As you might know, for the past twenty years, I have struggled with dermatophagia. It is the obsessive biting and picking of the skin, usually around the fingers. For more information about Dermatophagia, please read my article that was published by The Mighty.
It is a mental disorder, and I think I couldn’t figure out how to at least start the road to recovery until I acknowledged that it was a destructive pattern in my mind, not just a habit. I gravitated towards this action of ripping the skin from my fingers when I felt stressed.
After I wrote the article on The Mighty, a reader emailed me to tell me her story. It was similar to mine, but she had continued biting and ruined her fingers permanently. That was one of my worst fears with this because it was already shameful, but I always thought in the back of my mind that maybe I would stop one day and my fingers would just heal as normal and I could have a normal life. But here she was, providing me proof that this could have serious consequences if I didn’t do something now. I had tried painting my nails, wearing gloves, and had even tried cognitive behavioral therapy until someone crashed my car and I hadn’t bothered going after that due to all of the things I had to deal with after. So I had let my fingers get into a gruesome state of crusty bleeding fingers.
This woman in the email exchanges suggested I try getting acrylic nails done. She said it was a band-aid for the problem of some sorts. It had stopped her from biting for years until she removed the nails and started up again. I had always told myself that maybe I’d try that once some of the skin healed because I was literally too embarrassed to have someone put acrylic nails on. She told me not to wait because there would never be a time when I would be “healed enough” to go to a nail salon without being embarrassed.
So after contemplating this for a few days, I just went to a nail salon and went right up to the guy in the salon and asked for acrylics.
It was embarrassing. My fingers looked like a disease. I cringed as he worked on my nails. He didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking because he was wearing a mask to protect from breathing in the nail dust. I got over the embarrassment as soon as it started hurting.
It hurt like hell! It was like someone was filing away at a million paper cuts. I bit my lip and tried not to cry at some points. I was close to bleeding on my left thumb at one point, but thank goodness it did not bleed. It was completely rubbed and filed raw by the end, though.
Afterwards it felt so weird. It did not feel like my hands anymore. I had to adjust to having them. They were strong, but it hurt to do certain things such as picking a coin off of a table, buckling my pants, or opening a soda can. Things seemed to easily get under my nails but were super tedious to clean from under the nail. But for some reason, it worked. I didn’t feel like biting them. And when I went to bite, I was stopped by the sight and feel of the acrylic nails.
I had to get them done again about two weeks later because my nails grow quite fast, and this time I went to a nail salon who recommended that I use Nexgen instead of acrylics because it would not damage my nails as much. So I’ve had the Nexgen on for about two weeks and I love it.
I think the reason this method works for me is because it breaks the pattern. I go to bite and then realize I’m about to bite because I see these nails that are not mine. It is that constant reminder that breaks me out of my trance. I think it’s worth a try for anyone who has dermatophagia because it really worked for me. Besides, when you have dermatophagia, really you have nothing to lose by trying new methods.
Thank you to the woman who emailed me. Even if it’s just a temporary solution, this has changed my life. I can be proud of my hands and fingers now. I will probably just keep the Nexgen nails until I feel that I have broken the pattern enough for it never to find its way back into my mind.
Click to see what my hands used to look like.
My nails now:
I will update as the process heals my fingers more. Thank you!