Wednesday, 7 August 2013

My Week as a Recovering Nail-Biter

Like many addicts, I can point to a single scene as the source of my nail-biting habit. I was somewhere near four years old at the time; my main investments were in orange peel and jumping on things. I wasn’t showing any signs of being a child prodigy, then, but I did get that there was something up when I wobbled into our kitchen one evening. Dad was eyeing the back of his hand, my mother standing beside him. He was looking disappointed in himself, annoyed, like he’d stepped on scales and found out he’d packed on a small cow. 

“WhasamatterMummyandDaddy?” I said, using my best growed-up voice. 

“Well,” said my mother, looking at me between the fingers of her husband’s left hand, “Daddy’s been biting his nails again.”


“It’s not always on purpose”, Dad told me, dropping his fingers. “Daddy sometimes doesn’t realise he’s biting them when he is, see?”

Here the images flicker and my walk down memory lane comes to a brick wall. Probably, my tiny self-absorbed self said something close to “Ayeonleewanted Abiscut Notchyoorlifestory Gosh” and wandered back out the kitchen, but I can't say for sure. Regardless of what else happened, anyway, that day became the first I thought it might be a fun idea to bite down on the keratin at the end of my digits - and that wild ride has only sped up since. Fifteen years on, I chew my nails when I read, and I chew them when I write. When gaming I chew between loading times, and it'd likely be slower to take a buzz-saw to my hands after each study session. As my days as a teenager begin to dwindle (and thank goodness for that), each finger looks on its way to a party dressed as a car crash.

I’m not very proud of being part of the Nail Biting Society. It’s not part of my twitter bio. I don’t join Nail Chewing Rallies and I usually give their Facebook invitations a decided Ignore. Eating the ends of my hands is something I just tend to do. So when - fifteen years after they accidentally set me on my habit - my parents sent me the message 

Visa appointment fixed. They take fingerprints so better stop biting nails ASAP”

I wasn’t that worried. Hey, I thought. This’ll be easy. I’m a strong kind of guy, after all. Resolve of iron. I bought myself some of that anti-biting solution along with a few packs of gum. I was travelling with friends so I had people to provide counsel and, if needed, a chastising flick on the ear. Give it a week or two, I was sure, and I’d be hand modelling for cash in my spare time

Sure enough, I found days one and two on the wagon (a little less crowded and easier to stay on than the gambling or alcohol equivalents) a pretty comfortable ride, though mostly because there wasn’t much to try and chow down on. For those first forty-eight hours, I went about with a kind of happy determination that the world was on my side and nothing could possibly defeat me. When I woke on day three and saw - to my horror - my nails were growing to what seemed an absurdly long length, that optimism dissipated. I felt I'd become the Wolverine's gangly second cousin at some point during the night. A small voice at the back of my mind began to slither its way forward; telling me to repent of my wandering ways and get my nails back to what to their standard stubbiness pronto

Regardless, I held on and decided to persevere. I am strong, I told myself. I shall not let my mind fall prey to the desires of the cuticle. My nails will soon be of fair length and my brother won’t be able to point at my fingers as a way to break the ice at gatherings. 

It’s hard to explain the allure in biting nails. At bottom, thinking about it, it’s just a nagging sort of feeling that won’t go away until you cave in. Like having to finish a drink even if you’re not thirsty ,or a bad joke that your brain won’t let go until its told. Thank goodness for the solution I had purchased, then - I’d put my fingers in my mouth and get hit with a dose of anti-nail biting solution, a taste next door to running your tongue down Sauchiehall street on a Friday night. Worse, the gum I was chewing would soak up solution and make the flavour stick around until I could find a place to spit the whole mess out.

Day six was worse than the first five piled together - the morning and afternoon were made up of driving down one of Australia's more dull, rain-specked highways with that annoying voice tagging along for the fun. Then, once we’d stopped at our motel for the evening, we were forced, in the name of hygiene, to spend time in a hokey little laundromat and watch our clothes spin themselves clean. Bored, I had to spend most of that time pacing and trying very hard to forget I had hands.

“We’re all very proud of you, David,” one of my friends said, leaving those beside us to guess for themselves what class-A substance I was recovering from. “Real proud.” I glared at him, unwrapped a fresh stick of gum. Somehow I stumbled to the end of the day digitally intact.

I crumbled on day nine. We were boarding a lengthy night-flight to Singapore and my travel buddies had somehow managed to beat the seatbelt sign to switching themselves off. I couldn’t sleep myself but I wasn’t fussed about it. I had a book, after all. And an iPod. I had one of those head-rest televisions...but, I realised (with a little jump in my seat that startled a couple of air hostesses a little way off), what I'd forgotten to bring in my hand-luggage was my nail solution. Worse, since we were headed for Singapore and very much hoping not to be flayed on arrival, all gum had been binned hours ago. If I was ever going to give up, I was beginning to realise, it was going to be right about...

Several hours later I walked through the baggage stands with ten fresh stumps where my progress had been. I was back to car-crash hands, and all the battles I’d fought that week had been thrown out the window thirty-thousand feet up. . The little nagging voice had shoved to the front of my head, wreaked havoc and, job done, had abated. 

The injury I'd done to myself in heading back to my nail biting ways went deeper than my fingers, too - it had lowered my self-confidence the same level as the guy whose girlfriend introduces him with “this is my...friend...”. I had taken on my habit, with bravado, and had lost rather easily. So much for being resolute, I thought. So much for being strong

Now, If I stopped the words flowing at that last paragraph, this would turn out to be a fairly depressing post. I failed, after all, and failures as a rule tend not to do very well at things. Why not write up the sequel to that high school blog or another post another game review? People laughed at those. Sometimes even in the right places. 

Well, the reason I'm sharing my failures with you, fair readership, is that I’m going to try again. The second I hit that ‘post’ button marks my attempt to get back on the straight, nicely filed path of hand hygiene and drag myself back onto the wagon. I hope it’ll work. I’d like to be able to open canned drinks again without help. That's the dream, isn't it? So, you catch me a week from now with nails looking anything like this:

Be a pal and flick my ear for me, would you? Thanks.

[No nails were harmed in the composing of this blog]

Since my last post I've been reading:
Prince of Thorns - Mark Lawrence
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
God Collar - Marcus Brigstocke

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