Girl Talk: I Have A Picking Problem

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This weekend, I made an horrifying discovery. I have a bald spot. It’s small, but it’s at the top of my head, right where, if the hair around it is swirling in a certain direction, it is visible to anyone standing six to 10 feet behind me. The good news about my bald spot is that I don’t think it’s permanent. I think the hair can and will grow back. But the success of that is dependent upon the bad news. See, I am solely responsible for giving myself a bald spot in the first place.

I have a picking problem.

I am pretty sure my picking problem — technically this is known as “dermatillomania” — is related to being both ADD and OCD. Basically, I need to feel “busy” at all times to feel normal, preferably in a way that allows me to create order or “fix” a problem. This need has been satiated in a variety of ways over the course of my life; I’m a great multitasker and keep a very tidy home. Being able to multitask is a wonderful thing, but needing to multitask during every waking hour makes it hard to relax. It takes me about 15 minutes to tune out the desire to do something else while I’m watching a movie. Just watch the goddamn movie, Amelia. The dishes can be put away in two hours. If you turn down the lights you won’t notice that the rug needs to be vacuumed. There is no way someone important has emailed you in the last five minutes. Etcetera.

Unfortunately, when I do manage to relax and tune out everything but the movie I’m watching, or the book I’m reading, or the phone conversation I’m having, that’s when the picking starts. While my mind has given up trying to do multiple things at once and is focused on just one thing, my hands are just starting to get busy. Sometimes my picking is relatively harmless. I’ll peel off all the polish on my manicure in one blissful sitting. If I’m trying to be tidy about it, I’ll grab a paper towel and deposit the shards there rather than vacuuming them up later. OCD, remember?

But I only ever allow myself to pick my manicure if it’s already chipped. It cost money, after all, and I don’t want to ruin my glossy squoval Essie Fifth Avenue claws until it’s time for new set. So I usually pick myself. I have two primary “hot spots” — my scalp and the bottom of my feet.

My scalp is my original favorite. The surface area I focus on is always small and it’s always ripe for the picking — after all, if you pick a spot, it bleeds or pusses a bit and that scabs over. Then you pick the scab and so on and so forth and it really could never end. I am dying to pick the scab on the back of my head right now but I’m not going to. Because this weekend I caught a glimpse of the spot and was horrified to discover that the little half inch area had been picked to the point of hairlessness. I may be a picker, but I refuse to be bald. Bald! I just got an awesome haircut and I’ve picked a bald spot into it. I could just die. Bald. UGH.

My second hot spot is the bottom of my feet. Until I discovered my wicked bald spot, I considered my foot picking to be the most problematic of my habits. See, I like my feet. I think they are very nicely shaped and I am anal about always having a pedicure. But I have also always been hard on my feet. Growing up in Southern California, I was barefoot a lot. I regularly walked on burning hot asphalt and sand so my soles have a certain roughness to them. On top of that, I’m an idiot woman who, when I first moved to New York, thought that if I just wore stupid uncomfortable high heeled shoes, the glamourous “Sex and the City” lifestyle and career success would follow. It did, as the result of my own hard work however, while the shoes just gave me ridiculous callouses and blisters. A few pairs even drew blood. In short, my feet are a bit like Impressionist painting. From far away they look lovely and well-manicured. A guy in an elevator even recently commented to me, “Nice toes,” and I know he wasn’t joking.

But up close, especially on the bottom, they are tore up. They are dry, calloused, and rough, and there is nothing that makes a picker’s hands twitch like dry, calloused, rough skin. The end goal is to pick the dry, calloused, rough skin away, but of course, the picking almost always goes too far. I have, at times, picked my feet until they’ve bled. I’ve picked them so much that walking has been painful. I’ve picked them to such a degree that I now hide my face behind a magazine during pedicures so I don’t have to see the look on the manicurist’s face when she gets a look at my soles. Especially after they’ve been soaking in warm water. Nothing enhances the uneven skin of a picker like warm water. This is unfortunate, as I love to take hot baths so if I really can’t deal with seeing the carnage on my soles, I’ll keep the bathroom lights off. I’m not going to even describe what buying my own foot razor did to my foot picking routine because this is a blog essay, not a horror movie outline. Speaking of which, I’m throwing that thing away now. It’s like a heroin addict saying they’re gonna quit but leaving a kilo of smack in a drawer for safe keeping. 

Lately, I’ve been picking more than usual and for the first time, I’ve been picking both my head and my feet consistently. It’s usually been one or the other. Now I’m the girl with the bald spot and the gross feet and it bothers me that my picking, while usually a private addiction, might be evident to the rest of the world. So, I figured I’d write about it in hopes that confronting it head on, and admitting to it, will help make me accountable to stopping. Every time I feel an urge to pick my head — like right now — I’m going to remember the bald spot and remind myself that it would be really awkward to be making out with a guy I like and have him encounter the scabbiness as he runs his hands through my hair. Dating is hard enough as it is.

My feet have a better shot of survival as we head into winter. I’ll be wearing tights and socks a lot so the access won’t be as easy. I think I’m going to make a deal with myself too — no going for a pedicure until my feet are in a condition where the pedicurist won’t be inclined to gossip about it in her native tongue. And I’m going to be more aware during those times when I’m most apt to pick, even if it means I’m not completely relaxed. Or maybe I’ll start snacking on string cheese. Perhaps that would help.

Mainly I’m posting about this because I’ve mentioned my picking problem a couple times to friends and all of them have mentioned doing something similar. One friend constantly bites the inside of her bottom lip. Another claims to be a foot picker too, though I doubt she’s s bad as me. And then, of course, there are the folks on “My Strange Addiction,” who take it to a whole other level. I wanted to post about my picking problem because I know I’m not alone in this weird little habit of mine and I don’t think it’s something we should keep to ourselves. So, with that in mind, I would love to keep the comments on this piece as shame-free as possible i.e. please keep anything along the lines of “Eww, nasty, you clearly need a hobby” to yourself because, actually, even with a hobby I would still have time to pick. Plus, remember, I’m great at multitasking. 

But seriously, if you have a picking problem, please share! This is a judgment-free zone! If you used to be a picker and found a solution, please enlighten us! If you’re not a picker but have some words of encouragement, like, “You’re still pretty even with a bald spot, Amelia,” by all means, the floor is yours! Together, we can overcome. Or at the very least, keep our hands busy doing something else for awhile.

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