Autism: Confessions of a Skin-Picker


What’s Stimming?

Stimming is self-stimulatory behaviour. It is repetition of movement, sound or movement with objects.

It’s done for relief and pleasure.

Simplified: Stimming calms or stimulates.

Everybody stims, however, NTs have more socially acceptable stims and are more able to control them.

With an autistic person – stims are necessary to their mental health well being.

We stim to release tension or to stimulate ourselves.

Some people stimulate themselves to feel pain for pleasure, like my friend who liked to pull her leg hairs out one by one using tweezers.

*eyes are watering*

I didn’t know I was autistic until five years ago – so I’ve had forty plus years of generally hiding/suppressing behaviour that I now understand to be stimming..

It started with spinning where, as a small child, I would spin myself around until the butterflies danced in my stomach.  Then came infants school where there were boxes upon boxes of colourful (and tactile) objects that I liked to stroke or manipulate in my hand. Doing this soothed my anxious mind – albeit temporarily. I wasn’t interested in constructing things like the other children. Sod THAT for a game of conkers! I just wanted to sit in a corner and stroke stuff!

Speaking of conkers…

I like to touch them. (NOT a euphemism)

Then came the glue..

You’re probably reading this and thinking, ‘Glue? Oh my God, she’s a glue sniffer!’

Rest assured. I wasn’t (and have never been) a glue sniffer.

I may, however, have had a brief dalliance with Tippex in my high school days..

One of my all time loves is art and that love started in school. However, art was sensory for me. Visually? Great. Smells? Not so great.

I loved the smell of paint. Still do, but not when it’s combined with the aroma of curdled milk, cabbage and dried vomit as was the case in school. That said, I loved to create pieces of art so I forced myself myself to tolerate everything else..

The other sensory issue was that I almost pathologically HATED getting stuff on my fingers..

My mother told me that I was using a knife and fork a lot younger than my brothers were. She presumed it’s because boys are generally slower than girls? I think it’s probably because I disliked the feel of slimy food on my fingers. *shudders* This also explains why I find making pastry so unpleasant, hence, I avoid it wherever possible.

Whoever invented ‘Jus Rol’ has my unwavering adulation.

So, glue..

The first time I used glue – the stickiness made me anxious but I had communication issues so I wasn’t able to ask if I could go and wash my hands. I was starting with palpitations when THIS happened:

The glue dried and I discovered that peeling it off my fingers was quite possibly the best thing to happen to me since Enid Blyton!

I could happily lose myself in a glue-peeling session which made my school day slightly more tolerable.

Note: FFS don’t try this using Super Glue!

Glue-picking was the precursor to my most used stim – skin picking.

Yeah, a lot of my stims are gross.

When I was 21 I got chicken pox. Initially, this was crap because I was pregnant at the time. I was the size of Brazil with spots that itched like fuckery. I remember the one thing that people kept saying to me: ‘WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T PICK THE SCABS!’

That’s like telling Mary Berry to stop baking and become a binman..


I especially loved the scabs on my head because I would pull them ever-so-slowly through my hair which was, like, orgasmically pleasurable.

I’ve always picked my spots. And other people’s. Feeling that satisfying ‘pop’ as zit matter is released at high velocity? That’s right up there on the pleasure scale for me. Welcome to the pleasure dome mateys! I literally don’t understand how a person can have a big fat juicy zit and NOT want to pop it? Weirdos.

Downside is: I have scars.

LOTS of scars.

I also pick the skin off my lips. Sometimes with my fingers – sometimes with my teeth. NOT the best of stims if you like vinegar on your chips!

Zit slaying and lip picking are stims I try and save for ‘me time’ because even I know that it’s socially unacceptable to be pecking at yourself in public like a demented pigeon. Even so – sometimes I forget myself..

My bad, motherfunglers.

Rest assured that once I’ve acknowledged my skanky behaviour, I switch to a more socially acceptable stim – like fiddling with my cube/keys/phone/pebble/whatever.

Should I mention that I’m allergic to nickle so when I wear cheap earrings, my skin weeps, then crusts over? I guess you’ll know where I’m going with this so I’ll move on..

My, not gross stims, include rocking back and forth or side to side. I take more in when I’m rocking because I am less focused on my anxiety. It’s a gentle movement but if I’m having an anxiety crisis at home, it’s full on IN YOUR FACE back and forth rocking sometimes combined with manic pacing up and down.

Then there’s my fidget cube. I say mine. I may have nicked it from The Boy because his stim of choice is to chew his nails..

I also use a spinner which I like to spin near my cheek because I like how it feels on my face. No doubt, I’ll probably end up in A & E one day with a spinner-related facial injury..

NOTE: I’m trying very hard NOT to think of the scab..

Next, is my thumb ring.

Yep, I just lurve touching my ring.

Leaaaaaaave it.

I always wear one on my thumb which I manipulate with my index finger or my left index finger and thumb. It started off as me trying to give myself an edgy look? Then I realised that manipulating it calmed me down, so I’ve worn one for years. My current one is metallic rainbow colours so I get visual and tactile pleasure. Win and win!

I also LOVE soft materials. I wear soft leggings and stroke my legs, but not in a kinky way. I love blankets too – especially fleecy ones. They comfort me and keep my extremities semi-warm as I seem to be lacking blood flow in my hands and feet. Plus, under a blanket, you can hide from the world.

Also, people trying to sell you PVC windows. Or God.

Going back to pastry, I was once informed that cold hands make better pastry? So it’s a shame that I dislike the feel of it on my fingers or I could be the pastry queen of the North by now, no?

I get that I have some gross stims. I mean, picking my skin is pretty, er, what’s that word the young un’s use? Ah yes, ‘minging’ but it gets me through the day and through life. It’s not like I sit in Costa flicking my skin into people’s skinny lattes is it?

FYI, I am picking my lips right now as I’m editing this post for the 135th time.

Finally, people may tell you that stimming is offensive or unacceptable. The problem is with them, not you. Stimming has a purpose. It is part of the armory that we need to exist in this world. For this reason (and many others) it is perfectly acceptable to tell them politely, but with conviction, to eff off.

Me? I stim to calm myself and because it feels good.