Sooo…this post may be just a little yucky. I’ll try to limit the details and keep things just a shade under “absolutely disgusting”. I suppose the below doesn’t have anything to do with borderline personality disorder or dialectical behavioral therapy, but I understand what I am about to discuss can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, which is what DBT was based on. I feel like this is at least a little on topic with my blog since it discusses another mental issue. This one along the lines of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I think I have dermatillomania.
Dermatillomania is similar to trichotillomania, which a lot of people have heard of. Trichotillomania is the inability to control the urge to compulsively pull one’s own hair. According to Wikipedia, dermatillomania is defined as “repetitive and compulsive picking of skin which results in tissue damage.” Yummy.
I’ve known for a while that I was weird in the way that I picked at myself. Whenever I would wear nail polish as a kid, I would sit in school and pick it off by the end of the day. I would pick my cuticles. I would pick at any bump, scab, or non-uniform skin on my body. I never really thought much about it. I had a couple people comment on it when I was younger, but I really thought everyone did that. And a lot of people DO pick at those things. I started to realize something may be weird in the spring of 2011. I noticed that, shortly after starting a new job, I began picking at my head. I would rub my fingers under my hair along my scalp, feeling for anything that wasn’t straight up smooth skin. I think I even CAUSED some cuts while I was doing this. I would just dig at my scalp with my nails. I can’t explain it. It just felt good. Reassuring. Comforting.
Not too long after that, scabs began to form over the small fingernail cuts on my head. Of course, I just HAD to pick at those scabs. Wouldn’t anyone? I would sit at my desk with my headset on, just running my fingers over my scalp. I relished finding the bumpy scab and ripping it off. I liked to look at it. Look at the shape and size. Check out the texture. No, I never ate my skin, but I understand that can be a part of dermatillomania for some people.
As time went on, I noticed that the scabs would get tangled in my hair, and I was pulling out a strand or two of hair with each scab – which is why when I first started researching this I thought I had trichotillomania.
I didn’t think anyone noticed, though apparently they did. I discovered that the more stressed I got at work, the more I would run my fingers through my hair, along my scalp, looking for the abnormalities so I could pluck them out. One day at work, after I had been promoted to supervisor and was sitting at a large desk in the middle of the call center with the other supervisors, I was unconsciously digging at my head. That’s the thing, too. I usually don’t realize I’ve started doing this. I begin to feel stressed and my hands go to my head. Or if I’m bored. Or if I’m angry. Or if I’m awake! Anyway, I found a particularly stubborn scab, and, after digging for a few minutes, pulled it out, along with a couple strands of hair. One of my co-workers walked by and asked me if I was pulling my hair out by the roots. That’s the moment that I realized what I was doing wasn’t quite normal, and that other people could, in fact, SEE me doing it. I think it was this action that, when I took a leave of absence, prompted the rumor around my work that I was in a mental hospital. I WAS in a mental facility, but that’s not the point.
The skin on my head continued to get worse and worse. I’m sure Jay noticed me picking, but he never said anything. He also never said anything about the “flakes of paper” he would sometimes find in my hair, though I’m not sure if he actually knew what they really were. I tried to stop so many times. I told myself that I would not touch my hair. I tried not to, but found myself doing it throughout the day, not even realizing I had started! I would have my fingers entwined in my hair at work, while driving, while watching TV, while looking around online…all the time! I even tried keeping my nails VERY short to avoid picking at my head. And by “keeping my nails…short” I mean digging and picking at my nails so they were nothing but sore, slightly bloody slits on my fingers. The only time I have really been able to stop doing this since I started was when I was cutting myself. That’s why I originally thought what I was doing was a form of self-harm. I will admit here, that part of the enjoyment I got from self-harm was picking at the scabs afterwards. There were times I considered cutting JUST SO I would have something to pick at later.
It’s more than self-harm, though. It’s more than me wanting to punish myself, or make the pain of life more bearable, or being able to feel something. It’s some crazy compulsion I just can’t seem to stop. It’s gotten so bad that my head usually has open sores (or soon-to-be open!) leaking blood and puss. The top of my hair gets greasy because of the discharge. I have also discovered a small bald spot on the top of my head. Where the hair was is a bright red sore. I wonder if people taller than me, or standing over me while I’m sitting, can see it. I wonder what they think it is. I go to the bathroom numerous times throughout the day, not only to make sure I don’t have skin flakes visible in my hair, but to make sure my bloody bald spot is covered.
I don’t know too much yet about dermatillomania, and I probably won’t write many posts about it. I guess I just wanted to put this out there to see if anyone else is experiencing or has experienced this, too. I know people with mental issues always think that they are alone, which is what makes things so much worse! I’d be interested to hear if anyone out there has any coping skills that they have found helpful. I’ll continue to do some research and see what I can uncover (Like a scab. Get it? Sorry, gross.). I may share some things in the future if I learn anything, but I promise, it will NOT be as nasty as this post was. Sorry to all those people who made it all the way to the end. I guess I should have started by recommending having a barf bucket handy.