Comorbidity — More Uncomfortable Honesty

Posted on April 23, 2013 by


~~~written a few weeks ago, unfinished~~~

It seems like the anxiety disorder spectrum is a buffet, and when I get a spoonful of the orange chicken it always has pieces of fried rice in it.

Yesterday, I stopped allowing myself to freely pick my lips. Normally: I lick them, to check how rough they are, and if there’s some skin sticking out, I rip it off with my teeth. Usually the skin heals dry and rough, like scales–I pull an edge up with my fingers, like someone cracking concrete, and then I pull off the scale, coaxing it away from the new skin underneath.

Apparently some people eat the skin. I don’t; I spit it, or, if I have a big enough piece, I spread it out flat, and play with it before I discard it. I like when I have big pieces: they’re a bit like windowpanes made of frosted glass, and they have my lip print on them. Right after I ripped off the old skin my lips became softer and looked brighter–a surreal, coral pink–sometimes a raw, intense red. They got even softer and brighter with toothpaste, so I’d rub some of that in. The skin went numb–if I touched it I couldn’t feel where–but the entire surface stung lightly, and the pain was cold and fresh.

It’s always been a casual problem for me, except that naming it makes me take it more seriously: dermotillomania. I have lovely lips–they’re the only feature on my face I felt safe to praise–until the picking got worse and I started taking off skin that was still fully attached. I peel skin from them because I like them: I used to think of it as perfecting them. Now they look diseased.

I tried to stop compulsing yesterday because a professional–the psychologist–took it seriously.

“Do you wring your hands?” she said. “Pull your hair?”

I do. I do wring my hands. It’s rare that I do it, but when it starts it doesn’t stop for a while and it’s really bad. I’ll bruise them trying to mechanically separate my knuckles from the tendons holding them together.

I also tug my hair, and flip my hair, and twist my hair. I gather it up in my fingers and tangle it and untangle it. I don’t pull it out strand-by-strand at the root but when I’m desperate I will snap it by the handful.

She told me that every time I feel like pulling at my lips, I should use lip balm instead. I thought it would be easy–and even though I’ve put on lip balm four or five times, I’ve caught myself picking. In the past day I’ve picked at my lips no fewer than ten times that I can recall. The real number is probably much more, and they still feel too dry and sticky.

I want to compulse so badly, and while I was typing this I gave in and bit off a loose piece–I told myself it was okay because it was dead anyway and I was just “cleaning up”.


[draft cuts off here]

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