Life (Or Something)

Dermotillomania: A Long Name for Something that Embarrasses Me

I have scabs on my scalp. They’ve been there since eighth grade–that’s over seven years. Last month, my counselor revealed that she’d diagnosed me with dermotillomania.

Dermotillomania, according to Mental Health America, is

a mental illness related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is characterized by repeated picking at one’s own skin which results in skin lesions and causes significant disruption in one’s life.

Individuals may pick at healthy skin, minor skin irregularities (e.g., pimples or calluses), lesions, or scabs. This disorder is usually chronic, with periods of remission alternating with periods of greater symptom intensity. If untreated, skin-picking behaviors may come and go for weeks, months, or years at a time.

It started with minor picking, but then scabs began to form. The first time I picked my scalp until it bled was just before my school trip to Washington D.C. I remember showing my mom; she’s reminded me to stop picking ever since.

It got worse when I got to college, perhaps because no one knew what I was doing when I ran my hand through my hair. I also became more embarrassed about it, but I have no idea how to stop. One could ask, “Have you tried not doing it?” And I have–briefly. Before I shaved my head back in April 2016, I stopped picking long enough for the hair to grow back a bit. I knew people could see through the stubby hairs to the bright red wounds beneath. But I couldn’t stop.

As I write this, I’m picking at my scalp. When I pull my hand away, I know there will be blood.

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