It’s bad enough that I have suffered from anxiety for my entire life, and depression for the last 3 years, but the worst part of having mental illness, is being aware that it could be passed to my children. Well, I thought the worst part would be being aware of this fact, but the worst part is actually seeing it happen and not knowing what to do about it.
My daughter, E, has been struggling for the past couple months (and as I write this, I’m realizing that’s how long she’s been going to occupational therapy… I’ll think on this as I write). She started picking the skin on her lip when she was sick with a cold. You know how it goes, your nose is stuffy, so you mouth breath all day and night and dry your lips out until the crack and peel. When this happened, E realized that she could pick the skin off, and she started doing it. No big deal, right? I’ve done the same thing. Then she started doing it when she was better, and her lips began to bleed. Both top and bottom lips were picked to excess, and she kept doing it. She’d do it in bed at night, at school, and at therapy. It looked awful, and I knew it had to hurt, but she kept at it. Then she started picking at her fingers….
First she just picked the skin around her fingernails when she had a hangnail. She’d bleed and whine about the pain, asking for a bandaid. She fell in love with bandaids and would ask for one every time she got even a little scratch. Soon she started picking at the skin so much she was picking off chunks of skin. The bleeding was bad, the fingers looked awful. We tried everything from asking her why she was doing it, to telling her that was not a good thing to do, to pleading with her to stop hurting herself. Nothing has worked, and now all ten of her fingers are picked raw and bleeding. Still, she picks.
I’ve had to send her to preschool with six fingers in bandaids. The teachers are aware of what’s happening, and they are trying to redirect her attention when she’s doing it. I know a lot of the time it’s just something she does. She’s not actively thinking “okay, time to pick the skin til it hurts!” She’s just doing it. It’s just something to keep her hands busy when she’s bored, nervous, anxious.
(I did think, for a few days, that she was doing it just because she wanted bandaids, but after offering her a box of bandaids all to herself if she stopped, and still not seeing her stop, I knew it was something else.)
…but what can be done? Is this a phase? Is it something deeper? If it is, what set it off? Could she be suffering from my depression, anxiety, and anger? Are my outbursts and crying getting to her? Is listening to her brother scream all day (because I’m not holding him) grating on her nerves as well? Does it bother her that I have to hold him and give him more attention BECAUSE he will scream if I don’t? Does she feel left out? If so, what can I do? How can I help her if I can’t help myself? When will S be easier so that I can give equally to them both. Or, can I? Is that ever going to be a thing?
I want to help her, but I don’t know where to start. Should I start with myself and hope that helps her? Or is this something that also lives inside her and has nothing to do with me or S? Is this something that therapy set off? Does she feel odd, knowing that we are taking her somewhere because she thinks we think there is something wrong with her? I never really have been completely on board with the therapy (it’s for social and gross motor skills), but is 50 minutes a week doing exercises and interacting with other kids something that could set off her genetic anxiety bomb?
I’m not sure what we are going to do, but my husband definitely wants us to take her in to the pediatrician. I assume they will want us to take her to a child psychologist, but I just can’t believe that it’s to a point like that. Isn’t there anything that can be done by me first? Can’t I help her? She’s my little E, and all I want is for her to feel happy and safe and loved. Can’t I push aside my own issues and do that? I think I can…. and I will be better for her. She needs me, and I can do this.