Stereotypic Movements

Content warning: skin picking

A compulsion that evolves into an automatic action: an autobiography (insert sarcasm here).

I don’t do my movements with any purposeful intent. I just do them on autopilot and don’t realize it’s happening until I accidentally hurt myself. It always starts by staring at a certain part of my body and examining it for tiny flaws. I would scratch at something and maybe do it again a couple of more times throughout the week. It would just seamlessly flow into something that I had trouble controlling.

I used to skin pick. I think it was in my twenties. I would do it to my thighs, maybe while cruising through the internet or watching a movie. I didn’t even know I was doing it until I’d draw blood. I realized I needed to stop doing it when I saw how many scratches I was leaving behind. If I recall correctly, curbing it was like being in a constant state of watching your hand movements. Also, the ‘go to’: distract yourself and keep your hands busy.

I’m currently trying to stop two movements I have. One is lip biting, which has been around, on and off, for about a year. This is tied to my need for chapstick. I’m less inclined to start biting my lower lip if it’s moisturized, but the moment it’s not it finds its way between my teeth. I’ll be looking at my phone, listening to music and a burst of pain will come from my lip. That’s when I realize I’ve been biting it. Sometimes it bleeds or gets puffy. This one is super hard to control, I just keep up with the chapstick and try to keep my mouth shut when I can. I might try putting on some snazzy red lipstick to help prevent it.

The next movement I currently have started (again) very recently. I bite my fingers. Not my nails, but everywhere around them. I only do this at home when I’m often just hanging out and relaxing. I don’t realize it until it’s too late and I’ve done damage. Since it has started recently, I’m confident I can curb this one fast. I bought some thin black gloves to wear while I’m not doing anything with my hands. If I’m looking at my phone, the other hand is gloved. It’s already working! This is a movement I’ve had to curb a few years ago. I found that wearing nail polish is another way to prevent it, but at the moment, I don’t want to draw attention to my hands. 

I’m not purposefully doing it as a reaction to an obsession, but I know it’s stemming from my anxiety. I have it at different levels. Most of the time, my anxiety is very manageable. But, I often forget how easily it can sneak into my head. Anxiety is weird like that, you don’t have to be at a full-blown panic attack level to have it affect your life. Just simmering and barely noticeable; it’s enough to cause certain thoughts and behaviors. I think when I see or hear something exciting, funny, and thought provoking, I start biting myself. It doesn’t even have to be something that makes me nervous.

I’ve beat these movements before and I’ll do it again. For me, it’s just using what I’ve learned or trying something new. And a whole lot of concentration.