Nail Biting, Scab Picking, and Biting Lips and Cheeks
I was diagnosed with depression a few years ago. I have been taking 150 mg
daily of Effexor XR which has helped tremendously. After working at a
behavioral health clinic for youth and transcribing the psychiatrist and
psychologist notes, I am concerned about a few behaviors I exhibit that I
didn't think of as problems. I am being treated for depression by my GP,
not a behavioral health professional. So I'm wondering if maybe there is
more wrong with me than depression.
By transcribing notes, I found out that nail biting, scab picking, and
biting lips and cheeks is considered self-mutilating behavior by mental
health professionals. The most noticeable of these with me is the biting of
the lips ad cheeks. I am constantly chewing on the inside of my cheeks or
peeling the top layer of skin from my lips. My mother and my husband have
caught me chewing on my cheeks many times and scolded me for it or asked if
I was nervous. I never thought about it until now.
I have picked at my scabs for years, since I can remember. I not only pick
and pick them, I eat them. I know this is really gross, but I didn't think
it was an expression of self-mutilation. I always have places in my ears
and on my scalp that I pick regularly when I'm alone. I never thought of it
before, but I enjoy picking them. I hate it when they heal and try to pick
harder to keep them "with scab". If I get a cut somewhere, I do the same
thing, only I do not cut myself to create a scab. I just pick and eat scabs
from accidental cuts and scrapes and the ones on my ears and scalp. I've
had the raw places in my ears and scalp for so long, that a doctor a long
time ago diagnosed it as the result of allergies. I didn't correct him. I
do get cracked skin around my earslobs and nose from allergies - I guess he
just assumed all the places were from allergies or was too kind to point out
what I was doing to myself - I don't know which. I also pick my nose - in
private. I pick my nose until I have sore places in them. I also eat what
I pick. I know its gross and little kids are taught not to eat their
boogers. But it's like this private little ritual I have.
As a child, I always had my nails bitten down past the quick. They were
horrible looking. As I became self-conscious about my hands, I stopped
biting my nails and now keep them neat, clean and polished. I even get
compliments on my nails. I still rip off my toenails, though. I can't
stand for them to grow. Except for summer open-toe shoe season when I grow
them out and keep them polished. During the winter, I rip them off and
sometimes even take the clippers and cut them down as far as I can get them.
I don't know why. I seem to get great pleasure out of having my toes hurt
with each step I take. Or when they bleed from rubbing against my shoes
because the nail is too short to protect them. I also pick at any cracked
or peeling skin on my feet.
My Mom has always picked at her face and at scabs ( I don't believe she eats
the scabs though) and bites her nails. I always thought I picked up the
behavior from her. But could it be more than just learned bedhavior?
My husband only knows about the cheek chewing and lip biting. I am able to
hide all the rest of the stuff because even I find it gross, but I enjoy it
so much. Are these behaviors part of my depression or revealing something
else wrong with me? Could they just be things I learned from my mother and
nothing to worry about? Should I be worried? Am I self-mutilating?
The picking is a compulsive behavior called excoriation. It is a clinical
symptom, usually of profound depression. That would cover it, except for
the toenails, which is clearly self-mutilation. You need to get yourself to
a psychiatrist. You can be prescribed meds to deflect the compulsivity
associated with the excoriation and nail ripping, until you can address the
emotions that underlie the behavior and leave all of it behind. The fact
that you are able to stop at will, as with the toenails, is quite promising.