Confession time: I’ve been chewing my fingers since I popped out on Earth on a rainy day in a Bombay suburb. What’s more, I do it to the level of pain.
After close to a quarter century of doing this I felt the ground beneath my feet shake when I recently met an old school friend who is now a full-fledged resident doctor at a fancy South Delhi hospital. He ruined my day with his apocalyptic prophecy: “The day your thumb gets infected you’d never dare to even look at it again. I promise you’d recoil in horror.”
Gosh. Who’d have expected such a drastic end to a silly socially-embarrassing bad habit? I remember my aunt used to put chillies on my fingers to stop me from doing it as a child. It’s rather drastic you agree, but then that’s what you get from Assamese roots. After the tryst with the doctor I started noticing many of my friends doing the same, quietly but surely chewing away at their own skin.
It does sound repulsive, but is a very common mental disorder known in the medical world as Dermatillomania. It’s also known as Excoriation Disorder or Skin Picking Disorder. Symptoms include the inability to control picking one’s skin. It has obviously confused many a researcher, because causes for this mania have been ascribed to a number of other disorders including OCD and childhood trauma, and to such seemingly simple issues like stress or anxiety. Some doctors claim it can be as addictive as cocaine (ah well, much cheaper though!).
Unfortunately, there is no drug prescription to cure this. And cure is needed, unless one doesn’t mind puss filling up and leading to high fevers. Like most other more deadly addictions, people suffering from this could visit a psychiatrist or therapist, or could join a support group (rare in India). One could also try using sheer will and self-awareness to at least cut down on this, and analyse one’s own behaviour to see the kind of situations that trigger it.
Two uncomplicated ways suggested by my friend included putting a band-aid around my thumbs to discourage myself. Or Vaseline (provided I forget the fact that it’s edible!). Some therapists also suggest chewing on ice as a solution, one I rather like considering the temperature here is close to a whopping 50 right now. Lastly, to return to the universal grandma repertoire of home remedies, one could apply bitter oil like that of neem to the thumbs and hope for the best.
And remember, you are not alone.
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