I've prodded, poked and picked at my own skin for years. Now, my anxiety has become a matter of public healthby Eli Goldstone / March 19, 2020 / Leave a comment
Before he died, my granddad, who had mostly been up to that point lying very quietly in his hospital bed, shouted at me for biting my fingers. “For a clever girl,” he bellowed, “That’s a bloody stupid habit.” He was right, of course. That willowy Lancashire man, who gave up smoking overnight by sheer will alone, wouldn’t think much of me today, still picking my face, chewing my lips, worrying at the skin around my fingernails, drinking cup after cup of tea and smoking as if my mouth will seal up if I don’t put something in it.
One of the forms my mental illness takes is the way my hands find their way to my face, out of both destructive habit and desire to self-soothe. Since we have all been told to refrain from doing exactly that, I have been more aware of these behaviours than ever. Not only my own: my nail-biting boyfriend, the old lady licking her finger before she retrieves something from her bag, the tired eye-rubbing of the cashier bored of scanning through more toilet rolls than people need, more fish fingers, more paracetamol. Apparently, office workers touch their face an average of sixteen times an hour. I have touched my face five times since beginning this paragraph. In times of anxiety, these occurrences happen with increasing frequency. No doubt there’s a hair that needs retrieving from your face now, isn’t there?
I have very underdeveloped impulse control, and when my impulse is to pick or bite myself, like an animal in captivity, it often feels as if I have no choice but to do it, bloody stupid habit or not. Now we are all animals in captivity, the advice not to touch one’s own face seems to me ironic. The more I know there’s something I shouldn’t do, the more I want to do it. It’s more complex than my inherent need to do the opposite of what I’m told, and then again it isn’t—it’s indicative of a worrying, obsessional desire that takes hold of me in varying forms, throughout my days.
At its worst, I would often lose forty-five minutes to…