Skin picking and anxiety

I’ve suffered with anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a child I used to obsess over things as a way to calm my mind. At one point I had a drawer full of cut up paper because I liked to cut it up with scissors. I collected things, all sorts of things. I liked to read and spend a lot of time in my own space (this hasn’t changed).

My debut as Angel Gabriel

I remember biting my hands until they bled. Until very recently, I have been a compulsive skin picker, also known as dermatillomania. When I say this is an obsession and a compulsion, I mean that if I didn’t do it, I felt like the energy was vibrating up my arms. The urge would almost make me physically shake.

At particularly stressful times in my life, I’ve picked my skin so badly that my hands are constantly bleeding. I’ve had to wear gloves at work to stop me doing it at my desk. I had to change the thumb print I used to unlock my phone because I’d picked all the way round my thumb.

Friends and family have tried to get me to stop doing it, but it’s mostly subconscious, to the point I would even do it in my sleep. The only thing that’s stopped it, is having acrylic nails on, mainly because it’s made it impossible. I’ve now found myself biting my lips or the inside of my mouth.

It might not seem like it’s that bad, the physical pain isn’t really that much of an issue for me. It’s the lack of control I have with it that I find unsettling. My counsellor at the moment (5th or 6th one I’ve tried) is the first one I’ve been able to speak to about it who I find really takes it seriously.

My anxiety piqued the second time dad had cancer. He had been in remission for over a year when he had a seizure in a car at work. When we went to hospital and they scanned him he lit up like a Christmas tree (borrowed quote from John Green, A Fault in Our Stars). He had a brain tumour and cancer in both lungs. We had to wait a few weeks for the terminal prognosis to be confirmed. It was those few weeks of waiting that led my body to take on anxiety as a permanent state.

I used to shake. I couldn’t sleep. My heart would race. My thoughts were like a whirling tornado in my head. I had to reduce my hours at work because travelling at busy times gave me panic attacks. I felt like I was going to die. I became reckless; I didn’t look when I crossed the road. I was watching myself slip away and I couldn’t seem to catch me.

Artist Toby Allen’s depiction of anxiety

I tried taking Pregablin last year for anxiety and it made me dissociate so badly I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel like anything was real, and felt so disconnected from everything and everyone around me, it was like I was seeing myself from outside my body.

My anxiety isn’t completely gone. Sometimes my heart still beats fast and loud in my ears and I have to try and avoid a panic attack. Some nights racing thoughts keep me awake. I still have to be aware of it, and that it can return without warning, but I no longer feel like anxiety has control. I’m able to control my anxiety, my anxiety doesn’t control me.

Photo creds to @bsxcarter

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