Thursday, April 9, 2009

On Dermatophagia

I distinctly remember the moment that I began self-harming. I was in the second grade, and I was sitting in class, facing away from my desk, attention rapt on whatever the teacher was saying-- so much so that I noticed a bit of my fingernail was a making a break for it. I decided that, like any reasonable human being, I would bite it off. I did so so enthusiastically (or with such poor aim) that I actually dug into the skin next to the offending hangnail. And for some strange reason, it must have felt great.

That was twelve years ago. Since that fateful day, I have been chewing the skin off my fingers on a daily basis. And by daily, I certainly do not mean there is a certain time I do it, a little bit of space in my day where I can relieve this strange urge. I bite my fingers constantly. I bite them unconsciously. I bite them until they are sore and bleeding. I bite them even though they are often sore. I bite them despite my mothers constant warnings when I was younger that I would get gangrene and have to have them cut off. I bite them even though my boyfriend has expressed how much he would like me to stop hurting myself like this. I bite them because I cannot stop biting them.

I always thought that biting my fingers was just a habit that I had formed and that it was nothing even close to psychological. This is what I told my mother, who has tried in vain to get me to stop. Telling me how repulsive my hands look did not work ("Vanessa, you're a flutist! You can't have such disgusting fingers!"), nor did the aforementioned warnings over the serious medical repercussions that could occur (I assure you, I used to live my life truly believing that my days with operational hands were numbered). She began asking me why I was so nervous. I always assured her that I was not nervous, that this was not the case (if you knew me outside this blog, you would that that's a damn lie). It was a habit. Just a habit. And I could stop anytime I wanted to.

I tried to last year by wearing gloves for the entirety of the latter half of winter break, and the results last a few weeks, but I never reached a point where I could feel fully comfortable without biting just a little. I told Luke to tell me when I was biting (or picking at) my fingers and make me stop. He tried in earnest to help me, but most of the time when he stopped me for a moment, I found-- almost mysteriously, as weird as that sounds-- my hands in my mouth as soon as his back was turned. It was incredibly frustrating for us both. He tired of failing to stop me, and I tired of feeling-- moreso than ever-- like I couldn't even control this strange behavior. I think trying to stop was really the point at which I began to think that maybe there was something wrong with me that wasn't just nervous or crazy or purely habitual. I had only ever briefly, passingly thought of my behaviors as a form of self-mutilation. It certainly is, and you would know that if you could see the sheer damage I can do on my own body with a complete disregard to the pain it causes me. (Unfortunately, my camera is not very good at doing its job and I've continued to forget to buy it batteries, so I won't be able to show you my actual hands as an example. Examples of similar ones to come, if you're interested. Just sit tight.)

One night, I was sleeplessly sitting in front of my laptop gnawing away when I decided that I should just look the damn behavior up on the internet. I found something that I never thought-- nay, dreamed-- I would find. A wikipedia article titled "Dermatophagia." When I opened the link, I was shocked. The pictures were so familiar to me that I swear I wondered if someone had sneaked into my room and took photos of my fingers. I read the article hungrily, desiring nothing more than to know what this dermatophagia business was all about. Believe it or not, the suggestion that it is actually an OCD-spectrum disorder was one of the most exciting things I have ever read. I further looked up Dermatillomania (in recent years I have also suffered a significant amount of compulsive skin-picking related to my hands and otherwise), and then Impluse-Control Disorders. I was floored. I was psyched! The idea that something is psychologically wrong with me and other people do this, too, and maybe someone can fix me omg omg omg was one that lifted a huge weight from a shoulders, a weight that had been plaguing me for twelve whole years. When I read that therapy can help-- for the first time in my life and after a very negative experience with therapy as a child-- I wanted that therapy. I wanted help. I wanted to be able to shake someone's hand and not worry that they'll be sickened by me. I wanted to be able to pass papers in class without trying my best to keep the person next to me from catching a glimpse of my torn-up skin. I wanted to not be sore, to not bleed, to not feel out of control of my own body. The idea that something could be at work psychologically was amazing.

When Luke woke up (God bless him, really-- this is the man who has said to me that if feel like hurting myself, I should just bite on his hands instead), we talked about it.

"I looked up a ton of articles after that-- everything I could find, even though there wasn't much-- and they say that if I get therapy for it, I might be able to work through this and really stop."

This possibility is one I have never thought would be realistic for me.

I wanted to write this post even though it is irrelevent to fashion because of the excitement I feel in my search for treatment. I wanted to write this because there is so little about dermatophagia on the internet, and I can only hope that if someone just like me is trying to find someone just like them out there, they will find this post and feel not-so alone anymore. I have been thinking and worrying about making this post for a couple of weeks now, because I didn't know what admitting I have a such a bizarre and, frankly, gross compulsion as part of my everyday life would mean to you readers. I feared admitting it would make me lose all credibility, or seem like a psycho, or just seem disgusting to others. But I've said it. And it is a weight off my shoulders.

To make this entry relevent to you: is there something about your appearance that makes you embarrassed or that you try to hide? Are you trying to improve it? Become more comfortable with it?


EDIT:
Part 2 of this series on Dermatophagia/Dermatillomania

84 comments:

amanda said...

Oh, honey, you have no idea. Or -- you know exactly.

I suffer from dematillomania, among other things, and have since ... well, for as long as I can remember. Whenever I feel anxious or depressed (which is all the time), I pinch and pick at my skin, usually to the point of bleeding. I've also taken to cutting when picking isn't enough.
I've just recently started therapy and it has helped immensely. Some of the techniques don't work, and some do. Grabbing an ice cube and holding it in my hand whenever I get the urge to cut or pinch works really well for me; perhaps it's something your therapist will suggest?

Really, what I'm trying to say here is: thank you for writing about this. I suddenly feel much less alone.

Anonymous said...

Wow.....All this time i thought i was the only one! Its so good to know that this is actually a medical condition and i'm not a freak, or disgusting or just plain wierd. Ever since the age of about 7 (i'm 18 now) i've bit and chewed the skin around my fingernails and i never even questioned why i did it. My mother would constantly tell me to stop, that it made her sick to look at, but now i understand its not my fault, its a form of obsessive compulsive disorder....

I've always been so embarassed of my fingers. In school i always feel extremely self conscious when somebody looks over my shoulder when i'm writing and i always make sure to hook my thumb into the palm of my hand when around people.

When somebody exclaims in horror 'oh my god, what happened your fingers?!' i quickly snatch my hand away and mumble some excuse about my hand getting caught in a door or a dog biting me.

But now i'm not so ashamed. And maybe i might tell some of my close friends about this condition. Thank you for making me realise that i'm not the only one.

Vanessa said...

Amanda: I never responded to you within this post, but I did on your blog. I was really touched that you shared this with me-- thank YOU.

Anonymous: if you ever come back to this post, I'd like you to know how glad I am that you found this. Like Amanda's comment, it really affects me that you came here and shared your experience. I want you to know if you find this that I plan on posting about this again, as I recently found an OCD specialist who I hope to see in the near future. When that happens, I'm definitely going to write about the experience(s) I have there. If you do see this again and want to contact me, my email is vformato@clarku.edu. I'd be glad to talk if you want to.

Anonymous said...

Amanda:

I just turned 50 and I've been a nail biter all my life. I've spent a life in Sales and Financial Marketing...always so ashamed to do the most normal, needed things like shaking hands, handing documents to people---all because I was so afraid they'd see my hands!

Mysteriously(?), it all just stopped(POOF!?)about 8 weeks ago.

I recognized that my behavior was OCD. I also become fearful(CONVINCED!)that I would eventually get some kind of infection, maybe fatal, from the open sores on my nails and fingers.

I put some "Bad Taste Goop" on my nails---HAH!---I kind of liked the taste!!.. but it definitely alerted me! I also filed away some of the burrs...Started puting Nutra Nail 5-7 day growth formula on...and I began using a Hand/Cuticle Cream.

The lack of Burrs really helped---the moisturizer and the nutranail were a good combo. I stooped with the "Bad Taste Stuff" within a week.

Amanda---My nails are growing!---they don't hurt anymore! I think my fear of infection may have created a bigger Psych problem to help me overcome the OCD!!! Anyway, if I stop the "treatment" the burrs still bother me a bit---not as much---not as many burrs. I think it will take some time before the growth cycle is complete. I don't think I'll ever be a hand model, but I think my hands are getting toward presentable.

I wish you victory in this---don't give up!

Patrick said...
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Anonymous said...

I bite my skin/nails all the time and I don't think it's a big deal...if I bite the skin too far from the nail, the pain makes me stop. If it doesn't hurt, I just keep on truckin. I only bite the bottom left and right corners though...haven't had any problem with "discoloration" or scars...when it grows back, looks the same as the rest of the skin around it.

If you have a little self control, I don't feel it's a big deal. If you are biting skin that causes a lot of pain, you need to stop. If you are biting through the pain...wtf? Are you a masochist? Stick to the dead skin and you'll be fine.

Brittany.A. said...

I bite the skin around my fingers like crazy. Its like a release I guess. I grandparents go crazy when they see me, cause all they do is see me with my fingers in my mouth, biting. I stop when they shout, but when their backs are turned, Im doing it again. Biting like crazy. Thank-you for putting this blog online about your own experiences. I *think* I might possible have that Behaviour Problem that you mentioned. Although I'm not sure.
Although there is another disorder connected to it about pulling ones hair out. Funnily enough, I can't ever seen to stop doing that either.

Many Thanks - Xxxx

Anonymous said...

I found out about it the same way on wikipedia. I was glad to know I wasn't the only one.I have been doing it since I was 12 ( I'm 17 now) and I would always try to hide my hands from my family but there would be times when my sister would catch me biting the skin off my fingers and she would say " stop biting your nails." if only she knew what I was really doing. I've been trying very hard to make sure my family doesn't find out about it I don't want to worry my mom. Anyways its definetly lessened to the point I only do it once in a while. Another thing I do is pick and peel the skin on my lips odd I know. It's gotten better and I'm hoping eventually I'll just grow out of it but for now I'm going to just deal with it.

Liz_z said...

Thanks for the great post :) I have Dermatophagia too, and recently found out it even had a name. I started at 7 or 8, and continued for 20 years. It got worst every year, almost my entire palm :( I've recently decided I needed to get help and stop. I'm trying it on my own right now (so far so good), but looking at tips/support online has also helped. I hope therapy is a success for you! I know it has helped others.

Orlagh said...

I've bitten the skin around my nails since I was about 6(I'm now 16)That 10 years of constant biting has worn down my front teeth!I discovered dermatophagia 2 days ago and I've read a lot of stories and I finally don't feel so alone and ashamed.I am so desperate to stop. My dad calls me a cannibal and tells me to stop eating myself but its hard! I've tried wearing gloves,covering my fingers with tape,putting stuff that doesn't taste nice on my fingers and pinching myself when I bite my fingers but nothing has worked. I told my parents today about dermatophagia and they were really shocked as was I. I cried in front of my computer when I relised I'm not alone other people do it too!I'd love if you could contact me to let me know how your coping with the disorder. My e-mail is Orlagh.Creagh@hotmail.com

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

I've bitten my fingers for as long as I can remember. Anything to relieve the horrible fear, anxiety, and doubt. After reading your post, I finally got the nerve to pick up the phone and call a local OCD Dr. in my area. Thank you for writing! Don't give up.

Anonymous said...

So I'm not a freak after all. I work in mental health services and still did not recognize that my picking and biting at the skin around my fingers was psychopathology and not just a bad habit. I also found the pictures on Wikipedia and it just looked like my fingers on a bad day and the entry on wikipedia consequently lead me to your blog (the second page I have looked so far). I should have known.... my mother had Trichotillomania to the point of having to wear wigs when her hair stopped growing back. How much more denial could I have? I'm not sure if I feel better or worse at this point.

Anonymous said...

I've been dealing with this for years - I can't remember a time in my life when I haven't done this. I never thought anyone else was a picker or biter, and I actually felt like I had more in common with a cat my family had at one time that nibbled his belly than I did with any other people. I don't know why I never looked it up until now, but I'm glad I did. I find it so embarassing, especially when my hands are wet because they look awful - it always made me feel gross and ashamed, thinking I was the only one in the world like this. I don't feel like its so bad anymore, and I'm glad there are resources out there to help. I've always wanted to bring it up to my doctor but I didn't know how - now I feel much braver. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have been doing this since about....birth! I even actually eat the skin I pull off. I don't stop because there are no consequnces bad enough to get me to stop, apparently! I my fingers have scar tissue especially noticeable for about 1/2" below the nails. But, it is not hideous, so I guess it doesn't really bother me. I do refuse to get manucures because of both that and the fact that I almost always have sores from picking, how unsanitary is that? The skin is thicker than it would be, and I have lost some feeling there and even on my finger pads from nerve ending damage from years of peeling. I have even been embarrased when I've had jobs where I needed to be finger printed because there ais have near smooth places (almost no print left) and the "peels" show on the prints. I also am aware that I must look stupid, vacant, childish, etc. with my fingers constantly in my mouth or munching on my own skin...nice! I've caught myself in a mirror now and then, and it looks beyond rediculous. I have put the nasty tasting stuff on my fingers, but that only works if you want to quit, it's easy to go right thru it. I have tried "sitting on" my hands, but how long can you do that?? I have tried snapping a rubber band on my wrist, this actually did help for a bit, but then I just quit. I do use wipes and wash often because I know that's it a completely unsanitary habit, sticking your fingers in your mouth and touching things at work, etc. I'm getting grossed out even as a type this. I wish it were easy to just quit, but it would be HARD, as it is a part of me pretty much as breathing is! I had not heard of Dermatophagia, I had heard of Dematillomania, and even thought maybe what I do was a form of "cutting" or even Pica. I have been diagnosed with ADD, maybe I have OCD instead, or in addiation to ADD, I see some of the symptoms and test questions are similar...

alex said...

Your story almost perfectly mimics my own experience. My earliest memory is sitting in my kitchen as a kid, with my parents telling me to please, please stop what i'm doing. I am in school for psychology and in the past few months had the same realization that you did-this was not just some sort of heinous habit. I'm currently looking for a therapist to help me, though the prospect of taking an SSRI is a bit daunting. Really, I just wanted to thank you. I've never heard of ANYONE else with this disorder, or of their own personal experience. I almost cried reading it, knowing I am not alone in this. Reading your post and all the subsequent comments was amazing. Thank you and good luck with your situation.

Vanessa said...

I just wanted to stop by this post again and thank you all for sharing your stories with me. It really touches me that this meant something to so many people, and in turn, you guys sharing has done me a world of good. I read these responses over again today and it really did bring a tear to my eye. I've always felt really alone dealing with my compulsive biting and picking. I was so scared to write this post, because I thought it would make people feel really disgusted by me-- or that no one would really care. I've gotten so many wonderful responses, though. People have shared their experiences and asked me to talk more about mine, and have asked how I'm doing with it. I don't even know what to say, except for THANK YOU so much for sharing with me and being so supportive.

Anonymous said...

It's funny because before I came across your post, I was also trying to look up the behavior and found that same page on wikipedia. I have been biting my fingers for as long as I could remember and it probably started around the same time yours started, but getting worse as I grew older and began to take on more responsibilities, challenges, and problems in life. Sometimes it feels like no one understands when I tell them that I am trying really hard to stop biting my fingers. My boyfriend constantly tells me that I am not actually "trying" because if I was, I would be able to stop it since it was just a "silly habit". When I tell him that he doesn't understand my situation, he believes that he does understand.

It is comforting to know that I am not the only one with this problem (though I do not wish for anyone to have to go through this) and for someone to really know and understand what I am going through and have been going through for the last 10-13 years. I am so glad to have stumbled across your post and find that I am not the only one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Just, thank you.

missericakane said...

Wow...like so many others, I googled this and found the wiki page,
then found this blog. I *knew* this had to have some relation to OCD; I engage in some other minor OCD behaviors also!!
All I can say is thank you :)

Anonymous said...

This is like my story. I've bitten and eaten the skin around my nails and the inside of my lips and cheeks since I was ten. Ten years later, and it has only gotten worse. I have pictures and videos of me with my fingers in my mouth throughout my childhood. I have tried to stop on my own. I have recruited my boyfriend and parents to help me stop, but it feels like I wait for moments when they are not watching to bite. They yell at me to "stop biting my nails". I can honestly respond that I'm not. Six months before my sweet fifteen party I wore winter gloves, tape, and band-aids to try to keep myself from biting and everyone made fun of me. I tried so hard and it didn't work. I could barely make it two weeks without chewing my fingers and it only made me chew my lip more. A few months later I decided to google skin picking to see if there were other people like me and what they suggested for treatment. What I found was a Dermatillomania and Dermatophagia. Those pictures of mutilated fingers were like mine. I was so happy that I finally had a name for what I suffered from. I immediately told my parents asking if they could get me help. But they brushed it off. They claim these disorders don't exist and that it is merely a bad habit and that by reading these articles I am fooling myself into self-diagnosis. They threaten me that I will get diseases in my fingers and that I will have to cut off my arms to stop the infections. But I can't stop. it isn't that I don't care; it's just that I can't. But I know what I have is more than a habit. Since then I have begun being more open about my disorder. I have always been embarrassed about my fingers--especially when they randomly bleed in public. Most of my friends think I have some sort of bleeding disease. I have begun to journal about these disorders but am nowhere near quitting. Therapy is currently not an option for me but I hope to do it in the near future. Thank you. I wish all other posters success in your journeys to stop biting and eating your skin.

Anonymous said...

i found this touching and moving - i started quite the same way and it was fine but now they're kind of discoloured around the edges and the texture is bumpy. i'm 16 years old and i have a job coming up and i'm scared to death of having to feel self-conscious about my fingers - i just wonder about how it must feel like absolute freedom to show beautiful fingers and nails without worrying! i feel like they take it for granted. with hindsight if i could have seen the state of my fingers a few years ago i would have stopped immediately, but everything seemed so fine then. so i want to stop and hopefully they'll get half-decent by the time my job rolls around. they aren't too bad - the wikipedia article has extreme examples but i really want to kick the habit so they can start properly healing, for the sake of a normal life because indirectly, it really messes with your mind, trying to second-guess people - the paranoia of wondering if they're repulsed. i don't want to deal with that any longer - hopefully everyone will come to terms with this and stop for the sake of our happiness and comfort.

Reverend Awesome said...

This post is a year old, but I just HAVE to comment. Thank you for sharing your story. This is me! This is just how I feel and it feels so good to read it from others that are going through the same thing.

I've done the same things. I've said "just tell me when I'm doing it" and it can be SECONDS later when he's not looking and I'm back at it. I've even noticed myself put things down just to bite my dang fingers.

I used to pull out my hair. Seems as soon as that stopped this started. This goes way back for me as well and I've always felt soo embarrassed and ashamed.

Thanks for sharing your story.

dawn said...

omg, omg, omg... these comments. bring me 2 my knees. ive sufferd since i was 7 years old and i mean really suffered. the lies i had to create about what happend, are painful in themselves. i used 2 say, my fingers were burned with a stove accident. my mom, friends would constantly tell me 2 stop pickn. it only fueled my compulson 2 hurry up & finish. i bleed, some fingers are bigger than others permanently swolen disfigured from the callous, i hate 2 was dishes or swim in front of others because the torn skin jags up so unevenly. i actually eat the skin i rip. ive damagd my teeth cuz the flesh is too harsh for constant repitition. i fear there is some giant undigestd skin ball in my intestines. i eat all the way to my palms & almost all fingers from nailbed to the hand. i believe i have one of the more xtreme cases. i also eat the bottom & heels of both feet. sometimes i need bandaids, often i can hardly walk and i need to step on ball of foot to avoid the pain of pressure on my heels. i peel all the way up to the ankle. you can see the charred skin ovr my shoe sides. my boyfriend stoppd holding hands, does not want me 2 touch him. i hid the problem for months before hefound out. ive always stuck thumbs in fist or hide hands in public. i worry when i shake hands. i could go on for days, but i think most of you already identify with the issue. hope i didnt gross evryone out too bad, but since i am so xtreme & always thought i was the only one, i hope it helps someone 2 know theres more of us, we all need help, it probably cannot be done on our own, and tryn not 2 be nervous is not the answer. its a compulsion. othr friends/family want 2 advise us or encourage us 2 stop, but unless they have medical xperience or have the problem.... they cant really help to the degree we need. thanx so much 4 sharing your stories. i hope mine is useful 2 others, as well....

dawn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh. I've been biting my nails since I was 4. I think it was a nervous habit because my mom and dad moved to America with me and I couldn't speak English at the time. No matter how many bottles of nailpolish my mom buys me because I tell her I'll stop, it never coaxes me out of my habit. When I run out of nail, I bite skin. When I run out of an ample amount of skin on my fingers, I resort to my feet. I don't just rip off dead skin on my feet with my sore fingers, I use a small, sharp knife after I bathe (sometimes I eat my unbathed skin, too). It hurts to bathe and walk because I tear up the skin on my feet. I've always been fond of the texture in my mouth. The nice feeling of chewing and swallowing. I never considered it too dirty. I also chew the fingernails on my feet and skin around the toe nails. I've had bouts of OCD. When I tell my mother my nail biting is a form of it, she says, "Oh, please." Nobody understands how hard it truly is to stop.
I also contracted an infection on my right-hand middle finger. It's paronychia, nothing too serious, but it's my first infection corresponding directly to nail-biting. That has led me to stop biting the nails on my hand--I now eat skin more as a stress-outlet (what stress? this is summer vacation). I know, it doesn't make sense. Yay for long nails embedded in repulsive-looking skin.
I look at all the other posts and think I'm more sane. Writing this has shown me I'm not so sure anymore.
But, I'm not sure I want to stop.
You only get 1 life and 1 body. I just fuck it all up.

Samantha said...

Thank you for writing this. I also have this problem, and it sucks, and my boyfriend hates that I do it. I hope that one day I can stop it.

Anonymous said...

This too is me. I am 41 and have been doing this for as long as I can remember. Half of my fingers are bleeding right now as I have chewed and eaten the skin off. I was just sitting here watching TV and doing this without even thinking about it. I should be totaly relaxed, yet my fingers are in my mouth. I am so over it that I had to google it and thankfully found this blog. Why do I do this? All the time my fingers are in my mouth. I pick and eat the skin around my toes too, so gross, but I will actually get excited about it. Years ago I used to do it to my heels as well, my feet would be so sore and hard to walk on. Now I see my 5 year old doing the same thing and I discourage it but what a hypocrite I am. It makes me feel terrible, I save my skin in a drawer to eat at a later time, so sick. How do I get help? I am so over wearing socks to yoga and being ashamed of my hands all the time. I really wish I could stop but it seems hopeless since I think I enjoy the act and have been doing this for 30+ years

Anonymous said...

Nail biting solution did not work for me because if I couldn't bite, I'd just pick at my fingers instead. But the thing that really worked for me was getting acrylic nails. They are too raised to be able to bite, and too blunt to pick with. If only I could get these through the NHS as they're the only thing that works for me!! But I feel £40 per month is a small price to pay for having hands that are beautiful, rather than bleeding, sore and embarrassing.

hipgrip said...

Oh, sweetheart. I know this is probably an old post & there are a ton of comments already but I just wanted to tell you; it's not gross. your hands, your gnawed on, shredded fingertips are not gross. I promise.

Until now, it never really occurred to me that picking at my face until I'm more scab than woman could be more than just a bad habit. When it's bad, people ask me if I have a skin condition, because I look like I have leprosy.
I've gotten a LOT better in the last few years, but I know what it's like to have a boyfriend sit on me & pin me down because I'm scratching at the part of my back that's numb from a spinal cord injury, because it ITCHES & I can FEEL it ITCHing, but I can't feel my nails scratching until I'm raw & bleeding & even more frantic for any kind of relief.

It seems...like that. But I learned how to trick my nerves into soothing the phantom itch in my brain. I learned how to keep my nails off my face, mostly, & I now get to enjoy having good skin, if I let myself.

It can get better.

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Anonymous said...

I also suffer from Dermatophagia and Dematillomania. As I was reading your story, I felt as though you were taking the words right out of my mouth and putting them into writing. I, like yourself, can recall the exact moment in time when my obsession started. I was in P.E. class in 2nd or 3rd grade when one of my friends mentioned that I had a hang nail. At the time I didn't care about it, but my friend then told me that biting it off would get rid of the problem. So when I bit the hang nail off, something clicked in my mind, and I began gnawing at myself since. I've been doing this for 10 years now and I was so excited when I actually found out that what I do is a legit medical condition, not just a really bad habit that I have.

Amykins said...

"One night, I was sleeplessly sitting in front of my laptop gnawing away when I decided that I should just look the damn behavior up on the internet. I found something that I never thought-- nay, dreamed-- I would find. A wikipedia article titled "Dermatophagia." When I opened the link, I was shocked. The pictures were so familiar to me that I swear I wondered if someone had sneaked into my room and took photos of my fingers. I read the article hungrily, desiring nothing more than to know what this dermatophagia business was all about. Believe it or not, the suggestion that it is actually an OCD-spectrum disorder was one of the most exciting things I have ever read. I further looked up Dermatillomania (in recent years I have also suffered a significant amount of compulsive skin-picking related to my hands and otherwise), and then Impluse-Control Disorders. I was floored. I was psyched!"

Last night I was awake for hours surfing the internet in a drug haze (I've had a bad case of strep and was too sick to sleep well) when I came upon a reddit post about a girl with Trichotillomania. I read further, intrigued by it when I noticed someone else had shared a story about some...oddly familiar...Dermatophagia. I, too, was floored. I almost cried because I had finally found someone who knew what I was talking about! Since last night, I've been researching and reading stories from literally hundreds of other people. I had tried to research the possible condition when I was younger, but nothing came up. I lost hope and thought I had some odd habit. For some reason, knowing that I'm not alone and that it's not something that I just do is the most exciting thing for me right now. As I read your post it mirrored to such a crazy extent what I've been through--I have a supportive boyfriend who tries to get me to stop, my family members have never understood and tried to guilt me into stopping.

For a couple years now, my goal has been to go to law school, and since I'm a senior in college, the day to take the LSATs has been fast approaching... But two years ago I bought an LSAT prep book and was reading through the "What to Expect" section when I got a sinking feeling. They fingerprint everyone who takes the test. Since reading that, I've had nightmares and anxious daydreams that I'll get turned away from the test because my fingers are so repulsive or because it looks like I'm trying to hide my identity. Something that is so dependent on the condition of my fingers made me so much less motivated to pursue what I really want to do in life.
It's weird though.... Even though I've always dreamed of getting help and stopping this awful "habit," now that I know it's actually something other people go through, I've found that I'm not as inclined to try to change it. In the past couple weeks they've been better, probably for a number of reasons, and I'm hoping that maybe they'll stay this way. It's odd, but I do get comfort out of picking the skin off my fingers, and it's a comfort that I sort of don't want to lose (that sounds so psychotic). Nonetheless, I am excited to seek help and perhaps with counseling I can find something to replace it. Or maybe I'll just never need the comfort I receive from it.

But, it feels so incredibly liberating to know that I'm not alone.

Brandi said...

Amykins-
I totally understand, as I don't know if I want to stop either. I do hate it when I look at them and study my fingers for places I can pick, peel, or chew. My mom gets so irritated with me as do my friends, and they sound disgusted when they say "Just stop doing that!"

I also suffer from dermatillomania, as I have found that I can't leave my skin alone when I get pimples or scabs. I've had acne since I was about 11 or 12, and have picked my skin since then.

But the finger picking and chewing only started 3 or 4 years ago. I'm 24, and I have this weird love/hate relationship with it. I don't like the pain. But I feel more like I'm "grooming" when picking the dead skin. But it gets to bleeding and I can't use sanitizer because of the burning. Some soaps hurt too.

I'm afraid of permanent scarring.

I hate getting my nails done, and have only had it done 3 times in the last 4 years because I hate when other people see what I've done to myself.

My right hand thumb is to the point that I have altered my fingerprint.

I'm thinking I might start wtih bandaids and the gross tasting polish and such. After that, I'm sure I'll have to find a therapist.



To all- Thank you so much for your honesty, as it makes me feel so much less alone. <3

Anonymous said...

I've been suffering from this since 1st grade. I would chew gum so that my mom wouldn't notice me gnawing all the time. I'm so glad I'm not alone, but I'm really embarrassed to tell anybody about it. I wish I could be as brave as you.

Anonymous said...

When I read this post i truly felt as if a were the writer! Its so amazing!
I ve done that for as long as a can remember(im 19 years old). When I was around 7 my mother took me to a psychologist, but they actually told her that everything was absolutely fine with me, so from that point on I just thought it was just a weird habit(just like you).
The only difference is that for the exception of my mother and father no one has ever known i do this, i have always felt so embarrassed to tell anyone that when people notice my fingers i say that it is some kind of weird skin allergy, that because i once met a person who suffered from an allergy to soap that made her fingers look a LITTLE similar to mine, so it seemed like the perfect lie!
Like i said before i never thought of it as a real problem. But i decided to do some internet research when i felt like hit bottom last week(in the past i used to only do it in my thumbs, but now i have 6 fingers of both of my hands looking like shit).It is really hard to hide it though, i have developed incredible hiding-skills but there is always someone who notices it.
I feel both relieved and worried to know that it is a psychological condition. But i am so so tired of it. i hate it so much.
I am too, considering going to therapy or something.

PS. ive never read your blog, i just ran into it when looking for the dermatophagia. That said, im assuming you are from the states. Im from Costa Rica. Anyway i just wanted to say that so that you know that there are people who suffer from that literally everywhere.

Hope youre doing better! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, thank you so much for posting this. I've had this problem ever since I can remember. I'm thirteen years old, almost fourteen. My dad does it as well. I bite the skin around my nails to the point that they're sore and bleeding, mostly my thumbs. The right side of my right thumb has half the skin the left side has. I bite my fingers until they feel smooth and even (probably an OCD thing) and if it isn't smooth, I HAVE to bite it no matter how much it hurts, to make it smooth. My friends make fun of me for it, for example I will be unconsiously chewing on my fingers and one of my friends will immitate me, and laugh. It makes me feel ashamed that I do this in public, or even in private. I also bite the insides of my cheeks, and the left side of my tongue. I am so relieved that I'm not all alone in this, all because of this post. Thank you soooo much (:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I've been trying to find articles relating to my condition for awhile now and, honestly, this was the most helpful one by far. When I was about 8 I started to eat the skin around my finger nails and it got to the point where I would have no fingertips left. I eventually broke my habit when I reached highschool but I still sneak in a bite every now and then. Apparently there's no escape! As soon as I stopped biting my fingers, I formed a new habit of chewing off the inside of my cheeks and lips. I'm 20 years old and still suffer from this problem to this day. At least now people don't see my once ugly fingers but my mouth is constantly sore. I just can't stop. I'm working on it though and it's nice to know I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

I have had this ever since I can remember, my mum said that she remembers my hands being purple from biting. But it just feels so good that I can't stop. A lot of it has healed but I have massive calluses on all of my knuckles and the inside of my wrist.
About a year or 2 ago I discovered that I was flexible enough to get my feet into my mouth and I went to town on them, but stopped when I was foolish enough to take a razor blade to my feet to obtain that last bit of skin and accidentally slashed the bottom of my foot. I still regularly bite my fingers and wrist and have now moved on to my mouth. I've even gone to the extreme of using a maths compass to dig at my calluses when my teeth aren't effective enough. It's pretty tiering trying to hide your hands constantly so I resorted to constantly wearing wristbands to disguise my mangled wrists But I have the suspicion that people think I slit my wrists. Unfortunately I have also adapted to a weird way of moving to avoid the disgusted look people would give if they saw my hands. Being a 16 year old girl I have enough body image problems to worry about without this making things so much more difficult

Anonymous said...

Wow, reading this entry and reading all the comments has been so eye opening for me. It's 12:30 AM here, and I'm up writing an essay for school that's taking far longer than it should because every time I complete a sentence, I go off into my own little nail skin picking world for minutes on end. So I decided to google it, and found the wikipedia article, and now this. And I'm so grateful I did. Thank you, thank you all. For me, I don't really remember how it started; I chewed my nails when I was a kid and was never able to shake it, but I think it really flared up when I saw my friend crack her knuckles each day, in 5th grade I believe. I tried it and enjoyed it, and from there it transitioned to cleaning the area under my nails, to picking the skin away, to biting it...etc. And here I am, 8 years later and more obsessed than ever. Like many of the posters, I have quite a few other OCD symptoms but have never gotten treatment. I'd give anything to stop though. Can't get manicures, always making up excuses, all the little scabs around my fingertips from when I went just a bit too far (that's the only way I can stop, usually): there are so many cons. I hope I can stop. I hope you guys can too.

MEF said...

I love hearing there are other people like me with this issue. I felt the same way when I saw it was an OCD type thing. I have been trying to cut down on it recently because when I went to the nurse at my school for a bandaid she freaked out and called my Mom. So now when my mom isn't around I am always picking. One day I just sat around pulling at my fingers. When I looked at it there was a pile of skin need to me. This needs to stop. Good luck to anyone trying xD

Anonymous said...

My whole life I have chewed my hair and skin around my nails. Its good to know there are things I can do to stop. I was in a psychology class, and we were studying nervous tendencies, which is how I found this page. I feel a bit more at ease after reading about so many other people who do this. Good luck everyone.

Anonymous said...

wow this story explains exactly what i went through word for word. just a week ago i read the same wikipedia articles and felt the same feeling of relief that it was an actual disorder and i could finally call it something. all my life, my parents, my sister and even friends have been commenting on my fingers and how disgusting they look, expecting me to just be able to stop. they didn't (and still dont) understand that i cant help it, the feeling i get is so similar to yours. thanks for posting this!!

Anonymous said...

This is me.. Only difference is that I play guitar and not the flute. My dad had asked (when I was younger) if I thought it was a problem and if I wanted to see a therapist for help...and I was offended! Just yesterday my mom mentioned some things about it, asked me if I was an anxious person because she had been diagnosed with general anxiety (maybe I should research that next) and whether or not I want to see a therapist. Ever since that comment my dad would make when I was younger, I have always rejected the idea of a therapist and still, although I want to stop and can in no way do it myself, I cannot accept it and I don't know why. I almost feel like I'm at the point that my fingers are so scarred and they've looked so messed up for so long, it can't get any worse than this. I am not sure if I like accepting the habit but it seems to have been what I've done...but my family and my boyfriend don't understand and still want me to stop. My mom jokes about buying me a shock collar in front of my family which makes me feel ashamed and my sisters hit me when they see me bite and it makes me sooo angry...I'm not sure where I'm going with this. But it definitely does feel different knowing this demon has a name--dermatophagia

bexeth said...

I'm very, very late to this party, but this is so me. I've done this since at least 5th grade, that I can recall, and I was even biting my fingers while i read your blog! It's a compulsion - I just can't stop. And, like your boyfriend, my husband has also suggested I bite his fingers instead, because he hates to see me hurt myself like this. I feel I've found a number of kindred spirits here. At least I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to know I'm not the only one! I've been chewing off my cuticles since I was 11 until they hurt and bleed...I try to stop, and find myself biting off the top layer of skin on my lower lip, so I go back to the cuticles instead...my fingers have looked alarmingly disgusting for 22 years now. I am completely aware this is an OCD anxiety thing, the only time my fingers seem to get better are after a few days of vacation at the beach...but when I get home and back to my job all the good progress goes away. I've tried creams, garlic, gloves, smoking, everything you can think of. The only thing I haven't tried yet is hypnosis!

I saw Black Swan a couple of weeks ago and it grossed me out so much I'm making an extra super human effort to leave my fingers alone. My cuticles are healing, and I'm thinking of trying acrylic nails just so it's difficult to bite around them (plus looking at pretty hands doesn't hurt!) I don't know if I can make this a permanent thing though. I sure hope so. If I keep this up my anxiety is going to try to find another outlet, I just hope it's one that doesn't involve hurting myslef.
Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

i had no idea my finger biting had a name or even that other people did it too
i look down at my fingers and wonder why i do what i do

i so want my fingers to look nice im tired of hiding them im going to do what ever i need to to stop
thank you for posting now i feel im not aloine i actually think i can take this on and defeat it!

Anonymous said...

I just found out that this was an actual condition. im almost 24 and have been creating this torchure for as long as i can remember. I dont know why i do it, i dont know how to stop. people have flat out told me how disgusting my fingers look but it doesnt stop me from picking, biting or knawing. The only thing thats ever helped is if i have fake nails on it seems to lower the level of biting, but not completely. If i dont have nails on its game on, and i dont even notice that im doing it until my fingers are raw. I find myself picking with anything that i find sitting around, including thumb tacs. its good to know that this isnt just me, that other people are just as confused.

Anonymous said...

I have this same problem too! I bite the skin around my thumbs so bad it bleeds are bruises like crazy! Please! Does anyone know how I can stop??

Anonymous said...

wowww. same exact story as everyone else. i was chewing my fingers and finally decided to Google what i was doing. came across the Wikipedia article, then this blog. have cried a bit, realizing i'm not alone and not just weird and gross. i think it is at its absolute worst for me Sunday nights, likely because i dread going back to work in the morning. like everyone else, i've also been doing it all my life, and have been told by multiple friends/family to stop chewing my fingers. and like all of you, i worry that people will notice, so i like to keep my fingers hidden when they're in bad shape.

anyways, has anyone figured out the best way to stop?

Melsquando said...

My goodness...
Are you me in an alternate universe? I had the exact same experience as you just now - finding out about dermatophagia/dermatillomania.

Exactly the same.

Anonymous said...

I am so relieved that I'm not the only one. Thank you so much!! Is there anything to put on your skin maybe to make it grow back faster??

Anonymous said...

I have been biting the skin around my nails since I was a child, I am now 37. I even bit 2 fingers today and now they are bleeding. I am always making excuses to my family and friends about how my fingers are in such a state, like a burnt it on the cooker, caught it in a door etc...I am so relieved to find I am not alone and that it has a name. I am not depressed but I do condider myself an anxious person and a bit of a worrier. I dont know what to do to cure myself, I tend to neglect my hands so will start with hand cream (got some for Christmas!!). If anyone would like to email me any advice please feel free at winonski@hotmail.com

Scrapp3rM0M said...

As I am reading this, I am biting my skin around my finger. Wow, I can't believe I'm not alone in this, although, I secretly know I never have been alone. Just felt like it. Not only do I bite and eat the skin, I also have Trichotillomania (hair-pulling) and have been a nail biter, although I managed to quit 7 months ago. I'm glad to have found your blog and knowing I'm not alone. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey everyone. I recently started a new site called www.dermatophagia.org, it's an online support group for Dermatophagia sufferers. I just started it so I'm hoping people join and have discussions on there.
If you have an questions email me at admin@dermatophagia.org. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Who knew after all these years. If I had this knowledge back when I was a teen, I may not have wasted so many years of my life being super self conscious.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, thanks for sharing. This is indeed a quirk which I too imagined both harmless and unique. Naturally I was interested in the causes of what is described as one of the symptoms of compulsive disorders. Either they don't know or they are not telling. If somebody does find out, though, I would be fascinated to read about it. Still trying to understand the child that grew into this adult.

kelseyjo said...

Vanessa,
for the past ten years (ever since I was in first grade) I have constantly picked and bit at my fingers to the point of bleeding too! AND I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE! everyone thinks its so weird, and you and i are so lucky to have boyfriends who try to help us through it. when i stumbled across your blog, i felt that i was the one writing it! those pictures on the wiki look just like mine as well, and i was just desperately trying to find somone like me. thank you for giving me hope.
i think my mom is going to call a behavioral specialist for me.

kelseyjo said...

Vanessa,
for the past ten years (ever since I was in first grade) I have constantly picked and bit at my fingers to the point of bleeding too! AND I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE! everyone thinks its so weird, and you and i are so lucky to have boyfriends who try to help us through it. when i stumbled across your blog, i felt that i was the one writing it! those pictures on the wiki look just like mine as well, and i was just desperately trying to find somone like me. thank you for giving me hope.
i think my mom is going to call a behavioral specialist for me.

Callum said...

I have this problem too. I bite my fingers until they sting and bleed. Right now, it is the worst state I've seen them, and that's what sent me to the internet to try and find something. I too had no idea this was a real condition until tonight and was shocked to read it's a form of OCD. I remember it properly becoming an issue in September 2008. It's a short time in comparison to some of the people who have left comments here, but I know full well the effects. It seems stupid but the confidence issues you can have because of your HANDS is crazy. It's good to know theres some others. I'm more determined than ever now to stop. I hope the therapy is all you want it to be on the road to healthier fingers. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Gosh.

I feel like I could have written this post. I just found out this week that I have Dermatophagia. I was/am a nail-biter, though in 9th grade I managed to stop and now the nail biting is intermittent. BUT the skin-biting on my fingers continues. I've done it pretty much since I can remember and I'm 42 now. I remember once in elementary school I bit all the skin off of my thumb above the joint...front and back! It hurt so much and my mother told me to stop. Over the years I've had to hide my fingers usually. The only thing that helps is if I put fake nails on or get acrylics. But I tend to bite my skin when I feel stressed, bored or anxious and it's been really bad lately. My fingers are mostly bleeding. I am really embarrassed by the state of my fingers and have had many people tell me "that's completely disgusting" at which of course I am mortified and embarrassed. I found the Wikipedia article and it looks exactly like my fingers! Some nights in front of the TV I chew so much that my hands are throbbing when I go to bed and I have to take ibuprofen to get to sleep. Why do I do this? I can't stop. I do have depression and have been on meds for about 5 years. My life overall is really good. I am married and work part-time. My husband does not really believe that this is a real disorder; he thinks it's a bad habit and I could stop if I try hard enough. I just want to say how HAPPY and RELIEVED I am that I am not the only one!
Oh and to the person who eats the bottom of her feet: that's not gross. I do a lot of picking my skin, esp my toes, with an exacto knife. I've managed to keep my toenails nice, but I do also compulsively enjoy "grooming" my husband and picking at pimples and other skin imperfections--on him AND myself.
I'm so glad I'm not alone!!

Anonymous said...

I just had to say that I felt that you were reading my mind as I was reading your blog. I have been chewing on my fingers for as long as I can remember, and I cannot stop. My boyfriend also tries to help, but I swear it is almost harder for me to stop when he draws my attention to it. I am a voracious reader, and I also watch a lot of TV and movies, and these seem to be the prime times for me to chew. I have always thought that I am alone in this problem, and you have made me feel that others can relate to me. Considering I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, I should not be surprised that my finger chewing could also be related. I just never thought anyone else would suffer from the same problem! I could go on and on and on because of how much this annoys be, but just reading everyone's posts reassures me that this is not something foreign to the rest of the world.

Thank you for posting this!

EmEeeKay said...

I just did a google search for Dermatophagia, and you have NO IDEA how much this post and the comments on it have helped me. I have mild Dermatophagia, and I pick and eat the skin mostly around my feet. Usually after I shower, or once I take my shoes off and the skin is softer. I used to eat my fingernails and the skin around my fingers to the point where I always had at least 3 or 4 fingers bleeding, but I somehow managed to stop that after about 15 years. The feet, though, I feel helpless. I don't usually bleed, but it does happen, and I frequently peel off enough skin that it hurts to walk for days, which is bad when I'm on my feet all day at work. I'm afraid it's screwing up my joints, because I'm constantly having to walk on the sides of my feet, or just the ball of heel of my foot. Sometimes people will ask my why I'm limping. It's horrible.

Just knowing there are other people out there who understand makes me feel so much better. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I also suffer from dermatophagia I also tore my skin on my feet


I thought I was totally crazy but there seems to be more like me somewhere.

Thank you so much for sharing this

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Anonymous said...

hi...i know you wrote this a while ago (and whether you take any notice of it still at all) but its given me a lot of hope that i can stop chewing my fingers as like you said, at school passing papers around is an opportunity for eager onlookers. i was just wondering how you got on with any solutions to dermatophagia..i would love to hear it so that i can stop too..x

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Therapy for biting your fingers? There doesn't need to be a "disease" for every single habit or tick you have in life. There is nothing wrong with you for biting your fingers. I've been doing it since I was 5 years old, and it's disgusting and gross, and I would love to stop, but I cant. That being said, I do not have a "disease" or "disorder", and there is nothing wrong with me. Maybe a little more anxiety than most people. If you feel alone and like you suffer from a "disease" for biting your fingers and need professional help, you have some mental issues that you need to take care of.

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