An exasperating habit

I am examining my fingernails. They are less unsightly than a week ago when I donned the gloves again at night. The thumbnails are still ugly. They were more chewed than the others and lag behind. My mind wanders to one of a small handful of recollections that go back to my early childhood. I am three or four. In Montessori school. I am about to open my lunchbox when my teacher reaches down and takes it away from me. She says that since I enjoy biting my fingernails so much, I can have them for lunch. I look at her, bewildered, finger in my mouth. I cannot remember if she returned the lunchbox. She probably did. I might have remembered if she didn’t. Another recollection surfaces. In this one I’m fifteen. I and a classmate, another fingernail chewer, challenge each other to stop. We check each other’s nails every day. He stops. As far as I know he never chews his fingernails again. I grow up. Still chewing away.

I am in my twenties now, a recent migrant to Australia. I wrap strips of sticking plaster around my fingertips. They are grubby by the end of the day and I put on a fresh set the next morning. After a few days I give up. I tell myself there must be an easier way. Why don’t I make a resolution to stop. Pretend it’s the New Year. Fast forward a few years. Someone tells me about a foul-tasting liquid that I can apply on my fingernails like nail polish. I purchase a bottle and paint the stuff on. It doesn’t work. The taste isn’t foul, just bitter and I learn that I am not averse to a bitter taste. Again, many times, I try to stop without props or aids. I enjoy success, but always short-lived because weeks of resolute effort can be undone in a chewing session lasting a few minutes.

The habit has now developed a disconcerting twist. I manage to refrain from chewing my fingernails when I am awake, but not when I’m asleep. The soft cotton gloves I wear to bed work most of the time. On a few disconcerting occasions I have woken up to discover that I have removed the gloves and ripped off weeks of growth down to the quick, sometimes beyond, all in my sleep. But the gloves are all I have for now. I wonder if I’ll ever find a permanent remedy. No, not that one, even if it is guaranteed to cure me once and for all.

1 Comments on “An exasperating habit”

  1. This must’ve taken great courage to share. We humans are all creatures of habit, both good and bad, and consciously breaking them requires tremendous effort, which you are putting forth now. I’m sure you’ll be able to handle this. You got this!


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