Nail biting isn’t good for you.
Ok, it’s unlikely to kill you, but it’s not the grandest of things. It’s a ‘bad’ habit; socially dubious and probably likely to put someone off in an interview. Whatever is on, under or… around your nail ends up in your mouth and sometimes down your throat, including potentially parasites and germs. It leaves unsightly hands behind- flaky or torn or bitten cuticles which are more prone to skin infections than unbitten nails and their cuticles are. It also results in jagged stumpy nails that snag hose and, more importantly your skin, imbedding whatever is on your nails (afore mentioned bugs and whatnot) in a fresh scratch, ready to cause havoc.
Or at least that’s the way I’ve always seen it. I still did it- I started in primary school when I saw other children doing it and was desperate to fit in. As a person with a somewhat nervous disposition, it stuck, and became not only a nasty habit, but later an obvious tic when I was stressed, down, or out of mind with anxiety. The same is true for many people.
Last year, I had what people certainly used to refer to as ‘a nervous breakdown’. The doctors called in Generalised Anxiety and Depression, and PTSD. I fell apart. I couldn’t work, I could barely get up. As time went on, with hard work, help both medically and therapeutically, and from the friends and family who gathered around me, I began to improve. I still savaged my nails to cope- to take out my nerves and stress in a mildly self destructive way.
When, in autumn, I decided it was high time to face some demons and start seeing people I had to see again, I looked in the mirror and despaired. I thought of all those handshakes, and my blunt and bitten fingers trembled. I had to do something to face, in this case, my cousin’s birthday party.
I picked up my chaperone (phase 1) and we started on the road down the coast to the seat of my family. I swung in to a supermarket, and bought a set of false french manicured nails. We sat in the carpark for 5 minutes while I glued them on, and I drove, spread handed for a few miles, as they dried.
At the party, even if I felt like my insides were swelling up, and my skin was crawling, I looked at my hands, and they were… pretty. Neat. Acceptable. No longer a source of personal shame; evidence of my miserable state of mind. I could fit in with the ‘norms’. A lot of people talk about ‘putting your warpaint on’ to face the day. Well, for me, I sharpened my claws.
I kept gluing the things back on every time they pinged off until there was really no point- they were so glue covered and done. I was left with my own nails, a tad longer than normal for the exercise, but soon to be savaged by another deep bout of anxiety.
The lead up to Christmas is a busy time for my family, and, having dipped my toes once into that particular social pool, I felt obliged to do it again. I was terrified, but determined. The memory of my talons stuck with me- how much stronger I felt with those ten tiny crutches holding the shreds of my self esteem up. However, I knew I didn’t have the willpower to go cold turkey. I knew the bitter tasting biting stopping potions they sell spoil everything they (or rather, your fingers, touch) including delicious sandwiches and what not, and weren’t a strong enough deterrent for me. I needed to physically NOT be able to bite my nails. At all. So found a local salon (The Nail Boutique– they are truly lovely, barmy ladies), and had acrylics put on.
Naturally, my nails looked great, and however much I put them in my gob, I didn’t want to bite them, couldn’t really. I felt better- in control of something for once, and a worry was lifted off me. No one could judge me (if they even would) about my hands. My nails were neat and tidy, and they made my short little fingers look longer. For two months I kept getting refills, every 2-3 weeks. I even got them ‘did’ for Christmas.
When my nails had grown out under the acrylic to the same length as the acrylic, I had them soaked off, and immediately had shellac put on. I had heard about how long it lasted, but also how it added a little strength to the nail too. I have to say, even though I tried the product a few times, it wasn’t me. It never lasted more than a few days- I’d always have to go back and get repairs done, wasting both mine and the salon’s time. I had one set that was discoloured by a mystery substance- no idea what. My nails weren’t strong, and it didn’t really help, and in retrospect- the same colour for 2-3 weeks? I’d get seriously bored.
So I did a bad thing, which made me feel bad- I got rid of the shellac pretty badly, damaging my nails in the process. They were already damaged by the acrylic, so I didn’t care. I was disheartened. But, I realised, my nails were longer than they had been in years. And I wasn’t biting them. Not even a bit. Yes, I’d destroyed the polish (and I was very stressed at the time), but the nails had, pretty much, survived.
I filed them a little bit the improve the shape, and shortened them up when they broke. I oiled them, moisturised them and pampered myself to keep the drive going. Every week they got stronger, broke less. I looked up nail polish brands, told my friends and family what I had achieved (and it WAS an achievement), and found they cheered me on. I bought some lacquer, and then some more (oops), and then found care packages were arriving for my claws and me:
I was going through a really tough time then- reintegrating back into the work place, still plagued by my illness. Looking after my nails became part of my cooldown. It didn’t matter how bad I felt, I had to do my nails. I had to make sure they looked good, because then I would feel good. And nothing could hurt me then.
Of course, that isn’t true really, but that kind of positive thinking and behaviour is part of building up your self esteem, part of fighting to get better. And some days yes, I do chew off my polish. And yes, when stressed or sad I have bitten at my nails in the past month or so, but only broken ones, and you know, it doesn’t make me happy or calm anymore. They don’t taste the same. Because it isn’t my crutch any more.
I am not suggesting that you need to tumble into a pit of misery and despair in order to claw back out with fabulous nails. In fact, I really, really hope that is not what you need to do it. But if, and only if, you really want to stop biting, this is my advice.
- Find something to take your mind of biting: Drive that potentially nervous energy into something else, whether it be a hobby (crochet or knitting are good, as they occupy your hands) or even taking care of your nails.
- Use a deterrent: ‘No more biting’ solutions are to nail biting what squirty bottles are to bad dogs. However, as afore mentioned, they are evil and want to stop you from interacting manually with tasty things. For me, the deterrent was a barrier. A bad dog can’t steal a biscuit if they’re locked away. You can’t bite your nails through falsies. And you’ll get that instant ego boost too.
- Get support: Tell your friends and family. If they know this is a thing for you (and if you don’t, explain it), they will care, because they love you. Giving up anything addictive is helped by encouragement more than it is by suffering in silence, or chiding. Hate yourself a little less, welcome in love some more. I can’t guarantee they’ll send you insane care packs like my aunt (because, DAMN), but I found that every person who said ‘let me see your nails then… good for you!’ helped just a little more. In fact, I have a friend who complains they are too long now!
- Be patient: It takes approximately 6 months for the average human nail to grow from the cuticle to the the tip of the finger. If you have little fingers, and/or if your hair grows fast, you might see them grow faster. Likewise, if your hair doesn’t grow fast, or you have larger fingers, you might have to wait longer. But your nails ARE growing all the time, especially when they aren’t being bitten. The more you lavish care on them (nail strengtheners like Nail Envy by OPI, or cuticle oils like Solar Oil by CND), the better they will be when they get there, and on the journey.
- And finally, if they break, don’t give up!: Filing your nails short is NOT a bad thing. Shorter, broader nails are stronger, and the more weaker, older nail you have filed away, the more cared for, new nail remains. The nail remaining will grow through stronger, and you WILL see a difference the next time they grow out.
So that’s the story of how I beat my bad habit. I hope my story might help if you’re thinking of quitting. And I apologise that I am not wearing make up in any of the pictures :s.
Good luck, and later days!