I am a long-term sufferer of dermatillomania. I started creating and picking at scabs on my scalp about 12 years ago, and have continued to do so almost non-stop since then. I tried many ways to quit including:
- Putting on fake fingernails: this actually worked but I hated wearing them so I stopped and started picking again
- Distracting myself with fiddle toys like Tangle and Thinking Putty: helped but they weren't as satisfying as picking
- Wearing a hat: kind of worked but I kept forgetting to wear the hat, and if I was determined enough to pick I would take off the hat
My picking remained so compulsive that I would even wake up with my fingernails on my scalp having picked during the night.
In the past 2-3 weeks I have finally been able to stop picking for long enough that my scabs have healed and there is nothing left to pick.
It was because I read this article and it scared the heck out of me: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/06/30/080630fa_fact_gawande
(most relevant pages are 1-2)
Summary: a woman develops a chronic, persistent itch on her scalp. She can't stop scratching it, even in her sleep. She ends up with scabs on her scalp. One morning she woke up and a green colored liquid came down her face. She put a square of gauze on her head and went to the doctor. The doctor told her that she had scratched through her skull and into her brain and she needed emergency surgery.
If you're wondering how she scratched through her skull, it's because the wound on her scalp had allowed bacteria in which led to osteomyelitis - infection of the skull - which softened the skull allowing her to gradually scratch through. Source: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/04/dr-gawande-answers-questions-about-the-itch/
Now, the chances of this happening to me might be slim, but I know that I normally don't wash my hands before picking so I could get an infection, and if I picked deeply enough, you never know...
The idea scared me enough that every time I caught myself picking I got scared. I hope that it might have a similar effect on somebody else. "I want you to be scared," sounds kind of mean but I think fear can be a good way of breaking a habit. Good luck everyone :)