Some mornings, I just eat whatever for breakfast because my appetite doesn’t care what it is as long as I stop feeling hungry afterward, lol. Today I ate a steamed bun, or a “mantou”, as it is known in Mandarin Chinese. This is different from a stuffed steam bun, which usually has filling or meat inside it. A mantou has nothing inside and it’s just white and fluffy with a thin, almost translucent skin on it. After steaming it for a few minutes, I tore off bits of it before eating them. It was during this that I started to play around with taking off the skin of the bun and recalled how, as a child, I actually hated eating steamed buns aside from the skin, which I had a talent for peeling off in almost one unbroken piece. Many a time when I’ve eaten a bun, I had that memory pop up. This time, my mind took it a step further. Maybe it was from watching the movement of my own hands, tugging away the top layer from the bun and shredding the bun into smaller portions, that it reminded me of the sometimes present habit I have now: skin picking.
For a moment there, I felt surprised. Had I made a new discovery about myself by drawing this connection? Between my pulling apart of the steamed bun and the pull I often have whenever I get the urge to pick the scabs on my skin, there is a shared likeness. I thought, So I’ve been crazy about picking things with my hands since I was a young child?? On a related note, I am now aware that in past instances where I’ve felt nervous, I’ll shred it a lot into small pieces and do it in an almost continuous manner while eating very little of it. If I do eat it, I try to hide my nervousness by shoving a lot into my mouth, but then it feels very forced and difficult to chew. Ugh.
In elementary school around the 4th grade, some of the classmates I sat with at lunch had trouble getting their ketchup packets open. I helped by pulling them open for them, and every time, they seemed amazed that I was able to do it so easily. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Now that I think about it, even my childhood obsession with collecting stickers included a great deal of “picking” with my fingers and nails. While one way to get stickers to come off from their adhesive paper was to bend the paper with one hand and use the pad of my fingers on my other hand to get the sticker, I didn’t like this method for some stickers because they’d end up with a permanent indentation in them. I liked to take the more tedious route by using my fingernail to gently scratch the sticker until it came off from the paper. I had a number of sticker album books with adhesive pages on them, which allowed me to put stickers in but also pull them off with ease if I wanted to arrange them on a different page. Keeping stickers as I did then, I got a satisfaction from being my own creative decorator in those albums and enjoyed trading stickers with others or using select ones for art projects of mine.
But, skin picking is destructive. The outlet I had for it with the stickers seemed harmless, but the pulling of the skin from the steamed bun troubles me. Perhaps because I associate it too closely with my skin picking, in that the shedding of the bun’s top layer reminds me too much of how I pry off a scab from my skin. The two things have their differences too. The bun is an edible food item and not a part of my body. As a kid back then, I was content with seeing the skin of the bun come loose as I pulled at it, and because I liked eating it. When I pick my skin, I know it is a compulsion driven by anxiety or restlessness. It’s always one or the other for me. I pick at perceived imperfections on my skin, like healing scabs, but unlike the skin from the steamed bun, I certainly do not want to eat my scabs. If anything, when I get into the mindset of running my hand over a scab, I can alternate between wanting to leave it intact and wanting to get it off. And when it does come off, I feel both relief and guilt, knowing I’ve satisfied my drive but I’ve also once again interrupted my body’s attempt at mending my skin.