A little known form of OCD that affects my every day life…
This week, I had the great pleasure of have a rather large editing job. I had quite a short deadline, and agreed on a schedule with my client. Everything started off fine, I was ahead of schedule, and enjoying the book; but when I came to open my laptop on Wednesday, I found that typing was painful. Why? Well, because when I’m quietly anxious, I pick the skin on my fingers and thumbs. It’s usually just the skin around my nails, but for some reason, these last few weeks, it’s been getting a whole lot worse. Pulling down towards my knuckles and my palms.
Now, as a good editor, who prides myself on my relationships with my clients, I messaged the author to let her know that I might be behind schedule, and sent her a quick photo to show that I wasn’t fobbing her off. She replied immediately, urging me to seek medical advice, because she’s also a doctor in a hospital Accident and Emergency Department. She was concerned that the picked skin had gotten infected, and that I needed a course of anitbiotics, and quickly. I did so, and after speaking to a pharmacist, emailing pictures of my hands to my own GP, I finally got prescribed some antibiotics and a medicated moisturising cream.
My picking isn’t anything new; it’s something I’ve always done. But, I’ve never picked to this extent. I usually manage to stop myself before it gets serious. But recently? I don’t know. Yes, my anxiety has been worse; but I’ve put it down to the Cost of Living Crisis currently sweeping the UK right now. I’ve been applying for jobs, trying to ensure that I can earn an income, and of course, because I’ve been unemployed for 12 years (caring for my son), I’ve not gotten anywhere. That anxiety has been pulling at me; eating at me silently – like I’m sure it has been with millions of people in the country.
So, why am I talking about it now? Well, other than the fact that I was almost hospitalised from the infection, I felt that it’s possibly the right thing to speak out about it. I don’t realise I’m picking, when I do it. I don’t have any recollection of peeling the skin from my hands away, until I find myself covered with dead skin, and I can barely bend my fingers. Little blooms of blood will appear around my nails, and scab over – and then the process will begin again. It’s a compulsion. My fingers act of their own accord if I don’t have something to keep them busy.
I’ve taken measures, since Wednesday, to try to stop me from destroying my hands more. I’ve bought gloves – but they’re too thick to type with. I’ve played on my phone more – but it’s been painful with my fingers. It’s. been a hard week, as I’ve been painfully aware of what I want to do and forcibly stopping myself from doing it. It’s also been hard not being able to write or edit. Even typing this, is slow going with my fingers throbbing,
But, this evening, I received a message from a friend. Telling me I wasn’t alone. That she does it too. And that’s what got me thinking… This is a real condition. And it’s not talked about, even though it can cause embarrassment, feelings of shame, and, as discussed above, be incredibly painful and debilitating.
Skin Picking Disorder, according to the NHS is:
Also called dermatillomania or excoriation disorder, skin picking disorder is where you cannot stop picking at your skin. There are things you can try to help yourself, but some people may need professional treatment.NHS.co.uk
The NHS also describes it as a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as the sufferer can not stop themselves from picking. They feel a compulsion to pick. On the NHS website, they also state that it’s associated with Body Dismorphic Disorder; as in, there’s an imperfection of sorts on ones body, and the patient is determined to get rid of it.
I can relate to both of them.
OCD, because I can’t seem to stop picking. Even when I know it’s going to cause me harm. I don’t realise what I’m doing to myself. BDD, because I feel a bit of loose skin, or notice a bit of loose skin, and it has to go; there and then, and nothing will stop me from getting rid of it. I’m embarrassed about the tiny bit of loose skin, even though no one else can see it. And then, when I’ve ended up with scabs and scars on my fingers, I’m even more embarrassed about the blemish, and hide my fingers away as much as possible.
It’s a little known condition, that has a real impact on peoples health – and not just mental health. I’m on antibiotics to fight off an infection that was turning into cellulitis. I’m wearing gloves throughout the day and night. When I went to the pharmacy for the quick consultation, and they confirmed that I probably had an infection, I slunk away in an embarrassed huddle; so much so, they took pity on me and rang the GP surgery around the corner to try to persuade them that I was in desperate need of an appointment. I’ve been told to attend hospital if the pain in my fingers gets any worse, or if the skin around the wounds gets any redder or tighter. I’ve been exhausted, sleeping throughout the day. I’m aching in strange places. My fingers are aching and my middle finger feels as though I’ve got a huge blister on it.. They’re also itching. I feel pitiful and ridiculous.
So? Let’s talk about this. If you have this Skin Picking Disorder, don’t feel shame. Speak to someone. Speak to your partner, friend, parents, family. Speak to your doctor if the picking has caused open sores. It’s okay to talk about it, to seek some help. Hell, speak to me, if you need to. Don’t let this hidden disorder run your life. If you get the urge, try to keep your hands busy or pop a pair of gloves on to stop your fingers from accessing the loose skin. Don’t hide it. Because it can lead to serious issues or complications.
I know that if I hadn’t messaged my client on Wednesday morning, just letting her know that I was behind on the schedule, I wouldn’t have gone to the doctors. I know I would be still struggling, and would have torn most of the skin off my thumbs, index and middle fingers. I would have ended up in hospital, with a serious infection. I mean, I’m still not out of the woods now; it’s Friday, and due to the slowness of my own GP surgery, I’ve only just got the antibiotics. Even though the pharmacy rang the surgery on Wednesday afternoon, saying I needed an urgent appointment, I didn’t get to speak to a GP until 5:30pm on Thursday night – and my prescription was only ready this morning. I still feel ill, tired and brain-foggy, and I know it will only get worse as the antibiotics start to work their brand of magic; but that’s not the point. Please, don’t let it get to this ridiculous point. Where you’re crying at home, hiding your scars and scabs and cowering in shame. Because it’s not shameful.
No one knows what triggers a skin picking frenzy. For me, I know it’s when I’m anxious, or occasionally, bored. This year, even though it’s only February, has already been hard. On a personal level, my father-in-law has been incredibly poorly and there’s the constant worry about money due to the Cost of Living Crisis. On a world level, the horrific earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have been heart-wrenching as the death toll rises and the Cost of Living Crisis and how it’s affecting the poorer sections of society. Weltschmerz is a real, tangible thing that can seep into aspects of our psyche and can cause people with mental health conditions more issues. When I spoke to my GP, she asked specifically how my mental health was, and if I’d had any self-harm ideations. I assured her I hadn’t, and that it’s just a general anxiety that’s affecting my picking. I don’t think she was convinced.
One thing’s for sure though; even just typing this blog is making me feel a bit better. A little less isolated. A little more normal. So, if you’re struggling, if you’re picking, peeling, or even just feel like shit, talk. To me, to anyone. Comment on here, anon, if you’d prefer. Or, send me an email. Or, speak to your loved ones.
As my friend said to me this evening; You Are Not Alone.