Geek Chronicles Mental Health

Coping with OCD at ComicCon

Comic Book Conventions give fans the opportunity to meet the celebrities they admire. It’s an exciting time but it can also be a difficult time for a fan that lives with a mental illness. I attended two Comic Book Conventions this month, both were enjoyable, but they also came with struggles. I want to share two of those struggles with you.

CONTENT NOTE: This post contains information and photos of skin-picking and self-harm which could be upsetting to some readers.

I’m living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and I have two primary obsessive compulsions; skin-picking (dermatillomania) and lip balm application. Both of these obsessive compulsions have an impact on my ability to attend and enjoy Comic Book Conventions.

For people who are unaware; Comic Book Conventions, more commonly referred to as ComicCons, are typically weekend events in which comic book and film fans gather to meet actors, creators, and each other. For the purpose of this post I want to focus on one particular aspect of ComicCon: meeting celebrities.

Coping with Dermatillomania

I’m living with dermatillomania; an obsessive compulsive skin-picking disorder. To clarify, I don’t mean picking at a hangnail. I mean picking relentlessly and obsessively at my hands and arms. This obsessive behavior is heightened when I’m anxious, and I’m normally pretty anxious at ComicCons, so I tend to skin-pick to relieve my anxiety.  I use Band-Aids to cover up the spots that I pick; this keeps my picking to a minimum and covers my visually unappealing wounds and scars. As a result, my hands and arms are normally covered in colorful and decorative Band-Aids. I wear long sleeves to cover my arms, but there isn’t much that I can do about my hands.

Shaking Hands with Dermatillomania

This becomes a problem when I’m given the opportunity to meet celebrities. Here’s how the process at ComicCon typically goes; the celebrity is sitting at a table, you walk up to the table, shake the celebrity’s hand, ask for an autograph, hold a conversation, take a photo with the celebrity, and walk away. Seems simple, right? Not for me. My primary fear starts with the handshake.

Band-Aids are normally seen as unsanitary. People don’t enjoy looking at Band-Aids, let alone shaking someone’s hand who is wearing a Band-Aid. Yet, my hands and arms are covered with them. So, as I approach the celebrity table my mind starts racing. I fall into an anxiety ridden thought spiral; “What if they get grossed out by my Band-Aids? What if they think I’m unsanitary? Should I deny the handshake? Oh no. They are reaching out their hand. They want to shake my hand. Remember to smile. Please don’t notice the Band-Aids. Please don’t notice. Please don’t wince. Please don’t be grossed out. Reach out your hand. Say something. I shouldn’t have come. Please, don’t let them be grossed out.

I deserve to be excited. I’m meeting celebrities that I admire. I’m meeting celebrities that I’ve waited years to meet. Yet, I can’t truly enjoy myself because I’m so terrified that my skin will gross them out. I’m terrified they will think I’m weird or unclean. It always puts a knot in my stomach, and casts a depressive and dreadful shadow on an experience that should be enjoyable.

Luckily, I’ve never had a bad interaction with a celebrity due to my dermatillomania. Although many celebrities have inquired about my Band-Aids, and I’m always happy to explain. When asked, I pleasantly reply; “I have a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that causes me to skin-pick. I cover the spots I pick with fun Band-Aids.” Sometimes the conversation continues, and they have questions, which I’m always happy to answer. Other times it’s acknowledged as a fact, and the conversation quickly goes back to film and comics.

But my OCD fears don’t end there. I still have another obsessive hurdle to jump…

I Obsessively Apply Lip Balm 

At ComicCon, conversations at the celebrity table can last anywhere between 3 to 15 minutes. This is where my second obsessive compulsion comes in: lip balm application.

Let me briefly explain my compulsion: I’m not talking about using lip balm (as directed) for chapped lips. In my case, lip balm application is a severe and unhealthy obsessive compulsion: it’s a repetitive behavior that I feel the uncontrollable urge to repeat, over-and-over, in response to my obsessive thoughts. Approximately, I apply lip balm every 10 minutes and more often on super anxious days. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. It’s an all-consuming compulsion.

An Awkward Obsessive Compulsion 

So, imagine this. You’ve met a celebrity that you’ve been waiting years to meet. You made it past the dreaded handshake. You are finally getting answers to your geeky questions. You are having a quality conversation. When suddenly, the unavoidable and screaming urge to apply lip balm hits.

Applying lip balm is awkward. I don’t want to apply lip balm while mid-conversation with a celebrity. Seriously, applying lip balm is an awkward thing to do. But when the compulsion enters my mind I have to. It’s like I can’t breathe, or think of anything else, until I’ve completed the compulsion.

I sincerely don’t want to apply lip balm while talking to a celebrity at a ComicCon. But the urge inevitably hits. After 5 seconds I become jittery, after 10 seconds I become anxious, after 30 seconds it feels like my skin is catching fire, I can’t think, I get dizzy. My thought spiral begins again; “Do not put on lip balm. Ignore the urge. Please. Just this once. Do not put on lip balm in front of this person. They are answering a question you’ve had for years. Pay attention to what they are saying. Have a quality conversation. You’ve admired this person for years. Just focus. Do not look like a freak.

Luckily, my lip balm application is normally discrete and goes relatively unnoticed. I attempt to apply it while my husband is speaking, so all of the attention isn’t on me. But it still makes me feel awkward and unnecessarily uncomfortable. It is an obsessive compulsion that I can’t ignore, postpone, or push aside.

Abnormal Normality

I don’t want to be the weirdo with Band-Aids who applies lip balm awkwardly during conversations, but that’s who I am. These obsessive compulsions are constant reminders of my abnormal normality.

Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be difficult at times. This disorder can be all-consuming and it often overwhelms me with awkwardness and inconvenience, but I won’t let it stop me from living. I will continue doing the things I enjoy, and I will continue finding healthy ways to cope with my disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a part of me, but it isn’t all of me. If you live with this disorder, please remember: you are not alone.

You may be wondering why I share vulnerable and personal information like this. I share this side of myself for two main reasons; I want to raise awareness for mental illness, and I want to show people like me that they are not alone.

You can keep up with what I’m doing and read more about mental health by connecting with me on social networks: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also subscribe to the Uncustomary Housewife Blog.

Sincerely, Elizabeth — Uncustomary Housewife

Continue reading for more information on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…


What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by two main things; Obsessions and Compulsions.

Obsessions are repetitive and intrusive thoughts that are often unwanted. Most of the time, people know their obsessions are irrational but are unable to divert their attention from the obsession. For instance, I have racing thoughts that I “must apply lip balm”, hundreds of times a day. I’m well aware that I my lips aren’t chapped, and that the obsession is illogical, but that doesn’t matter. I can’t ignore the obsession, and it is extremely stressful.

Compulsions are irrational and excessive urges to complete certain actions. These repetitive actions can temporarily relieve the stress brought on by an obsession. Most of the time, people know that these rituals are irrational, but are unable to prevent the need to perform them. Like obsessions, people may try not to perform compulsive acts but feel forced to do so to relieve anxiety. For instance, I get extremely, and painfully, anxious if I can’t apply my lip balm regularly (every 10 minutes). Failure to apply lip balm can result in an anxiety or panic attack.

To be diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a person must have: obsessions, compulsions, or both that are upsetting and cause difficulty with work, relationships, other parts of life, and typically last for at least an hour each day.

Coping with OCD at ComicCon

5 comments on “Coping with OCD at ComicCon

  1. Itistime

    I also bite when anxious. I bite the inside of my mouth/cheeks until they bleed. It’s less noticeable that biting hands or arms, so no one knows this about me. Wish I could stop, but been doing it since a child, just a part of me now

  2. huggerofcats

    Sorry you have to deal with this, but also thanks for writing this!! It’s actually pretty similar to what I’ve been experiencing.

    I’ve been diagnosed with OCD but have been questioning it lately because most of my symptoms (mostly obsessions) have gone away over the years. More recently, I’ve been picking at the skin, mostly on my chest, face, and scalp. How much time I spend picking a day goes up and down, though sometimes I spend hours in front of the mirror doing just that. It hasn’t been that bad lately, and I’ve been able to a avoid picking at my face (the most visible place) for the most part.

    And then there’s the need to apply lip balm!! My partner always thought that this could be part of my possible OCD, but I usually brushed him off. But it makes sense in this post! My urge doesn’t seem as bad as yours is, so maybe it isn’t OCD-related, but I definitely start getting anxious and/or extremely frustrated when I can’t apply it when I get the urge.

    • The first thing I thought reading this was, “you are so much bolder than me”. I pick my skin too, and covering it up helps me too, and now I want to be confident enough to go out with colorful bandaids on me. And I know… It doesn’t mean feeling confident, and all these worries make so much sense to me, but it’s still something that hit me as kind of amazing.

      I usually remove everything before getting out of the house, because the picked areas get me less questions than the bandaids do. And that doesn’t help me, but I never feel ready to talk about it. I just try to avoid any questions, because I feel that people won’t understand and I don’t want to deal with that. Now I’m thinking I want to try that someday.

  3. Oh my, I cannot imagine what it must be like living with the obsessive-compulsive behavior to pick skin. But, you totally rock those super-hero band-aids!! I love it and think it is great that you can still have a fun-sense of humor while dealing with OCD. 🙂

  4. I don’t have OCD, but I have this thing I’ve done ever since middle school or high school (maybe sooner, I don’t remember) where I pick at my eyebrows. It doesn’t leave stores or anything though. I just end up with big patches missing. It’s embarrassing, but I can’t help doing it. As an adult, I get to the point where they look so ridiculous I’ll just shave them off completely so that when I go to pick them there’s nothing there then when they grow back I’ve kind of broken the habit (or whatever it is) for a while. Sometimes. (It takes forever for my eyebrows to grow back).

    As far as your skin picking, have you ever gotten staph infection from it? My son has this bad habit of biting his nails (his father, my ex, taught him to bite them off rather than trim them… ugh), but it doesn’t end there. He actually gnaws on the tips of his fingers to the point of being raw/bloody/scabbed. I worry about him getting staph infection because of it.

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