I'm a Nail Biter
By Todd McInerney

My self-mutilation of choice is Onychophagia, more commonly known as nail-biting. I find pleasure in picking and biting at my nails and cuticles, often until they bleed. When I have a hanging piece of skin or an edge, I feel an uncontrollable impulse to bite or pick it off. Even when I am aware of the behavior and trying not to do it, I'll obsessively touch the area. My finger tips love to destroy each other, pick away at each other and my teeth love to chew them.

This behavior results in deformed, scabby, chewed up, disgusting fingers. Apart from looking gross and being unsanitary, nail biting will cause bacteria and other germs to be carried from the nails to the mouth. In other words I'm dropping off a crew of microscopic monsters for an open bar and sex party in my mouth. All aboard!

I am fully aware of how disgusting this habit is, and I'm totally ashamed of it. Often, I find myself hiding my mutilated fingers from the view of people around me. Not only are they unattractive, but they also serve as an icon for my lack of control over my own behavior as well as a reminder that to a certain extent I am a slave to my sub-consious mind, controlling me to do this when my conscious mind knows I shouldn't, and is trying to stop. Because nail biting is exacerbated by stress, this shame causes me to bite and pick more, it's a vicious cycle.

Nail biting is the hardest thing I've ever tried to quit. I've attempted to quit many times in the past, and have at best gone several months before relapsing. Because my will power alone is never enough, I must apply a bitter-tasting nail polish. This is always a bad experience as it innevitably gets it in my mouth when eating or preparing food. The disgusting flavor can't be rinsed out easily, ruining meals, plus, it can't be good for me to be ingesting nail polish!

Experiencing this addiction helps me sympathesize with addicts of all sorts. I understand the helplessness and frustration you feel when you can't stop yourself from doing something you know is detrimental. The human mind is very complicated, and can become tattooed with habits that become extremely difficult, nearly impossible to break. It makes me wonder if I have any other behaviors or hold any beliefs that are not serving me, but are simply just habitual.

What does my nail biting have to do rollerblading? Maybe the impulse I feel to destroy my fingers with my teeth comes from the same place as the impulse I feel to destroy the streets with my blades. They are both releases of sorts, on very different levels, but maybe they are releasing the same thing, expressions of the same madness within, and are fucked up ways of seeking the same inner calm. And it might also be possible that the compulsion I feel to chew my nails helps my skating as well as everything else I do. Maybe the ability to obsess is a key ingredient to success, a common thread amongst people who have become ninjas in any discipline.

I sit here, once again motivated to curb this nasty habit, trying to convince myself that I am capable of controlling my behavior, but honestly, I'm not sure if I am. Maybe it's not a matter of simply controlling the behavior, but discovering the underlying issue within that is causing it. Nailbiting has been conceptualized as an impulse control disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) or an obsessive compulsive disorder (Swedo & Rapoport, 1991). With OCD in my family, maybe some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is what I need. Or maybe this is my body's way of releasing energy during a ten hour sitting binge, as I've always been suseptable to restlessness.

Or maybe I just need to stop being a pussy ass bitch, grow the fuck up, and spit out the metaphorical soother!

Or, maybe I should just eat my fingers to my heart's content, and be happy I don't have a heroin needle sticking out of my arm.


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