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The Mental Illness That Makes It Hard for Me to 'Just Stop' Touching My Face

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As the coronavirus (COVID-19), the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system, has migrated across the world, the advice from health organizations has been to self-isolate, wash your hands and stop touching your face.

So, stop touching your face.

It isn’t that easy though, is it? A lot of people are learning just how often their hands move to their face. We lean our heads on our hands. We scratch that itch. A lot of body language and expressions can involve touching our face.

But what if you also have dermatillomania? Dermatillomania, or excoriation disorder, is a mental health condition where someone repetitively picks at their own skin. While, of course, everyone occasionally picks at their scabs or cuticles, for people who really struggle with skin-picking, it’s not something they can “just stop.” According to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, 2 to 5% the population picks their skin to the extent that it causes noticeable tissue damage, distress and impairment in daily functioning.

When you pick at your skin compulsively, causing it to bleed or bruise, sometimes you don’t even realize you’re doing it. It can also be a reaction to anxiety or stress. When I pick at my skin, I attempt to “smooth” spots or cuts on my body and face when I am anxious. And when I’m called out for my picking, it does not help reduce my anxiety — I only do it more.

Now that “don’t touch your face” has become part of the global narrative to stop the spread of coronavirus, I’ve felt more self-conscious than ever about this aspect of myself.

Whenever I’ve been called out for picking my skin, both recently and in the past, I feel humiliated and I just want to bore into my flesh even more. Out of concern, people have tried to physically move my hand away from the damage I am doing, but then my anxiety skyrockets and I will just go back to doing it. I am nervous I will be judged more than ever for this if I accidentally do it out in public. I’m not really outgoing as it is, and it is making me feel frightened of going out, even if it’s just to the grocery store. We’ve seen examples of xenophobia and racism since the coronavirus took hold — I am scared someone may lash out at me or others like me because of our behavior.

I try to keep my hands busy anyway. Using a stress ball or putting on soft gloves can help. I try to apply moisturizer to care for my skin so I’m less likely to pick it in the future. But these are easier to do at home alone, and won’t really help me if I have to run to the store. It’s becoming a bit of a vicious cycle — I’ll pick my skin because I’m anxious someone will judge me for picking my skin!

I hope people will remember they probably touch their face more than they realize they do, so please don’t be too harsh on others. It’s important to care for one another during times like this, not divide us further because we lack awareness of hidden conditions. It isn’t truly going to help, after all.

Take care out there, be safe, be well and be kind! 

Concerned about coronavirus? Stay safe using the tips from these articles:

Image via Getty

Originally published: March 17, 2020
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