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clothrub , 13 Feb 2013

Thumb Sucking to Nail Biting to Finger Peeling with a Dash of Cloth Rubbing?

Hey everyone, while this forum and the website in general are new to me, skin picking and other tactile compulsions definitely are not. I have been flitting between a variety of habitual behaviors- always associated with my hands and the sense of touch over the years. I am 22 now and I do not recall ever not having any sort of compulsion in one form or another. I wanted to share my history with everyone and see if anyone else noticed anything similar because it would be interesting to see what other habits are related. The first habit that I can recall picking up was thumb sucking until I was around age five. Though this is something a lot of children do what was peculiar in my case was that I would suck my right thumb while simultaneously holding this small stuffed cow that I had been given as my first toy as an infant. (This cow has stayed with me all the way through right now and features prominently in my habits.) I didn't just need to suck my thumb to sleep, I had to have the texture and the scent of the cow toy on my face to be able to fall asleep. My mother tried very hard to break this habit and she eventually did, not due to any degree of her chastising me or painting my nails with bitter spicy nail polish. Rather, I replaced my thumb sucking habit with another one- nail biting. I would bite and eat my nails to the point where it hurt, but it never deterred me. I would just wait until they grew out again and repeat the process. A lot of the time I wouldn't even have the patience to wait for a sizable length of nail to regrow before biting them again. It was an inescapable need. I don't recall at that age why I did it or in what context because it didn't seem to be a result of any particular event or emotional triggers; rather, it just felt good to me (until it felt bad because I had obviously hurt myself) and therefore was something I did at every opportunity. This was another habit my mother tried to break to no avail. At some point in middle school I transitioned from biting and eating my nails to biting and eating the skin around my nails. I think I had decided that the pain of biting my nails to the quick was getting more costly than the payoff of getting to bite them (plus the time it took to wait for them to grow out again before I could indulge). So instead I focused on the skin around my nails. This proved less painful than my former habit but no less injurious, because a similar soreness would occur and I wouldn't be able to properly handle things with my hands. It was worst when I took showers and the skin of my fingers would swell up and I would be able to see all the tears I had made in my hands, magnified and ugly. At some point I realized it was very unsanitary to be removing the skin of my fingers with my mouth (and eating them sometimes) so I transitioned into picking and peeling at it with my nails. By this time my mother had resigned herself to letting me deal with my habits on my own so I was mostly free to do whatever peeling I pleased, until I started dating my husband and he looked upon it as a very self-injurious thing to do. (I would go into detail about the particulars about this relationship and the arguments we got into about my habit but I feel as if that is another story). That was when I started to really make an effort to stop peeling my fingers; a habit which I am still fighting today. Currently my peeling indulgence occurs in a cycle- whenever my nails start to grow long I get the urge to start peeling again because I can, but instead I will just squeeze the skin on the tips of my fingers between my nails (pre-peeling) so that I feel like I have gotten halfway. I don't actually peel the skin off, but eventually I do this so often that the parts I have squeezed essentially become partially detached and are easily peelable just by picking at them. At which point picking one strip leads to the fixing that messes up one finger, and once one finger has been ruined, why not mess with the rest? The invisible line had been crossed. (This curious phenomenon of setting our own limits and then exceeding them to the extremes once they have been crossed!) Once this happens I lament the loss of my self control and clip my nails really short to prevent further damage, at which point my pinching habit is under reign until my nails grow back long enough to indulge again (about a week). I also developed calluses on the balls of my feet in between my big and second toes as well as next to my pinky toes and I pick at them as well. These I pick with less frequency because when I start, I rarely finish picking at them until they are flat (they are never fully flat) at which point I realize it now hurts to walk normally. These take a while longer to regenerate so I make a very conscious effort not to pick at them until some circumstance forces me to choose between my fingers and my feet. Then, I do the same pre-peeling, squeezing thing I do with the skin around my fingers until it gets so loose that it comes off easily. At which point there is no going back. I also have another odd habit that still happens with frequency. I have had a habit of rubbing the stuffed cow toy that I mentioned at the beginning of this post between the skin of my fingers that leads to this day. I used to rub it on my face and on my lips in a manner that I think evolved from my thumb sucking days, but then I got paranoid about acne so now I just rub it really hard between my fingers instead. I find that the rough scratchy quality soothes me. (There are many threads online about cloth rubbing fixations, especially with the tags on clothing.) I have calluses on my fingers (that I like to pick at) because of it and a lot of the time people think I have broken my fingers because the bumps are so large and prominent. I have done it so frequently over the last 22 years that the stuffed cow has undergone at least three patch-ups and even a 'reconstruction' of the other layer (skin) because I didn't want to destroy my favorite toy. Now, I put away the old toy and just fiddle at the new skin (that sounds so weird...) The reason I am pointing out this habit is because I suspect it is related to my skin peeling/nail biting/thumb sucking habits. They are all centered on my fingers and the sense of touch; particularly of removal (peeling of skin, rubbing on cloth so hard it almost feels like I'm trying to exfoliate). I also enjoy picking and peeling off stickers and other pickable things (like acne scabs). Previously, I would indulge in whatever habit I had at the time whenever I had the opportunity because it just felt good to me. But as I got older and my time (and hands) were occupied with more pressing concerns I started to notice the habit cropping up only in certain circumstances. Since it would probably be looked upon very oddly I rarely rub at my stuffed toy in public, and for that matter the absence of it doesn't upset me, mostly because I can just pick at my fingers instead without being regarded as a freak. I get most of my fix at home when relaxing or in bed, and I find that it is a very soothing thing to do. On the other hand, I noticed that my hand picking surfaced in three instances. One, whenever I had to take a test- despite the fact that the time spent picking at my fingers to peel the skin off was time taken away from a test that was giving me anxiety because I had to finish in a set time frame. Ironic? Two, whenever I was extremely bored having to wait for someone or other, I would entertain myself and let the time pass by more comfortably with a good picking session. Three, most similarly to my cloth rubbing habit, I would pick at my hands during leisure time when they weren’t occupied doing something else like writing- namely, while reading a book or watching a movie. Some people eat- I pick at my hands. In this third context my habit makes it a lot easier for me to focus on the novel or film- which may seem contrary since having busy hands might appear to divide attention between vision and touch. Yet for me it feels almost like having this sort of tactile stimulation to my fingers constantly feels more like a default and frees my mind to other matters. I know this was a really long post so kudos to anyone who took the time to read it through. You’re a trooper! I just really wanted to share my experience of my habits and ask around to see if anyone noticed any other related contexts or compulsions in their own experience. For all I know I have a much less serious case than most and at this point it is very manageable but I think we could all benefit from sharing however serious or trivial a case we have. I was very excited when I first came upon this site because there were finally people that might understand what/how I think about my habits. I hope to hear from some of you! :) TLDR: I went from thumb sucking to nail biting to finger/foot peeling with a long dash of cloth rubbing thrown into the mix. Correlations? All tactile fixations related to my fingers and ‘removal’.

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