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Skin Care

I'm an Obsessive Skin-Picker and This Is What It's Like

TBH, there's a lot of pain involved

When you get stressed, you probably hit the gym or drink a little too much wine. My self-soothing habits, on the other hand, are less conventional. My nasty little habit started back when I was seven years old, though I was always, in a sense, predestined to unexplainable, compulsive behavior. See, I suffer from OCD, which causes me to indulge in weird, self-destructive skin-picking habits.

Skin-picking, or dermatillomania, is common for those with OCD and other psychological disorders. Years of therapy has taught me that picking your eyelashes, hair, and even cuticles is usually a maladaptive response to stress. Throughout my childhood, and even now, I constantly rip into my cuticles whenever anxiety or stress rear their ugly heads.

Aside from some close family members and my beyond-amazing therapist, this is this the first time I've ever opened up to the world about my cuticle-picking habit. For one, I am a painfully private person. Also, for awhile anyway, I assumed cuticle-picking was a semi-normal bad habit, like popping pimples or picking your nose when no one's looking. Whatever the case, you know your habit is getting out of control when the constant picking causes the skin surrounding your cuticles looks like it's been through a cheese grater and frequently bleeds worse than a paper cut.

What cuticle-picking looks like
What cuticle-picking looks like

Image via Bustle

My first memory of my compulsive behavior is from kindergarten, when I started pressing on my tear ducts and pulling at my eyelids for no reason. Although it's hard to explain this to most people, these peculiar behaviors were oddly self-soothing to me as the nerves of starting school for the very first time were in full swing.

Image via Instagram @misscourtneyleiva

I soon grew out of my weird eye ritual and moved on to cuticle-picking when my parents announced their divorce two years later. I took my stress and sadness from my parents' separation out of myself -- doing serious damage to the nail. It got so bad, my mom and dad bribed me with a new doll to get me to quit. Although it sort of worked, I did it more to please my parents.. As I got older, I became more secretive and way better at hiding it.

Fast-forward to high school, and I began to realize why I liked picking my cuticles so much. High school, in particular, wasn't easy for me, as my untreated anxiety and depression left me isolated from my classmates. Dealing with the harsh reality of being virtually friendless, the stinging pain from my cuticle-picking felt good -- a relief from everything going on around me, especially since I was also hiding in the bathroom to eat my lunch.

Despite being a loner in school, I was still very much into fashion and beauty trends. Teen fashion magazines were an escape, and I hoarded them and drugstore nail polishes (shout out to Maybelline Colorama polish) like nobody's business. But, with my cuticles in a constant state of disarray, I always turned down salon manicures and did them at home myself, as I didn't want embarrassment from manicurists, or for my family to discover I was back to old tricks. It was a relief to skip my senior prom, as the thought of seeing a manicurist kept me up at night. I would play the scenario out in my head every night as my senior year drew to a close, with visions of my disapproving parents lecturing me on how messed up my cuticle-picking habit was.

It's been nearly ten years since I've been in the hell that was high school, and even though I'm building a career in something I love, I will say that this ugly habit isn't as bad as it once was. Still, my struggles with OCD are an ongoing battle, and my skin-picking always returns during times of stress. I'm proud to say that over the last four years, through therapy, I have been able to make great progress. And while my journey through therapy is nowhere near over, I am learning to gain control on my life.

My car broke down fairly recently, and of course, I found myself back to picking at my cuticles as I waited to see how much the repairs would cost. Taking the time to watch what I was doing made me take a step back and realize that this was something I needed to stop. For good.

It's been a month (the longest I've ever gone!) since I last picked my cuticles. Of course I've gone in and out before in the past, depending on my stress level, but right now I'm happy to see my cuticles slowly grow back to normal. When I feel the urge to pick, I do something positive for myself instead. They're small things, like journaling, taking a walk, or simply moisturizing my cuticles with coconut oil, and it works.

To celebrate my month-long victory, I booked my first manicure in a very long time. Though this wasn't something my therapist and I agreed upon, I figured it would be a nice way to overcome my fears and face the salon environment I've always dreaded. Of course, I have gone to salon events (I mean, I am a beauty writer) before in the past, but I always winced when a curious manicurist would ask, "What happened here?"

Image via Instagram @misscourtneyleiva

I can't say my manicure was a stress-free event. I kept waiting for the inevitable question to pop from the nail technician's lips. And sure enough, she asked. Yes, my heart did sink a little, but instead of shrugging it off dodging the question, I responded, "It's a very long story that I am finally able to tell."


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