'I attack my own face': Woman suffering from rare psychosomatic condition spends several HOURS a day obsessively picking at her pores and squeezing her spots

  • Jenna Marotta, 27, suffers from dermatillomania, a psychosomatic disorder that causes her to obsessively pick at the skin on her face
  • The New York-based writer says she has spent up to four hours a day squeezing her skin in front of the bathroom mirror
  • She developed the condition while trying to battle a binge-eating addiction  
  • Jenna is taking steps to try and control her condition, but is still not completely free from the symptoms 

Many people have the bad habit of squeezing blackheads and pimples on their faces, but for one New York-based writer, the urge to stand in front of a mirror and poke at and squeeze her pores for hours on end became so bad that it actually started 'sabotaging' her life. 

In an essay for Marie ClaireJenna Marotta, 27, wrote that her escalating case of dermatillomania - a compulsive skin-picking disorder - would leave her face bleeding and horrified her parents.

'I'd descend "into the mirror" for up to four hours a day,' she said. 'I would nick and squeeze and yank at every clogged pore on my face.'

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Obsessive behavior: Jenna Marotta, 27, of New York, says her habit of picking at the pores on her face was so all-consuming that it became 'self-sabotaging'

Obsessive behavior: Jenna Marotta, 27, of New York, says her habit of picking at the pores on her face was so all-consuming that it became 'self-sabotaging'

At first, Jenna was just looking for a way to break out of her binge-eating routine. As a child she developed bad eating habits - she would skip breakfast and lunch, then stuff her face with whatever she wanted for hours when she got home.

Her binge-eating cycle continued through college and after graduation, when she moved back home to her parents' house in Illinois.

'I knew I was bingeing while I was bingeing,' she said, adding that part of the problem was that she would head to the kitchen whenever she felt bored. 'So I decided to find a new place to spend my ample downtime.'

I dug an eighth-inch deep hole trying to free an imaginary hair in my chin 

That place became her parents' bathroom, where her mom kept a stainless steel 10x magnifying mirror and an array of Tweezerman tweezers.

Jenna's use of the tweezers started off innocently enough, with her plucking out stray hairs along her eyebrows.

Then she started to become obsessive, revisiting her brows several times a day and moving on to other areas of her face, where she would use those same tweezers to clear out pores and remove ingrown hairs. 

'At one point, I became convinced that there was a lone dark hair trapped under my chin,' she said. 'I could think of nothing more vital than removing this growth from my face. In the process of freeing the (probably imagined) hair, I dug an eighth-inch deep hole.' 

Painful picking: Jenna (not pictured) has battled  dermatillomania for years; people suffering from the condition often have red, bloody spots like these where they pick their skin

Painful picking: Jenna (not pictured) has battled dermatillomania for years; people suffering from the condition often have red, bloody spots like these where they pick their skin

Getting better: After accidentally going ten days without touching her pores when she forgot to pack her tweezers for a trip, Jenna is trying in earnest to move away from her bad skin habit

Getting better: After accidentally going ten days without touching her pores when she forgot to pack her tweezers for a trip, Jenna is trying in earnest to move away from her bad skin habit

Jenna was aware that her skin-picking was growing out of control and visited a 'battalion' of dermatologists, who told her that her problem was psychosomatic.

So she enrolled in an an outpatient program for mental health. But once the three-week program ended, she insisted she had her problem under enough control to move on her own to New York City.

I was filling my garbage with tissues dotted in blood 

The problem was not under control, however. Though the dreaded magnifying mirror was back at her parents' house in Illinois, Jenna would still lean in close to her own bathroom mirror to pick at her pores.

'I would tweeze and squeeze, filling my garbage can with tissues dotted with blood,' she said, adding that she would hide out in her bedroom to avoid seeing her roommate, who might question her about the bloody tissues she threw out in the bathroom.

And she didn't stop at using tweezers. Jenna admitted that she's also 'attacked' her face with an extruder, an earring post, an unspooled paperclip, a pushpin, a toothbrush handle, the rough side of a nail file, lotion caps, and nail clippers.

Damaging habit: Jenna (not pictured) said she once cut an eighth-inch deep hole in her face while picking at a 'probably imagined' ingrown hair

Damaging habit: Jenna (not pictured) said she once cut an eighth-inch deep hole in her face while picking at a 'probably imagined' ingrown hair

One of Jenna's most agonizing memories was when the writer had to interview Steve Carrell after picking at a cyst on her chin until it bled. She worried the blood wouldn't dry in time to apply makeup before the interview.

'The urge to self-injure just always pulses through my head and hands,' she said. 'And it's my go-to method of procrastination when I have a deadline.'

Luckily, while travelling to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah this January, Jenna forgot her tweezers at home, resulting in ten whole days during which she didn't pick at her face.

Though she hasn't completely abandoned her bad skin habits, the 27-year-old is now working on being 'nice' to herself. She hopes that within the next year she'll be able to totally let go of her skin-picking problem, once and for all.

WHAT IS DERMATILLOMANIA? 

Dermatillomania - or compulsive skin picking - is an impulse control disorder characterized by the uncontrollable desire to pick at one's skin.

Some sufferers have the condition so severely they pick at their skin until it is damaged.

Sufferers usually start by picking at their face before moving on to other parts of the body.

The condition is often categorized as an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

It can lead to bleeding, bruising and infections.

CSP will often be carried out after the individual has experienced a high level of tension which has caused an urge to carry out the behaviour.

The skin picking is often accompanied by a feeling of relief or even pleasure due to the reduction in anxiety levels.

However, once the damage has been done, those affected will often be left with a feeling of depression or hopelessness.

Although the damage that is caused can be very severe, the gratification experienced can lead the individual to carry out CSP again and again.

Treatment usually involves counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Source: Anxiety UK 


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