Dermatophagia is a skin biting disorder which isn’t considered to be rare, it’s just not commonly talked about. Well, I’m going to change that by sharing my experience of living with Dermatophagia. Dermataphagia is actually a mental disorder which is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB). For me, Dermatophagia means biting and chewing at the skin around my nails, fingers and even part of my palm. Some Dermatophagia sufferer’s chew their arms and/or the inside of their gums.
I can’t remember the exact age I started biting my own skin but I remember how highly embarrassed I have felt about it my whole life. That is one of the main reason’s behind wanting to write this post, if I am open about my disorder then I am able to take away some of the power it holds over me. I’m not alone in suffering from Dermatophagia, and I’m hoping that I can encourage a few others to open up and admit it. Sometimes it’s hard to be open about something that many people will find strange and possibly joke about.
Biting the skin can cause lasting damage and unfortunately for me, I have permanent damage to my skin around my fingers and on my palm. I hate being put in situations where people may look at my fingers which I think its part of the reason I wear cardigans so I can pull them down and draw less attention to it. Imagine being asked what is wrong with your hands and the repulsive look you’d get if you admitted you bit your own skin. I hate when my hands have been in the water too long as you can see all of the bite marks around my hands so I never stay in water for too long because the sight is one that sickens even me.
I remember biting back in Primary School which is one of the reasons why I cannot pinpoint the start because I was only young. I only within the last 2 years realized that it was a disorder that other people suffer with and that it has a name. I do notice that my Dermatophagia gets worse when I am anxious or when I am stressed, and I feel like it is a coping mechanism for my anxiety. I have always been an anxious person which is why I wasn’t surprised to be diagnosed with Anxiety. When I am nervous, I bite and I chew, as much as I try not to, I can’t stop.
I actually don’t realize I’m doing it anymore, and when it’s brought to my attention, it’s almost impossible to stop. My boyfriend notices me knawing at my palm often and draws it to my attention which then just makes me do it secretly because it’s like my ‘dirty little secret’ so to say. Well not so much now, as I’ve just told all of the internet.
I’ve tried resisting the impulse, many times and nothing seems to work. Even when it starts to hurt, I acknowledge the pain and just move somewhere else or persist regardless. I have tried tactics such as bandaging my fingers and, putting bad-tasting things on my biting places, I’ve also tried getting my nails manicured and hoping that it would stop me from biting. Unfortunately, none of it worked. I am a nail biter aswell but that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as I have been able to resist doing that in the past but having perfectly manicured fingers means nothing when my fingers and red and bloodied from biting.
I actually feel like a bit of weight has been lifted about opening up about my disorder and I hope I have educated a few people who didn’t know this disorder existed. Or maybe this post reaches another skin biter and made them realize you are not alone!
And for the thousandth time, I tell myself, I’m going to quit doing this.