I PICK MY SKIN WHEN I'M ANXIOUS
It started out so innocently. I had a spot on the back of my neck and I picked it, but I didn’t stop there. I needed to pick it so it was smooth, so it was not there, so it never existed. My fingers were wet, I looked and my finger tips and nails were covered in blood. It sounds dramatic and now I look back on this time and wonder why I didn’t stop right then and there, but I didn’t and I didn’t because it made me feel present in a distraction of my own making.
I went to bed that night feeling guilty and ashamed of my anxiety for making me attack myself so physically. I told no one and persuaded myself that it really ‘was just a bad spot’. Nothing more. Except the following evening I repeated the behaviour, but this time I had a scab to pick and not content with making the back of my neck bleed, I found myself picking my hair line, behind my ears and the back of my thighs. Every night I would repeat the same habit. Every night I would go to bed feeling ashamed and guilty and I would promise myself that I would not continue this behaviour. It had to stop, because if it didn’t I would be found out. I was running out of places to pick and hide.
The following day I got dressed to go to the gym, tied my hair in a ponytail and started making breakfast, which is when my husband noticed that I had a spot on my back that was very red. He asked me about it and I immediately got defensive and under my breath muttered my first lie about my picking and said without blinking “I’m allergic to something or other”. Phew. That was a close one. In this moment, I realised I had a problem.
At this point my skin picking was really hurting as I had run out of spaces of skin to hide so I had to start all over again, but my skin never had time in-between picks to heal so my skin was red raw and I would bleed easily and frequently. I was embarrassed. How can I do this to myself? Why was I letting my anxiety control my life? Why did skin picking feel like such a release when the worry slapped me in the tits?
One morning I was leaping from one Instagram story to another, when I discovered Busy Philipps (who I’d been following for ages, mainly for her hilarious UBER stories) and she was talking about her exercise routine and why she exercises and how she “has” to exercise so she doesn’t pick her skin. Woah. What? So, this is something that people do? That Busy does?
I looked into it and the words ‘self-harm’ kept appearing and I felt embarrassed. I was a 32-year-old woman who was self-harming. I had a mortgage, a kid, a tax return to fill out – on paper I was an adult. I was not supposed to have this much ‘shit together’ and harm myself physically. I had to stop. I had to tell.
I spoke to my husband that night and he said all the right things, he was kind and showed understanding, even when he obviously couldn’t understand why someone would pick themselves apart. His eyes looked worried and together we agreed I had to talk to someone and get down to the core of the behaviour. I needed a professional. I booked in for a course of 6 CBT sessions the following day.
Before I started my CBT sessions I had spoken to several other people about my skin picking, people that I trusted, people that cared and people who would sit on my hands so I wouldn’t hurt myself if need be.
By the time my first CBT session arrived I had already told my ‘story’ a few times and I was surprised at how easy it was to relay my experience to a stranger/therapist. I soon discovered that my anxiety wants me to feel guilty, embarrassed and ashamed. It wants me to hide and do things in secret so ‘it’ doesn’t get found out. Getting to the root of my behaviour I suddenly understood why I was picking. Once I exposed my anxiety I could come up with a plan. I had to. This behaviour was now a habit and I had to break it. My biggest task that night was to distract myself from picking.
It was hard. I wore gloves, my hair was up, I wore trousers, the husband was quizzing me every 5 minutes and I would escape to the bathroom to pluck my leg hair whilst pretending to go to the toilet. It was awful. I couldn’t understand how I could be so self-aware of my situation, but still sabotage myself. Every time I got dressed in front of someone they would say “Oh Natasha” whilst looking at my scars with ‘sad eyes’ – the eyes that say “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed”. It hurt. It was hard and it wasn’t working.
I had more CBT.
I then remembered that ever since I was a child I had bitten my nails and to overcome my nail biting I had got nail extensions put on and it had helped. I suddenly had a huzzah moment and booked an appointment right there and then with a local nail tech, who has now become a very good friend. The nails worked for me. Because when you’re wearing false nails (in case you’ve never had them) you cannot apply too much pressure on the nail, they are also filed so softly that they are quite blunt so scratching or picking cannot happen. My nails are changed every 3-4 weeks and within two months I had cracked the habit.
I am not cured. I still have the urge, but I have found something that works right here and now and with the help of CBT I have found other ways to cope when the worry slaps me in the tits.
For some it’s exercise, CBT, yoga and for others it can be false nails – it doesn’t matter what it is, just find what helps you and help yourself. It is a f**king journey and it can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle, but tell someone, take action and change a habit. Chances are you didn’t do that yesterday. Nothing changes if nothing changes babe.
Written by Natasha Bailie
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