Disorder
For at least 30 years I suffered from this disorder and believed I could not stop picking my skin. For many people with Dermatillomania, their primary focus is on their face, but my location of choice has always been my scalp.
This is difficult to write about for the world to read, because it has been a constant source of embarrassment and shamefulness. I realize in order to help others, I have to be honest with those of you who have this problem too. Otherwise, what is the purpose of this blog?
I began taking medication to treat my anxiety and depression when I was 26 years old. My doctors knew about my skin picking problem, but medication never really helped me. I feel as if my medical providers didn’t quite understand the problem. Therefore, since I could not find help, I continued to pick at my scalp religiously for at least another decade.
Do I have OCD?
My habit was definitely compulsive and obsessive, however I am not diagnosed with OCD.
There were 3 main reasons I picked at my skin. The first was when I was experiencing anxiety, which happened quite often. Unfortunately this act increased my anxiety level rather than help it subside. The second reason was I found the habit to be incredibly relaxing. Just rubbing my scalp is soothing. So during these times, I picked at my scalp watching television, driving, or lying in bed at night before going to sleep. The last reason, and I find this to be the most disturbing, was for pleasure. Often, picking my scalp was very painful, but this act caused a strange gratification at the same time. Occasionally, I even caused infections. For me, this is probably the most embarrassing aspect of the disorder. But the pleasure was probably the main reason I had such difficulty stopping.
How to know if you are suffering from Skin Picking Disorder
One way for you to know if this is a disorder or not is to ask yourself if the behavior is disturbing your daily life. For me, it definitely did. I often would go into what I call “panic mode” at work. When I was under a lot of stress and my time was running short, I started to panic and my anxiety levels increased.
When I am dealing with Dermatillomania this means that I sit at my desk during my planning period or go to the ladies’ room and begin picking my scalp. As I scratch, pick, or dig I worry about the time I am wasting instead of working and being productive. The more I pick to relieve anxiety, the more anxiety I cause.
How to stop picking your skin
Again, according to the OCD Center of Los Angeles, the best way to stop this behavior is through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. One day, I visited my nurse practitioner and asked her if I would ever be able to stop picking and she told me no. She said I would probably do this for the rest of my life.
Thank God that I am so stubborn! I told myself right then and there that I would prove her wrong, and I stopped “cold turkey” on that very day. I stopped for at least 5 years if not longer.
This incident just proved to me that, you should never believe any professional who tells you that you cannot improve from any mental illness. I just don’t believe it is true. If someone tells you things won’t get better, then find someone who knows more about your specific situation. There are always experts in the field who can help you in some other way. Remember too that medication is not always the best answer to all of your problems.
I am sad to say that this past October 2016, I started picking again. In August, I began seeing a new nurse practitioner and began taking Adderall. Since then, my life has changed dramatically for the better. But the new lady thinks I probably started picking because of the new medication. Even though in the back of my mind I didn’t think it was possible, I was able to stop again.
However, this time I took a different approach. About 3 weeks ago I had 8 sores on my head, which is a lot, that I picked on average of once a day. I told my best friend that I wanted to stop but was not sure how to do it. She handed me a small key ring that had about 7 plastic beads around it. She called it a fidget widget. Being a teacher herself, she would use them occasionally with her students who had trouble sitting still or fidgeting in class.
So for 3 days straight I carried the fidget widget around with me. I wore it on my finger all the time and whenever I had an overwhelming urge to touch my scalp, I played with the key ring and squeezed it with my finger tips. It amazed me at how much this helped. If I needed to, I squeezed and moved it around my fingers and underneath my nails to cause actual, physical pain.
I think this satisfied my need for causing pain on my scalp. I did not scratch my head until the evening of the 3rd full day. This was long enough to heal several of the sores. On the 4th day I was left with just three sores and getting rid of over half of them in a short amount of time was a small victory for me
The cool thing about stopping for so many days in a row is that the urge to scratch and pick kind of went away. Within about a little over a week I healed the other three sores. Again, I used my friend’s fidget widget, but I found that I didn’t need it as badly as before, because like I mentioned, the urge to pick was not as strong. I also used this fidget toy that can be purchased on Amazon that my husband bought for himself and for each of our kids. It also helped.
So what do I do from now on?
For now, I intend to make sure I don’t start this again. I do believe that anyone can get past this disorder if they are determined enough to work their way through it. Hopefully, I can keep from allowing it to return. I know I can because I have done it twice. It is just a matter of not starting it again. Whether we use a manipulative or by using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we can beat this. We have no reason to be ashamed.
If you have questions about Dermatillomania or any other mental health issues, please subscribe to my blog and email me. I would love to hear from you. Or if you have another way you have gotten over this disorder please feel free to share that with me too. Thanks!
Take a self quiz to see if you have Skin Picking Disorder or Dermatillomania, also known as Excoriation. Underneath is a link to the Skin Picking Disorder self quiz. You can even do therapy over the phone through the OCD Center of Los Angeles. Also, underneath is a picture of my friend’s “fidget widget”. You can make one for yourself!