I have Dermatillomania

3 minute read

Dermatillomania is a “skin-picking disorder, is a psychological condition that manifests as repetitive, compulsive skin picking.” Approximately  2–5% of the population has a skin picking disorder. So that means that approximately 11,500 people in the U.S.A. have a skin picking disorder. I am not alone. And if you do this, you are not alone either. If you don’t, please have compassion without judgment.

My first memory of picking my nails until they bled was before kindergarten. I picked at my toenails. I am not sure why I did this, but that’s when it started. It was during nursing school that I really got carried away with my fingernails. Some days, all fingertips would be covered in bandaids. I frequently had to clean both my toenails and fingernails with hydrogen peroxide and cover them in triple antibiotics to prevent infection. I went through a lot of hydrogen peroxide and triple antibiotics during nursing school.

To try to prevent me from this self-harm and to look better, I went to nail salons for fake nails. The workers showed my nails to each other and spoke in a foreign language with shock and amusement. They said “no nail” in English and then, they did their work. I sat in embarrassment as my ugly nails were inspected under magnified light. I felt beautiful and “normal” for a while when the lovely new nails were complete. But without much nail bed to hang on to, fake nails fall off quickly only to reveal a worse situation beneath. Putting on fake nails is also damaging to the natural nail…picking them off as I did after losing one or two…isn’t a great idea for beauty either.

My teenager has fussed me so many times for picking at and over filing my nails. It drives them crazy. I know it’s poor role modeling too but, I file away. As a young child, I was soothed by rubbing my mom’s smooth nails. Now, if my nail isn’t smooth, I will go to the store to get a nail file if I can’t find one. Ironically, because of this bad habit, my nails will never actually be smooth.

Before you comment on the many ways that I can overcome this bad habit, I have to tell you that I don’t need to. I have consulted with doctors and counselors; it’s not pretty or the healthiest coping mechanism but I’m ok with it right now. The stress of trying to quit is greater than the stress relief of just continuing. It’s not as bad as it once was and I’m not trying to cover it up with fake nails. Getting past the body shame has been good for me. That’s where I am right now and it’s ok.

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