In addition to fighting OCD, I am also engaged in a constant battle with dermatillomania. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it means that I pick at my skin. I compulsively pick scabs, fingernails, the skin around my fingernails, my face, etc. Lately, I have been picking until I bleed. Gross, right?
Dermatillomania is an impulse control disorder. It, along with trichotillomania (the compulsion to pick one’s hair out), is a commonly comorbid with OCD because impulse control disorders are considered to be part of the OCD spectrum.
I used to hate this terrible habit—what I thought was just a habit, anyway—and I though it was childish to be unable to stop. It has always disgusted me. But it’s not just a bad habit. It’s how my brain works; it’s an involuntary action, so I can’t just stop. Like OCD, it gets much worse when I have a lot of outside stress. It calms me when I’m stressed. I know this won’t make sense to a lot of you, but it’s very comforting, embarrassing, but comforting.
I had managed it well for awhile, or so I thought. I quit playing with my cats so that I wouldn’t have scratches on my arms to pick. I keep my nails painted, so I can pick at the polish instead of my skin.
But these don’t solve the problem. To stop picking, therapy prescribes a stress ball. The idea is that if you squeeze a stress ball every time you want to pick, then it will retrain your brain to need/desire the new action over the old one. Eventually, when I am stressed, my instinct will be to squeeze a stress ball instead of pick my skin.
The problem is this involuntary part. Most of the time, I don’t know I’m picking until I draw blood and have to get a bandage. By that point, it’s too late to get the ball; the damage is done. I always have the ball with me in my purse, but I always forget it’s there.
So what to do?
For those of you who know me in real life, who see me on a regular basis, I need your help. If you see me picking at my fingers, arms, or face, then tell me to use my stress ball. You probably notice what I’m doing before I do (because it’s weird and gross). I would say you should slap me on the hand if you catch me picking, but please don’t. You’re all well aware of how much I LOVE being touched.