PICA: A Chalky Love Affair

The teacher turned his back and I quickly snatched two sticks of white chalk. My seat-mate looked at me,shook his head and went back to solving his math problems. This time, he’d decided not to lash out his favorite line ‘Bones, you’re the school’s head-girl. Stop stealing chalk‘. Yea, almost everyone back at St.Joseph’s Ex Pupils’ Primary(Ndow’s) called me bones for, er, obvious reasons. I hid the sticks in my pencil-case, taking extra care not to break them. You, dear Linguerite, might be wondering if I was a part-time teacher. Well, my cousins had painted one of the back walls at home black so we could use it as a blackboard to study. I’d sometimes get the kids on my street together and teach them the alphabet and some simple Math sums. However, the chalk used for that was from a different source and I didn’t care much about its colour. So er, yea! I guess I can’t keep it in any longer, so here’s the reason I’d steal chalk in school everyday (or almost). It was for consumption. You notice I haven’t really said anything different because using the chalk to write on a board can also be classed under consumption. Well, I did not consume it in THAT way.

I ATE the chalk sticks. I guess this is where I should insert the ’embarrassed smiley’, non?

I, like you(probably), am wondering if this is really blog-worthy, but we’ll see by the time we get to the last letter. A few days ago, I was busy going through a certain post on Balafong about the system that’s set to be introduced in the schools. As usual, the comments took a very argumentative form, each one standing firm to his opinion. Somewhere midway, someone mentioned the word ‘chalk’ and the memories came flooding in. I suddenly felt this strong itchy feeling somewhere in my jaws. It was a craving! A chalk craving. The mere sight of the word had got my senses alert and taken me 10 years down the road. Knowing I had no chalk in my room only aggravated the situation. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I’d seen anything like it around here, with the almost-uniform use of white boards and markers. Desperate, I reached out for my tub of Nesquik cocoa powder and literally jammed a tablespoonful down my throat. Then three more! It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but it helped stop the itchy feeling and I could sit still for once. See, I have this huge problem of wanting a certain thing and doing everything to get it. My friend says I’m over-passionate but sometimes, I just can’t help it.

I then posted a tweet about my chalk craving and hours later, I got a response from someone. We’ll call him Bajinka. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that had that ‘weird’ addition to my diet, as a child. Mr Bajinka here was also hooked to the white stick, until he got stopped by a family member, making him resort to something else. I’ll tell you later if you can keep it secret. Anyway, to cut a long story short, which seems very weird coming from me, I learnt that it was actually a disorder. One that went by the name PICA(pronounced Pie-ka)! Cute name, you’ll admit. One Wikipedia tour and warnings from our resident Twitter Doctor later, it didn’t seem so cute. The disorder got its name from the magpie, a bird reputed for its unusual eating behavior. I was a bit worried even though I tried to hide it by sounding completely aloof and being sarcastic about it all. I did not just stop at eating chalk. I’d tried burnt matchstick heads(which I didn’t like) and paint! For this last one, I’d simply scrape off tiny bits from the walls and pop them into my mouth. Writing this now, it sounds pretty awkward and I wonder how I managed to pull that off. I share a few of the Wikifacts I found.

Pica (is characterized by an appetite for substances largely non-nutritive (such as clay or chalk).  For these actions to be considered pica, they must persist for more than one month at an age where eating such objects is considered developmentally inappropriate. There are different variations of pica, as it can be from a cultural tradition, acquired taste or a neurological mechanism such as an iron deficiency, or chemical imbalance.

If you’re wondering how harmful the intake of those substances is  and the effects it could have on one’s health, check this out.

It can lead to intoxication in children which can result in an impairment in both physical and mental development. In addition, it can also lead to surgical emergencies due to an intestinal obstruction as well as more subtle symptoms such as nutritional deficiencies and parasitosis. Pica is oftentimes culturally accepted and is not deemed inappropriate. Pica has been linked to mental disability and they often have psychotic comorbidity.  Stressors[sic] such as maternal deprivation, family issues, parental neglect, pregnancy, poverty, and a disorganized family structure are strongly linked to pica.

I also learnt that the substances were not restricted to chalk, paint or paper. A list explaining the different types of pica and their scientific names left me gaping in disbelief. I cite a few : starch, soil, clay, glass, mucus, ice, hair, wood, paper, urine and animal faeces. Self-cannibalism, where one tends to consume body parts like dead skin was also cited. Don’t worry, I’m as horrified as you are; maybe more. Unfortunately, there is no specific test that confirms pica, making diagnosis difficult. Little research has been done on it, leading to the conclusion that it is mainly caused by mineral deficiency. The ‘sufferers’ therefore, tend to consume substances rich in the minerals they’re deficient in. It can also be associated with certain cultural practices like the ingestion of soft stones, locally known as keww, especially by pregnant women in West Africa. However, it is classified as a mental disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It also affects animals like dogs and cats. Finally, the silver lining with the availability of possible treatment options, a few of which I cite below:

  • Presentation of attention, food or toys, not contingent on pica being attempted
  • Differential reinforcement, with positive reinforcement if pica is not attempted and consequences if pica is attempted
  • Discrimination training between edible and inedible items, with negative consequences if pica is attempted
  • Visual screening, with eyes covered for a short time after pica is attempted
  • Aversive presentation, contingent on pica being attempted
  • Physical restraint  

Now you understand why I got worried. I reassured myself that I’ve got no links to this disorder, but we all know that’s untrue. Apparently, the pattern of eating should last at least a month to fit the diagnosis . Well, let’s just say I went on for years with my chalk-eating. It’s been ages since I stopped and I know that I’m not going anywhere near it again. I must say I’m very lucky to have survived the effects and hope everyone else does. I thought to share the few things I learnt because a good number of you might have the same problem and not realise its gravity. Do a more detailed research on the disorder and start by practising self-restraint. If that does not help, seek medical attention. It’s never too late.

See! Turns out my chalky heartbreak was blog-worthy after all. I hope you enjoyed and, most importantly, learnt something new from it :-). Over to you now! Do you have any weird additives to your diet? Do you sometimes feed on some of the things mentioned above? Share your experiences, spread the word and get more people informed. Will be back soon! 🙂


2 thoughts on “PICA: A Chalky Love Affair

  1. yam sey (@yamzydrizzy)

    I can’t believe some of the things mentioned above ( mucus, dead cells) eeewww! Errm i did suuf bu toye :p, and white rice whether raw, cooked, or half cooked ( suusal) i didn’t mind, also did ice which i still do. I just love ice 😀


    1. myzzdiamant Post author

      Why, look who just spilled the beans!
      Don’t worry, you can always say ‘Ice is just frozen water’. I’m sure that’ll get your name off the list



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