I Can't Stop Picking At My Skin

"Every mirror is an opportunity to ruin more of my skin in a nonsensical attempt to fix what I think is there."

Mom liked to redecorate and renovate. She decked out the main bathroom in blue and put up yellow and blue wallpaper. The dated linoleum floor was replaced with one to match the new décor. The bathtub had always been blue, now the rest of the room was too.

I noticed how the new wallpaper curved in the corner. It didn’t lie flat against the wall; it didn’t meet the wall at the 90-degree angle of the corner. I was transfixed by that bit of wall, by that odd architectural detail — or rather, that slight design mishap. I didn’t think of it as a mistake or as off-putting, I was just interested in it. Interested in it the way you might be interested in watching white clouds pass by on a summer day. Or the way you might feel a little sore and find relief with a nice stretch. It was not an itch I had to scratch because it didn’t bother me. It hypnotized me.

I prodded that strip of wallpaper with my finger. Pushing my index finger against the curvature of the paper, I would apply just enough pressure for a slight indent to appear. I felt it rise against my finger, touching more skin now that it had indented than it could before I pushed its limits. I was always drawn to the curve of corner. Sometimes I would tap it to feel and hear the clack of taut paper.

It was an impulse as natural as taking a drink to quench thirst.

I used a pen next. The kind of ballpoint pen that comes in packs of clear plastic, that are impossible to find when you are rifling through your bag looking for them. I pressed only the very tip of the pen into the wallpaper. It made a slight, barely audible pop as the pen cracked open the wallpaper. I thought it was barely noticeable, so I did it again. And again. And again.

I made tiny holes as far up as I could reach and as low as the trim that separated the wallpaper from the floor. I didn’t do it all in one day. It was just something I did. Without thinking much about it. I started making the holes a little bigger, and it wasn’t long before someone noticed and I was forced to stop. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I couldn’t explain it, so at first I denied it. I knew that no one would believe me if I said, “I don’t know why I did it, I just did. I had to.”

People don’t understand reasonless impulses. And they never believe there is no reason.

It’s like the time I peeled all the ivory keys off my great uncle’s piano. It was against the wall of the garage, just left of the stairs that led into the laundry room. It was beautiful. The color of dark amber. The keys didn’t need to be pressed to emit a satisfying note. If I tapped my fingernail against the top of a key, it produced a mesmerizing clink. A tiny crisp sound that most would be unable to hear unless they were right next to me.

One of the keys didn’t meet my fingernail with the expected result. Instead of the perfectly executed single ping, there was only a stale half-hearted flop. It didn’t feel right. The movement and the sound were all wrong. I could feel it in my stomach, and I could almost taste the texture of my finger sticking to the one key that was more friction than gloss.

"Even in my sleep, my hands move to my face, fingertips scanning for non-smooth skin."

I saw that the key was lifted slightly compared to the one next to it. Without any strength, the top of the key lifted from its base with ease. Now that I had started, I didn’t consider stopping. I went down the line and peeled off every white key cover. When I was done, I didn’t know what to do. I chose the path of no return and dropped the antique ivories in a bucket of water.

My parents didn’t realize what I had done, at least not right away. When they did, they were furious and baffled. I didn’t wait around to be grounded and pre-emptively sent myself to my room, as I had done for years. It was my way to avoid displaying the uncontrollable emotions that pushed me to tears when in conflict with another person.

Now that tendency to destroy things that are not broken manifests as self-harm.

I will prod a bump on my chin with my fingertips until the skin cracks open. If it cracks with a sound, I continue, if it begins to bleed I take a second or two to dab it away before beginning again. I don't want to do this, but it is all I can think about. My hands instinctively move to my face, and when there is not enough there I begin on my legs. I lose hours to this obsessive compulsion, not a day goes by without it. Every mirror is an opportunity to ruin more of my skin in a nonsensical attempt to fix what I think is there.

Even in my, sleep my hands move to my face, fingertips scanning for non-smooth skin. My nails scratch at the offending bits and peel off good skin with the dry flakes. Often, I wake up with blood crusted under my fingernails, and without looking I can feel the parts of my face which are now battered and damaged. With the intention of only applying cream to try and remedy the problem I caused, I'll grab a mirror and switch on the light of my iPhone. Scrutinizing my reflection in a mirror held inches from my face, I search for bumps and discolorations with the blindingly bright light that I am holding alongside the mirror. I end up getting one blackhead, so then I need another, and another. I’ve been told they aren’t even blackheads, that rarely do I have a blemish that anyone else can see.

When anxiety doubles down on me, I can hardly even say hello. Just the thought of interacting fills me with dread. I look away, advert my eyes, praying no one expects me to interact. Just leave myself. Just leave me alone. I want to get out of my body, claw off my skin, vaporize my bones, become nothing but energy dispersed. Picking at my skin, as gross as it may sound to some people, provides relief from those obsessive thoughts. Maybe I destroy beautiful things to stop myself from self-destructing.

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