For my twentieth wedding anniversary, I got a beautiful diamond solitaire. It stands high and proud, cradled in its six prongs, throwing sparkles in every direction from the light bouncing off its the facets. The only problem with it? It’s attached to my finger, which means people who look at it might follow the trail to my god-awful nail.
I have been a nail biter and cuticle picker, on and off, my entire life. Though I’ve gotten better (I no longer gnaw them down to the quick) each finger from my third knuckle up has paid the price for everything from my fear and anxiety to those pesky, extra-long stoplights. I came by the habit honestly; my father was a chronic nail biter, too.
Maybe it was because or in spite of this that both of my parents employed multiple tactics to try and get me to stop. “Betsy, get your fingers out of your mouth,” was the soundtrack of my youth.
As an adult I’ve tried just about everything: Acrylic nails; it felt claustrophobic. Bitter nail polish; it washed away. I tried wearing gloves; I took them off. I tried will power; I clearly have none.
I hate the habit. It embarrasses me on multiple levels. When I look at other women and see their luxurious, French manicures I’m envious not just for their nails, but for what I consider to be their obvious deflated stress level in comparison to mine. I feel weak; like I can’t handle my life, and that I have no choice but to take it out on my digits.
In a society where a mani-pedi is the ultimate in luxury and self-indulgence, I regularly have to turn down invitations from friends. Not because I don’t want to pamper myself, but because the idea of walking into a salon and having to show my jacked-up hands and feet to some poor, innocent professional would be beyond cruel. For both of us.
The worst part about my worst habit is how obvious it is. You use your hands to do so much that I find myself tucking my fingers under, wearing large bracelets to shift attention toward my wrists, and usually picking clothing with pockets, just to stuff my gnarled fingertips into so others can’t see them. Sometimes, though, there is no matter of disguise that will work and I can see the side-glances. Mortifying.
It’s not as if I don’t have things to stress over: Three kids, three dogs, my husband, my father and myself all diagnosed with cancer within a three-year span. A little nail-chewing is certainly legit. Still, I can’t quite forgive myself when I get all dolled up for a charity event, but the glam stops where the rings begin.
Once in awhile I will spot celebrities with the same, obvious affliction (Britney Spears and Tom Cruise are among them), and for some reason I feel better.
At this point I am resigned to the fact that the habit, like my stress and anxiety, ebbs and flows. I’m not sure how to “cure” it, but if Tom Cruise is truly a member of the club and Scientology didn’t help him, I think I’m doomed.
Thankfully, there have been some stretches in my life that were calm enough to allow my nails to grow past the ends of my fingertips. I looked at them and thought not “Wow, my nails look great,” but “Wow, things in my life must be calm!”
I wish I could say that my ultimate goal would be to forgive myself for my “short”comings, but ultimately I’d really just love to have so little anxiety that I’d be able to apply regular nail polish without embarrassment. For a long time. Maybe even in a salon.