Monday, November 8, 2010

Picky, picky, picky. Monday, November 8, 2010.

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” –Charles C. Noble

I have always found it very therapeutic to manicure my nails, which naturally grow long and strong. Choosing the color to match an outfit, taking off the old polish, shaping the nails and brushing on a pretty new color gives me a lift.

Actually, I had started wearing polish when I was in middle school in order to quit chewing my nails, and it worked quite nicely. Unfortunately, my nail-chewing habit morphed into something new – compulsive skin-picking, or dermatillomania, around my cuticles.

I would pick constantly. I was able to pick while driving, while working on the computer, while reading a book. Much of the time, I didn’t even know I was picking. Sometimes it was painful, sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes I picked when I was feeling anxious or depressed; often, it didn’t seem to matter what mood I was in, although I did notice it felt calming.

A couple of years ago I discovered there was actually a name for my habit, and that I was not alone. Dermatillomania is an “impulse control disorder” and is often considered a form of self-injury, like “cutting.”

It had gotten to the point where I was wearing Band-Aids on eight of my fingers. I was desperate to stop. I was already in therapy for anxiety and depression, but now I decided to make my “picking” a priority.

The assumption was that my skin-picking was due to stress. I underwent six sessions of hypnotherapy, and listened to the CDs faithfully every night. I wore a rubber band to snap when I felt the urge. I journaled about what I’d been feeling when I began picking. I wore gloves while relaxing at home or driving. I worked with a specialist regarding any anger issues that might be causing me to pick.

Nothing worked. I don’t care what the experts say SHOULD have worked. It didn’t!

One day when I was at the drug store, I stopped in the cosmetics section and looked at the artificial nails. What would happen if I cut my real nails short, and put these on? I decided to give it a try. Sure enough, with the acrylic extensions, I couldn’t get enough “torque” to pick.

I remembered something about a habit taking 21 days to break. I decided to double or triple that for good measure. I wore lovely, fancy, dermatillomania-preventing artificial nails for three months, when the damage to my own nails became too severe to keep using them.

A miracle happened. I had stopped picking! My brain had been re-wired. And I discovered what I’d suspected all along – that I had an anxiety problem, but the dermatillomania had little to do with it. In fact, during the period of time when I suffered my acute dysphoric mania, attempted to take my life, and recovered from the attempt, I didn’t pick at all.

So why am I writing this today? Because over the last few days, I started noticing that I was picking again. I’m not sure if there is a particular reason, but it doesn’t matter. I’m nipping it in the bud. I bought several boxes of artificial nails yesterday at the store, and I stuck a set on last night. I’m frustrated about having to go through it all again, but at least now, I have a remedy that works for me.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Alizah I too pick. I pick at my scalp I worry spots of psoriasis, I pick at my face, I pick on my thighs and buttocks. I have terrible scarring from this. I have never admitted this to anyone. What should I do. Do I tell my psychiatrist. I am deeply ashamed but reading your blog has given me the courage to confess to you.