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How Fidget ‘Toys’ Help Me Live My Happiest Life With Skin Picking

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

My fingers lightly tap the various fidget toys strewn across my desk. I have a 12-sided “cube,” a fidget spinner, a sloth stress ball, among other things. I have these items for access while I do my schoolwork, for a few very good reasons.

I want to talk about a few different neurological and psychological disorders that are interconnected, at least according to my doctor as well as personal research.

I have never written a post about this, but I struggle with something known as excoriation disorder or dermatillomania, also called skin picking disorder. I have been picking at the skin on my scalp, face and ears for three years now, on a daily basis. It is distracting when I’m driving, at my job or while completing schoolwork. It is also unhealthy to be creating lesions in my skin, and so I know that I need to stop. Hence, the fidget toys. Another tip my therapist provided me with is to wear a hat or gloves to stop myself from accessing the areas of skin that I am drawn to picking.

My skin picking issue is very much related to my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder, and various tics that I have. Apparently, the rates of comorbidity are high among these disorders. I think the reason I pick is partially sensory in nature (sensory processing disorder), partially hyperactive/impulsive (ADHD), and partially compulsive or tic-like (OCD, tic disorder).

Now, I know that not everyone will read this and say they have the same story — everyone’s mental health journey and constellation of diagnoses is different. For me, though, I feel these things are connected.

I find myself playing with my green fidget spinner, the cool breeze it creates causing a sense of calm in the environment as well as in my mind. Sometimes, I feel silly that I have to have toys at my desk in order to stay focused and calm, and to stop myself from picking at my skin. And so this is why I am sharing this story publicly: so that others who skin pick, or struggle with some of the other diagnoses I mentioned, can know that they are far from alone. I am also learning as I “grow up,” in my mid-20s, that age does not matter. Sure, maybe sometimes I feel silly using certain tools to cope, such as my fidget toys, but then I remember that I am just trying to live my happiest and healthiest life.

As for my tics, they are something I have never openly written about either (and you can read my many other posts about OCD and other mental health conditions). I have twitches, particularly when I drive, that are my current tics. I have also had some as a child that were subtle, such as rolling my shoulders and neck repeatedly, licking my fingertips over and over to keep them from being dry, as well as clicking my tongue on the roof of my mouth frequently. I have never had a doctor say I have a tic disorder, but I do feel I had and still have mild tics that are intertwined with sensory processing issues and OCD.

If you struggle with any form of tics, skin picking (or its cousin, hair-pulling), either by itself or alongside OCD, ADHD or sensory processing disorder, know that I, to some degree, can understand what you are going through. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed at times, but I am here to say there’s nothing embarrassing about having a neurological or psychiatric disorder. Please feel free to comment below and share your story with me if you feel comfortable doing so. I hope that you are able to find your own ways to cope, whether that be through fidget toys or through other methods.

Getty Images photo via Farknot_Architect

Originally published: January 12, 2021
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