Since I was a little girl I struggled with OCD. It began as counting my fingers, starting from my pinky and just going back and forth, from pinky to index and back again. It progressed to an obsessive-compulsive need for cleanliness and when you are a teen-ager and breaking out and thinking it is because you are dirty it can turn into something nightmare-ish. I was somewhat lucky in that not only was I still able to function for the most part, they were compulsions I could hide or be discreet about. I was fifteen when I developed an eating disorder that I personally link to my OCD because counting calories became my undoing. Though I saw a therapist and got back on track with my weight and health, I feel that it had less to do with emotional pain and more to do with OCD. At the very least, it was half and half and while I got better there, it seems that my OCD just relocated to something else. That something else was skin-picking, also known as dermatillomania, also known as excoriation disorder. This has been the most difficult to overcome and I still deal with it presently, though to a lesser degree.
If you don’t know, Dermatillomania is a condition where a person feels compelled to repeatedly pick at their skin, scars and other areas of skin, sometimes causing visible wounds. This is sometimes accompanied with self-harm, though it doesn’t have to, but almost always goes hand-in-hand with OCD. In my case, it was all about the OCD and while I guess you could say that I do self-harm by picking at my skin and causing small wounds, I don’t do anything more than that. It is, in my opinion, the most distressing of my mental health issues of which there is bipolar and anxiety and mild PTSD. It is distressing because sometimes I don’t even know when I am doing it and by the time I am conscious of it I’ve already damaged my skin. It is distressing because the concentration seems to be my face and that is the most visible part of you. It used to be my fingers- that space between the knuckle and first joint- I would pick at and pick at until they were truly destroyed. I got myself so worked up and distressed about infection that I stopped, but just like previously, it simply relocated. The damage to my face is not as severe as what I used to do with my fingers, looking more like I picked at zits than large wounds; I can cover them up with minimal make-up, but because it’s on my face, I feel like the whole world can see it. It’s one reason I am in-love with Snap Chat and filters. If you follow my Twitter or Instagram you know, filters are my friend, and not just because chronic fatigue does not lend to being photogenic. This is an embarrassing and weighty secret coupled with not just a little bit of shame that I have carried with me a long time. In fact, so long not even my psychiatrist knew I was dealing with it until about a year ago.
This condition is not something I had a name for. I had no idea it fell into that OCD group and I can’t even begin to articulate my shame. It wasn’t just about picking scabs or picking at my skin. It was every little imperfection seen as the enemy and to a certain extent, still is. I am currently dealing with a heat related eczema and recurring rash along my arms and face, but the eczema is all over my back and thighs and so when I run my fingers across my skin at any given time and feel these little bumps or dry patches it sets off this alarm in my brain which causes this inexplicable desire to pick at it as though picking it away will make it disappear and my skin will be smooth again. And like I mentioned earlier, sometimes I don’t even realize I am doing it until my fingers come away with blood. Still, when it’s over, I feel relieved. Like that itch was finally scratched and I can breathe. It’s a lot less now that I am medicated. I take Tegretol and while that is not the go-to drug for OCD, because I also have seizures, it’s like killing two birds with one stone and it’s helped. It was amazing to me when I realized it was helping. Just one day I realized, oh my goodness, some of those wounds are healing or scabbed and gone and I felt saved. Yes, it still happens but between medication and talking about it and using mindfulness as a part of my inner healing, I am over-coming it.
Sharing it has helped me feel less alone and less ugly. Reading about other people who are going through it, or who have gone through it and come out the other side, has also been helpful. I have to work at being positive every day. I have to work on self-love. When I wander off my path I feel that urge more deeply and I do wander off the path. I am not perfect. But instead of chastising myself for it or hating myself for it, I forgive myself and work on veering back to where I need to be. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes it’s exhausting because I don’t just have this one issue, I have a lot of issues. Don’t get discouraged if you are trying to work through this and fail sometimes. It’s not easy. But know, you are not alone.