I’ve been doing it since I can remember. Maybe four or five. It’s been a constant for me, I don’t remember a time I’ve ever not done it. My mom has been screaming at me to “STOP!” for at least 15 years now. It bothers her like nothing has ever bothered her before, which is saying something considering my mother is bothered by many things, especially when it’s something I do. Picking and biting my nails is something that I’ve done for years. I’ve known it’s extremely unhealthy, but something about it gives me a satisfaction nothing else can fulfill. Some people have alcohol, drugs, food, a certain thing that gives them comfort. Well, my comfort is being able to pick at my nails. I know that I can do it anytime I want. I know that my nails will be there for me to pick at. It doesn’t matter where I am or what time it is. Not only do I pick at my nails, but I pick at my skin. I pick at the skin that surrounds my nails, my cuticles, my scabs, and even sometimes my scalp. It might sound gross, but it’s the reality of trying to cope with stress and anxiety on a daily basis.
I’ve never been diagnosed with anxiety or anything like that, but I have found my own way to cope with the stress and anxiety I feel through certain situations. The type of stress and anxiety I feel about assignments, about being too busy, the list goes on. If you were to look at my nails, you might see that they are truly nubs. My nail doesn’t even come close to passing my fingertips. I don’t let them get long. If I haven’t picked at them in a while, I will pick at them the second I look down and see that they are getting a little bit too long. I will pick at them the second I’m bored, the second I’m stressed, the second I have to make an important decision, the list goes on.
Being a girl, I struggle with the feeling of my nails not looking pretty enough. I often compare them to other girls’ nails, and realize that mine don’t even remotely compare to other girls. I wonder how people don’t pick at their nails. How do they not see their nails and want to pick at them immediately? What do they do to keep themselves occupied when they’re bored? I truly don’t think that I will ever understand how people don’t do it, just because it’s been the reality of my everyday life. I barely ever get my nails done, although I wish I could. Part of being a girl is constantly getting your nails done, right? Being excited to go to the nail salon and be pampered whilst the nail artist works their magic. Then, you go back in two weeks and get them filled with a new beautiful design. Well, acrylics force me to stop picking at my nails, so getting acrylics is not in the cards for me. Those fake nails block me from being able to feel the satisfaction that comes from picking at my nails. I can’t even pick at the skin around my nails when I have acrylics on. If I ever do get my nails done, I instantly rip them off, damaging my nails even more. My nails are beyond damaged, my skin is hanging on by a thread, I normally have a hangnail that I have to pick in class, leading me to bleed out in class. True story, this happened in this exact class a couple weeks ago.
I was sitting, listening to Dr. Hurst explain what we could write about for our workshop, when I picked a hangnail that had been bothering me for the entire day, which is entirely too long. When I finally put enough effort in to pull the hangnail off, the blood began oozing out of the wound. I knew the hangnail would probably cause me to bleed, but I was bleeding more than I normally bleed from pulling a hangnail. The wound was one of the worst I’d ever had from a hangnail. My thought process consisted of “Do I go get a paper towel?” “Do I leave class for a minute?” “Are people going to judge me for picking at my nails?” “Do I sit here and pretend I’m not bleeding out in class?” There were truly a million thoughts rushing through my brain. Was I stressed about having to figure out a topic to write about? Was I in my own little world just picking at my nails? I have no idea. Little did I know that exact hangnail I decided to rip off of my finger would leave me with an infection and going to urgent care to get medication. The doctor’s report even put under the “Problems” box “developing healthy habits”. That hurt my feelings, not going to lie.
That same hangnail has kept me up at night because of the intense throbbing throughout the night. The heartbeat in my finger hasn’t gone away. It beats steadily for hours on end, and all I can do is think about how I could’ve prevented this. This isn’t the first time I’ve ended up in urgent care from an infection called paronychia. Each time it happens, I sit and think about how I want to stop. I think about how I want to stop doing it anytime I’m bored or stressed. I think about how I would save so many trips to the doctor and so much money from paying for the visit and the antibiotics I get prescribed. I think about how if I had nails, I might be able to open my packages with ease. I might be able to have cute nails for photos, and get complimented on how cute my nails look. However, that is not my reality, and I do not know if that will ever be my reality.
I find myself doing it more often than not. All of my friends and family hate it when I do it. My mom and I have the same conversation every day.
“NAME, when are you going to stop destroying your fingernails?” she asks.
I normally don’t respond. That might sound mean, but she already knows the answer. She knows I have tried, but have failed miserably. She knows that it is what calms my nerves when nothing else can. There’s certain places, such as being in church, where I can’t help but fidget with my nails. I pick and pick, and it makes a sound that everyone remotely close to me can hear. They can hear me working on my nail, not giving up until I can get a piece of it off. I know when people are looking at me as I tear off my nails. I can feel the eyes peering over at me, no matter how close or how far. My mom or sisters normally grab my wrist and whisper “NAME, stop. It’s distracting.” When they do this, I get defensive. I don’t know why, but I get really mad for the rest of the church service. A service that I should be enjoying, that I should be paying close attention to. I think about how they had the audacity to say that the distinct noise that picking at my nails makes is distracting when they usually talk the entire service? I want to yell at them while we’re in church and say “If you can talk, I can pick at my nails.” But that’s just not who I am, so I normally stop picking, or at least try, when someone points out that I am being distracting.
I think that everyone has a different way to cope with anxiety, stress, and nerves. Some are absolutely healthier than others, but mine just happens to be one that is embarrassing. The embarrassment that encompasses my nail picking will always be there, because I know it will probably be the “addiction” I will fight for years to come. There just will never be anything like having something you know will constantly be there to help calm nerves, stress, and anxiety. So, if you hear the sound of someone picking at something, it’s probably me, sitting in the workshop, tearing my nails off. Just don’t mind me. 🙂
Abby Thompson is a sophomore at Lindenwood University majoring in Middle School Education with an emphasis in English. She is originally from Marion, Illinois. On campus, she currently works as a student worker for the College of Education and Human Services, serving the Human Services department and serves as an officer in Tri Sigma sorority. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with her family!