This is a question that I ask myself a lot. I have been pulling my hair for 18 years and biting my nails for basically my whole life (30 years). While I’ve never had a complete remission of hair pulling, biting my nails is an entirely different subject.
I was 25 the first time I stopped biting my nails. People ask me how I did it. Did I try new therapy? Did I change my diet? Did I evoke willpower I had stored away in my toes for such a moment as when my fingers slipped into my mouth? No.
I have no idea why it happened, or what was the catalyst for the behaviour to stop. I didn’t do therapy, I didn’t change my diet, I didn’t actively police myself…it just happened. My fingers were always gnarly, painful, unsightly stumps for many years. Just one day, I looked at my hands and realized “…what’s on my nail? HOLY CRAP THAT’S NAIL ON MY NAIL.” That little sliver of white, something I’d never seen on my own fingernails ever in my entire time of existence made me feel like I had run a marathon and won.
I became instantly obsessed with maintaining my nails. I turned my biting into intensely monitoring my beautiful nail polish, nail breaks and nail health This lasted about a year and three months. I was one of those girls that thought it was so obtuse to be mad when a nail broke — until I had my first nail break.
It was bad, really near the quick of the nailbed and it hurt. But what hurt more to me was the fact it was gone, and there again, laid my little stump of a thumb. I remember that day like it was yesterday; how it happened and felt. The power something so little had over me was a wake-up call.
I don’t think the average person can recall their first broken fingernail. Maybe I can because growing them was so symbolic for me. For the first time in my disorder, I had felt in control. My hair was still a mess, but my nails? They were art.
In between then and now I’ve had a couple relapses. A session of biting them off, and then I leave them out of my mouth for another couple months.
About three weeks ago, something clicked in my mind again. I stopped biting my nails, magically, out of thin air. I don’t have a rhyme or reason as to why these behaviours come and go…but I had been biting my nails again for about a year and a half, with no stop in sight. I assumed that perhaps remission was no longer going to be in the cards for me (all-or-nothing thinking is still a very real issue for me, but that’s a different story entirely), but my brain has chosen for me to, again, experience a break.
My life is pretty stressful right now. On top of holidays and related travels, I’m dealing with a long-term relationship break-up and a back injury. It’s not easy or comfortable in my neck of the woods, but despite that, I’m still going strong. My nails are coming back. I am very proud of myself.
Body-focused repetitive behaviours have been in my life for a long time. They’re old frenemies, a constant in the back of my mind, but there are still things that I learn from them, and sometimes I’m very surprised by what I learn.
The fact I have nails right now?