“Pick Me, Pick Me!” Says Dermatillomania


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.

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Categories: Anxiety, CBT, Cutting, Daily Life, Dermatillomania, Mental Illness, OCD, Self Harm, Self-Injury, Stress | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on ““Pick Me, Pick Me!” Says Dermatillomania

  1. SenoritaSmiles

    I had a terrible nail biting habit for a long time. My nails were an absolute mess. I’d chew them off anytime I became anxious and pick at my poor cuticles. It wasn’t until I found other coping skills for my anxiety that I was able to stop. Hang in there!

    • Yeah, I go through cycles where sometimes I chew my nails ragged, and sometimes I’m able to let them grow. Still looking for coping skills that work for me. 🙂

  2. annalevex

    Oh my god! I do EXACTLY this!!! Like any scabs or lumps on my skin and I do the scalp thing ALL the time!! Ahh!! Thought I was the only one.

    • Its nice to find out there are others out there. Thanks for letting me know you go through this, too.

    • kimberly

      I’m so glad I found this blog. You described my behavior EXACTLY and I never knew anyone else did this. I’ve picked at my scalp since I was a little girl, on and off, and recently it has reared it’s ugly head (puns, anyone?) with a vengeance. Reading this has convinced me beyond a doubt that I need to seek professional help to deal with some compulsion issues. Thank you sooo much!

  3. I have this also and find it nearly impossible to control. Good luck! I look forward to future posts.

  4. Me too…as I was reading this I kept catching myself picking at the cuticles on my fingers, any dry skin on my lips has to go, I search for ingrowing hairs on my legs and the worst one was when I was getting treated for my acne…I couldn’t resist the scabs on my face and it’s left me with scars! I never knew it had a name. I’m sure you’ll find a way to stop even if it means wearing a turban! xx

    • Thanks for letting me know you go through this, too. It’s nice to be able to put a name to an odd behavior. I know it made me feel better knowing this was an actual issue. Yikes! I hope it doesn’t come down to me wearing a turbon! 🙂 Thanks for your comment

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  6. I also have BPD and Dermatillomania. It’s a form of OCD. Many people with BPD also have other co-morbid conditions.

  7. Reblogged this on MAKE BPD STIGMA-FREE!.

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  9. My sister started out with trichotillomania and now she has dermatillomania. She now has stopped with the hair pulling. She has tried all kinds of meds, counseling, biofeedback. I bought her a hypnosis tape expressly for dermatillomania I found online. It relaxes her for a few minutes but hasn’t helped her scratching. She is raw all over. She is 58 years old. She is not doing well and goes to the dermatologist to make sure she’s not infected on a regular basis. She has seen psychiatrists, they do not say she has bi-polar but I think she is depressed. The family is very upset over her. Wish there was a cure for this. My sympathies go out to all of you.

  10. I have the same problem! My skin is all scarred from this crazy fascination and obsession. I have to wear long sleeves and pants out in public to hide the shameful scarring and sores. I even developed the habit of “collecting” the scabs I’d picked off my body. Glad to know I don’t suffer from this alone.

  11. You are so not alone. I struggle with scalp specific dermatillomania. We can beat this!

  12. Anon

    I have the exact same thing! Eat them too 😦

  13. Trichdermgirl

    I have the exact probelm. Ive been doing it for 5 years. It started off as trich but i tried making myself stop pulling out hair and that resulted in picking scabs. I like to collect the scabs i pull out of my hair and, just like you, i like to see the texture and shape. I cant stop and its really become a problem, like when my friends want to play w my hair or i need a hair cut

  14. Reynolds

    I do this too!! I hate it and wish I could stop
    😦

  15. Jennifer

    Hi Meagan. I see you wrote this 4 years ago and you don’t have any other comments. That really sux, but I’m so glad you had the courage to write it. I have the same problem, and I’ve been wondering if I’m just losing my mind!

    I’ve always enjoyed picking my skin, since I was a kid. But in the past year, it has gotten out of control. My arms are completely covered with scabs (that I have repeatedly picked and will soon be scars to match the rest of my arms). It’s also started on my stomach and legs. My skin is destroyed. I have to wear long sleeves in 80 degree weather to hide it.

    Just like you, I catch myself doing it at work without realizing it.

    Have you found any relief from this !?!? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

  16. Kayla

    Growing up, I thought I was crazy. Like batshit crazy. I had long beautiful blonde hair and for some reason as a little girl loved nothing more than twirling my hair around and around my finger until it was into a tight little knot and yanking it out. I didn’t realize what I was doing was harming me. Whenever I was sleepy or tired or bored or basically not distracted, I would run my fingers through my hair just to feel it on my skin. If I’m bored you’ll most likely find a strand of hair in my fingers. When I started school, I think I noticed when I hit 3rd grade, I would run my hands over my scalp, like you said looking for any bumps or extra soft skin I could dig my nails into. I was obsessed with scratching at my scalp and then looking at the resulting skin under my fingernails (gross, believe me I know). With such long hair I eventually got lice which didn’t help the scratching. It got so bad as to the point where I would leave the classroom saying I “bumped my head” because I was bleeding from my scalp. One time my mom thought I was eavesdropping on my Birthday present because she was standing outside and I leaned toward the light coming from the door to see my skin flakes. I got screamed at and I tearfully told my mom why. She never brought it up again. I didn’t think about it until I was a lot older. Whenever I’m stressed I’ll bite the skin around my nails, pick at my scalp, bite my lips or pick at scabs. Sometimes I’ll scratch an itch somewhere so bad that it starts to bleed and will scar. I also have an irresistible urge to write down certain words. If I hear a name or a word somewhere my finger will unconsciously trace that word onto my skin over and over. I’m sure all of this has to do with OCD, but I also grew up in a very abusive home, so I developed Complex PTSD which I’m sure doesn’t help the coping mechanisms. I decided to Google scalp dermatillomania today, and I’m glad I did because I don’t feel alone or a freak anymore. So thanks for writing this post. 🙂 I don’t have any coping mechanisms to speak of though, aside from the damaging ones so any help would be fantastic.

  17. Alyssa

    I can really relate to this. I have OCD, Bipolar II, and Social Anxiety Disorder and I am worried I also have this. I don’t know if it is part of my OCD or something separate. I began cutting at age 13 and did so for 11 years but this started much earlier. I seem to pick just my scalp, but sometimes I pick other places. It is very embarrassing and it causes a great deal of distress…so embarrassing that I am too ashamed to ask for help about it.

  18. Andrea

    I can completely relate to this. At some point once I began high school, I picked up the habit of pulling at the dead ends of my hair. I subconsciously overcame that, but now I am at a point in my life where I think I may have dermatillomania because I cannot seem to leave my scalp alone. I do the same thing that you described: running my fingers across my scalp in search of bumps, and picking at them until they bleed. Although it sounds awful, I am SO glad to hear that I’m not the only one! Even though your post is years older than this reply, I really appreciate being able to hear a story from someone who experienced what I am facing right now. It is so relieving to see someone put into words what I fail to describe with the feeling of satisfaction and sense of relief that comes with skin picking. I hope you have found a place of recovery, and I again thank you for helping me find words to begin mine!

  19. Abby

    I’ve never read something so relatable. Your experience with picking is just like mine. Exactly. People tell me to stop and it takes me a second to even realize what they’re talking about.. “oh! I’m digging into my scalp! Oops” I lay awake at night picking for hours. I find it impossible to stop. I can’t wait to go home every day so I can pick off that scab that I made that morning. Some days it’s so, so irritating. I want to stop but something in me is forcing me to pick. I can’t go a day without washing my hair. I got homeschooled my junior year because it got so bad. People stared at me because they could hear my fingers running over my scalp and through my hair. I’d pull my hand away quickly because I knew there was blood all over my fingers. Dermatillomania has been eating away at me for too long 😦 what do I do?

  20. Amber

    Oh my god, I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing but I’m so happy that I’m not alone with this one! I pick any dry skin on my lips, I have dandruff so I pick and pick my scalp all the time. I have so many scabs on my head it’s embarrassing. I need to get a hair cut but I can’t risk the embarrassment. I’ve tried to limit my picking to only scabs that are already there so I don’t make anymore. I also TRY to make sure I leave one scab alone on my head long enough for it to heal but sometimes the amazing feeling of picking the scab comes over me.. It feels so soothing. I’ve been on and off doing this for as long as I can remember. If anyone has done this and quit please email me at lullaby.amber@gmail.com as I would appreciate your help. Thanks

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