A Day in the Life of a Compulsive Skin Picker

By Pauline Campos 03/27/17

Dermatillomania, or Obsessive Skin Picking, is defined as "repetitive picking at one's own skin to the extent of causing damage."

A screenshot from an instagram image of a black and white intricate drawing, tags listed below.
I think it’s important for people to know they are not alone.

5 a.m.

The alarm goes off. It’s not for me. I am a work-at-home freelance writer with a homeschooled fourth-grader. The only reason I actually drag myself out of bed nearly 40 minutes later is because kiddo and I will have a much better day if I wake her up while her dad gets ready for work.

She likes to tell him she loves him to the end of the universe before he leaves.

7 a.m.
I choose my clothing carefully. Long sleeved cotton shirts that are light enough to layer, plus I can keep the sleeves pulled down to hide my arms in public and still push them up when I need to when no one is paying attention. My favorite newsboy cap with its low brim covers the sores I refuse to let heal above my right eyebrow. I don’t stress about my legs. I’m only leaving the apartment for the gym on the property, so my capri yoga pants will be just fine. 

7:45 a.m.

If it’s a good day, the dogs have been walked, breakfast served and eaten, and maybe the dishwasher loaded. On the good days, my daughter will already be in her room, sprawled across her bed with her language arts books piled next to her. She likes to wear her headphones just so loud that I have to repeat myself three times while standing directly in front of her. Most of the time, I let it go. 

I have a To Do list that is miles long. Today’s list includes submitting a promised story to a waiting editor, pitching three more to other outlets, itemizing deductions for taxes, and applying for a few remote writing jobs that I think I fit the bill for. If I can manage it, I need to get started on an art commission and pack Etsy orders for shipping. 

Getting to the gym is a given, as logged hours of physical activity are required for my daughter’s online accredited homeschool academy. We are doing good on time, so I sit down to check my email. I can do it all, but only if i manage to keep from pick, pick, picking at myself. 

9:30 a.m. 


My daughter is standing in front of me. I never got to checking my email. One of my sleeves had shifted and I got distracted pick, pick, picking at the spot I fell asleep working on last night after 2 a.m. 

“Dad said to tell you to stop picking if I see you do it,” she said. She reaches out and puts her hand on top of of my own. The fingers I hadn’t realized were still busy digging at myself stop. 

“I was just checking my email,” I tell her. I am lying. She knows it. But instead of calling me on it, she tells me she finished two subjects. 

“Want to go to the gym?” She grabs her water bottle and her coat.

I follow.

11 a.m.

We are back in the apartment after a 45 minute workout and my daughter is working on a math exam while I work on my laptop in her room. Kiddo did six miles on the recumbent bike, her favorite because it allows her to kick back and watch YouTube. I did some stationary Pokemon Go hunting on the elliptical. I checked Facebook updates. I crafted one of my pitches and sent it off to an editor. If I keep myself busy, I don’t pick, pick, pick at myself. 

My iPhone is my fidget. It keeps me from getting lost inside my head.

Depending on the time of the month and how my body is reacting to hormonal imbalance and multiple food allergies, I can either suck it up and face the world anyway or hide myself behind my words. My skin is a mish-mosh of rashes and welts and wounds that never fully heal.

1 p.m.

I check Facebook again. I shared an update earlier about my skin picking problem, and friends are commenting. Some tell me publicly that they have the same problem. Others message me privately. 

Dermatillomania, or Obsessive Skin Picking, is defined as "repetitive picking at one's own skin to the extent of causing damage. “ According to the aptly named SkinPick.com, the behaviors associated with dermatillomania often result in the discoloration of skin, scarring and possibly severe tissue damage in serious cases. Classified as a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB), dermatillomania is one of many mental health conditions, such as Trichotillomania (a condition in which sufferers pull out hairs from his/ her scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or facial hair) that has the potential to harm or damage one's body and physical appearance. This fits with my eating disordered past and lifelong body image issues that are referred to as "recovery."

One woman commenting on my Facebook update is in shock. She does this, too, but didn’t know it was anything more than a bad habit.

1:30 p.m.

My daughter is finished with her exam and we’ve started on history. She has high-functioning autism and needs constant reinforcement on even the most basic things at time, depending on her mood. Right now, she is struggling, so it’s hard to work. This is why I already know I’ll be working late into the night. For now, though, I deal. She needs me. And her needing me is keeping me busy. 

Busy is good.

4:30 p.m. 

The little girl in the apartment next door is home from school and knocking on our door. She wants my daughter to come over and play. I tug at my sleeves to make sure she can’t see my sores and adjust the brim of my hat. If she notices, she doesn’t show it. My anxiety lessens. It gets really old having to smile away the Oh it's okay's and I don't mind's every time a curious child points to my rashes and various other sores I've managed to make worse. It's a fair question. It's hard to ignore the marks in my skin that would otherwise not be there had I just managed to keep from 



PICKING at myself.

I call for my daughter and she runs off to play.

6:30 p.m.

Dinner is cooked and eaten. The dogs have been fed and walked. My husband is watching a TV show with my daughter. 

The sink is full of dishes. The bills sit next to me waiting to be be paid. For two hours, I ignore these things, and the urge to start 



PICKING at myself is kept at bay. He’s home. He’s awake.

I sit down with my laptop and concentrate on meeting deadlines.

11 p.m.

He’s been asleep for hours. My daughter, too. 

The dishes are still in the sink. The bills still unpaid. 

I haven’t written a thing since my world fell asleep.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table. 

My sleeves are pushed up. My only focus is digging into my skin.

I never create new sores or wounds and am rarely able to tear myself away from 



Picking at myself when a I get a pimple, a mosquito bite, or a rash or allergic reaction leaves marks of any kind of my skin. 

On good nights, I channel the singular focus normally reserved for picking at my skin into creating a new doodle I’ll list on the etsy shop tomorrow. I always share these images on my Instagram account along with the why behind it. I think it’s important for people to know they are not alone.

But it’s not always a good night.

3 a.m.

On the bad nights, I shake myself out of the place my mind goes when it hurts but I can’t stop. I wash my hands, wincing as the soap sears into the wounds I have created. 

Then I walk into the kitchen, take care of the dishes as quietly as possible so as not to wake my husband, and pack the lunch he will take to work in just a few hours. I check on our daughter, kissing her cheek and marveling at the beauty of her perfect skin, hoping like hell she never feels the compulsion to start what I can’t stop. Not by myself, anyway.

And then I tiptoe into my bedroom; quietly slipping into bed. 

I fall asleep thinking I’ll call for a doctor and maybe a therapist, finally. Maybe after we get back from the gym.

5 a.m.

The alarm goes off. It’s not for me. 

I drag myself out of bed before my husband leaves for work and wake our daughter. 

She likes to tell him she loves him to the end of the universe before he leaves.

Find me at about.me/paulinecampos. Beware of rabbit holes. 

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