I have holes in my calves. My fingers, too. I have trouble with my hands and legs. I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t true.
Of course they’re not actual holes. More like shadows of scars from my fingernails clawing their way into my skin to dig out the bugs that live underneath. Same thing with my fingers and the backs of my hands. Bugs making nests in my body. I can feel the sensation for what it actually is—an incessant itch from a dry skin condition—or I can go with the delusion that insects are living within me. I always believe the delusion first. It’s what I’ve known forever. Like a nightmare I can’t wake up from. Crawling along my veins, laying eggs in my muscles.
Sometimes I have yellow bruises on my legs, roadmap reminders of control gone wrong. Unlike the angry street preacher proclaiming a need for commuters to subjugate their will to the bus, I tend to work out my unwanted state of agitation by pounding my thighs until I can barely stand. It’s what I do to relieve myself of the unbearable pain of vibrating between the tines of the tuning fork of madness. I punish myself as a way to deal. My body bears the brunt of it.
I can tell myself that demons aren’t real, but I can’t escape my body and the delusions that surround it. When my eating disorder was informing my self-image, body dysmorphia was likely the thing. I was told as much by one psychiatrist. Body dysmorphia is a mental illness involving an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance, in my case, excessive weight, even when I had reached a near-zero BMI (body mass index). Thanks to therapy and anti-anxiety medication, I’ve got my ED under control. I also work at keeping fit and eating sensibly, but this doesn’t help me with the bugs and the bruises.
I believed that it was somehow normal for insects to live under the skin. I was too embarrassed to seek help because I never thought anything was wrong. Even after I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I kept my bug problem to myself. It’s only recently that I’ve opened up about it in therapy. I’ve dealt with it since my first break at twenty-one. The bruises, on the other hand, go back to self-harm practices in early childhood, a way to make sense of the uncontrollable circumstances I’d faced then. Having discussed self-harm with my therapist over the years, I felt confident that I could approach the infestation issue. Being medicated helps me see things from a third-person perspective, affords a different view on my flawed beliefs.
I became aware of the clinical term delusional parasitosis while doing research for this post. Delusional parasitosis is a mental disorder in which a person believes they are infested with parasites when there is no evidence to support the belief. Tactile hallucinations such as the feeling of insects crawling on or under the skin are often reported. Individuals suffering from delusional parasitosis often attempt to rid themselves of the imagined parasites, bringing harm to their bodies in the process.
Delusional parasitosis, also known as delusional infestation, is divided into three groups: primary, secondary organic, and secondary functional.
In primary delusional parasitosis, the delusions comprise the entire disease; they surround a solitary belief covering some aspect of the individual’s health.
Secondary organic delusional parasitosis occurs when a physical illness or a medical or recreational substance causes the symptoms. The sensation of insects crawling over the skin can be caused by allergies, drug abuse, or hormonal changes.
Secondary functional delusional parasitosis exists when the delusions are linked with a psychiatric condition such as schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Atypical antipsychotics are used in treatment of the secondary forms of delusional parasitosis.
Before I was convinced that insects had infested my body, I would dig into my palms with a tweezers attempting to extract tracking devices implanted in my flesh by alien visitors. I still have a scar in my hand. Whenever I would hear a news report about tick, lice, or other infestations, I would instantly be convinced that I was host to the parasites. Even just seeing a picture of them would set the delusion in motion.
I’m afraid that I’ll still be pounding my fists into my thighs for some time to come. I’m working on understanding the correlation between coping with aggression and self-harm, but it’s only been a recent endeavor. I believe that the behavior is borne out of my OCD, and that further work in therapy will help me resolve my internal conflict. Only time will tell.