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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collinson

"Just Stop Scratching!"

Why telling those suffering with a skin condition to “stop scratching” is completely unhelpful

We’re all aware of how hard it is/or it’s perceived from the outside to be to quit smoking. There’s whole industries set up to assist with what is seen as a monumental challenge through patches, gum, even fake cigarettes. Governments have been involved for decades creating regulation graphic warning labels, ever increasing taxation and doing all it can to educate its citizens of the dangers. The negative health consequences to themselves and all those around them that they love are clear to see.  And yet despite all of this, with every reason in the world to quit, it takes smokers every ounce of willpower, drive and commitment to make the change. Some never can. Now imagine if you asked every smoker to go through this process of quitting, with one difference, they would have a lit cigarette in their hand for the rest of their lives and their cravings will never subside. This is what it feels like to life with AD.

Imagine you are covered head to toe in itching powder, all day every day you have a voice in your ear screaming at you, begging you to scratch. Imagine trying to go through normal life, to focus and be present, whether at work or socially, to try and achieve your potential when the majority of your cognition is taken over by the insatiable need to scratch. This is our addiction and it is as simple as moving your fingernails a few cm, milliseconds, and the damage has begun. Despite all the negative health consequences that we know will follow, the embarrassment and shame of how it will look, the blood on our clothes, the way it’ll only make us itch more in the long run, we can’t stop it. Just in the same way smokers or any other addiction/impulse, we need that break from the cravings for their own sanity. 

And when we do scratch it’s accompanied by a level of euphoria more intense than anything else in life. In a way the screaming in your ear subsides but it also quietly pleads for more. Even as you feel the blood under your fingernails and you know the damage you’re doing and how this will ultimately lead to more pain, right now it feels like bliss, calm and peace. 

Those living with tourette's syndrome speak of a similar feeling, these people can, with a gun to their head, hold their ticks down in the short term. However, asking them to do so for anything longer than this is completely unreasonable and unrealistic.

Believe me we try not to, I have gone through all manner of mental torture to force myself not to. Telling myself if I scratch today something bad will happen to my family for example. And I have pushed mentally further with this than any physical challenge ever could, but you always break. How can you not? it is simply not a sustainable solution to tell someone with AD to stop scratching. 

As with any addiction/impulse you can try putting measures in place; shorter nails, gloves, compression sleeves. However the barriers you can put in place are limited and if the need to itch is desperate and constant we all break eventually and find a way to satisfy that need especially when it is just so easy to do.

We didn’t ask for this, we don’t deserve this and people need more empathy to the reality of living in this situation. While it can come from a place of love and without malice it can often feel like victim blaming. Like it’s our fault we’re in this situation, it’s because we have CHOSEN to scratch. There is no choice here. The only thing to blame is our condition, believe me we are giving our best and if we could stop, we would.

What has helped me:

One thing that has helped me tremendously with the itch is compression, I have some compression sleeves for example for my arms which quietens down the itch enough for me to go about my life normally to a degree. 

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