I’ve never had the greatest skin. Granted I never suffered from full blown acne as a child, and for that I’m thankful, but my face was never completely clear or flawless. Add to that pretty severe anxiety that started at a young age and you’ve got a recipe for mutilation.
I can still remember my grandmother constantly telling me to stop picking at myself (I know now that I did it a lot around her because she was hell on my mental state). What began as an innocent, nervous habit quickly escalated into full blown obsessive behaviour. I picked at everything. My face. My neck. My chest. My scalp. My arms. My legs. My back. My nails. Scabs that would have healed fairly quickly on their own stuck around for months on end, because I was always pulling them off, and eventually turned into scars.
When and how much I picked definitely depended on my anxiety level. Picking became an unconscious coping mechanism, a destructive method of self soothing. Often I didn’t know I was even doing it until somebody told me to stop.
I would love to say that it’s something I’ve grown out of, but it’s not. In fact, since moving to Taiwan nearly 9 months ago, the habit has escalated severely. My skin is worse than ever. No doubt it is thanks to many things – elevated stress levels, a new environment and diet – but I’m under no illusions that my incessant squeezing and scratching contributes considerably.
Some days, like today, my face looks so bad that I don’t want to leave the house. I can cover up the rest of my body but I can hardly wear a bag over my head to work. I want to hide away so that no one can see what I’ve done to myself. Ironically, when I feel the worst is when I pick the most. It’s a cruel cycle.
Working with children is especially difficult when I feel and look this way because they just love to point out how spotty I am. When they do I do my best to shrug it off, they don’t mean to be hurtful I know, but it still stings. I am self conscious at the best of times, but when my face is like this I feel like I have a magnifying glass hovering over me.
I have to constantly remind myself to keep my fingers away from my skin. I’ve bought gloves that I wear at home when I’m feeling especially twitchy, and I’ve even bought one of those fidget spinners that all the kids here are playing with. Anything to keep my hands occupied. Those tools only do so much though. I can’t use my gloves or my spinner when I’m teaching, and I’ve caught myself more than once picking at my face in class. Nothing causes me more shame quite like making a spot on my face bleed in public.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never have beautiful skin (or cuticles that aren’t ragged as fuck – yes I gnaw on those too when I’m not picking). I’ve damaged my pores to the point where they will always be susceptible to infection. I can live with that. I just wish I could stop this awful habit. It’s horrible and disgusting and causes me such emotional anguish.