I just broke a nail on the washing machine. I’m not being a whiner. In fact, being able to break a nail is a major accomplishment. I am a confirmed nail biter. I have to work hard to grow nails and I have to work harder to keep them. So, it’s always disappointing when a nail breaks.
I have always been a nail biter, starting as a child. My parents diligently tried to entice me to quit biting my nails. They painted my nails with bad tasting polish and even resorted to bribery. Every week, my mother would inspect my hands and pay me 10 cents a week per nail (which was a fortune in 1970) for the nails that I let grow. It worked for a while. But money wasn’t enough and eventually, I broke down and chewed my nails again.
When I started playing piano, an opportunity to bite my nails presented itself. At the same time my parents wanted me to grow my nails, my piano teacher wanted me to have short nails as my new, long nails clicked too loudly on the piano keys when I was playing scales. The piano teacher won out and I chewed off my long nails happily.
I come by the habit by example. I will never forget the look on my father’s face as he came home one day to find both my mother and I together in the living room, me chewing my nails and my mother picking her fingers. He knew that he was facing a losing battle, threw his hands up in the air, and gave up.
Nail biting is not all that uncommon. Today’s Parent (http://www.todaysparent.com), says that 40 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 18 bite their nails. According to their experts on child behavior, some children bite their nails due to stress, but most bite their nails because they find it soothing, or because they are bored. Most children stop when they are ready, usually once they start school, or when their peers make fun of them for nail biting.
The American Academy of Dermatology (http://www.aad.org/pamphlets/nailhealth.html) website contains useful information about nails and nail health. I learned that nails are produced by living cells found on fingers and toes and are made up of keratin, a hardened protein, which is also found in skin and hair. Finger nails grow at a rate of 0.1 mm per day, toe nails grow at a much slower rate. The rate at which nails grow can also depend on age, time of year, and heredity. I thought otherwise, but nails grow faster on a person’s dominant hand. Men’s nails generally grow faster than women’s, but women’s can grow faster during pregnancy and old age.
Nails reflect the state of a person’s health and can indicate the presence of diseases affecting the liver, kidneys, and the heart. Doctors often check their patient’s nails during physicals. For example, yellowish nails with a slight blush at the base would indicate to the physician to check the patient for the indicators of diabetes.
The American Academy of Dermatology links nail biting in older children and adults to stress and I fit perfectly in that category. Although I bit my nails out of stress, I got tired of sore hands and nails so short that I could not pick up coins or pencils. I decided that it was time to quit. I began by visiting a professional manicurist who cleaned up and shaped my short nails and offered advice about nail care. My husband offered to pay for the manicures as an incentive for me to stop biting. Following the advice of friends, I now keep a supply of emery boards stashed everywhere – in the car, by my desk, on the piano. When I find a rough spot on my fingers, I sand it, eliminating the temptation to bite that rough spot. Hand lotion is another weapon in the arsenal against biting; by keeping my skin soft, I can eliminate further temptation to pick or bite. Finally, I have purchased several nice bottles of nail polish and take the time to keep my hands looking nice. I have discovered that if my hands look nice, I am less tempted to ruin the look by biting my nails. If I am too lazy to take the time to apply nail polish, I wear a base coat of clear nail polish or a nail hardener such as Sally Hansen “Hard as Nails.”
Unfortunately, I don’t have any before and after photos to show the transformation of my hands. It always makes my husband giggle when I pull out all the nail care paraphernalia. It’s worth enduring the giggles not to hear the comments about the sorry state of my hands. I like how my hands look now. I am still tempted to bite my nails, but realize that healthy hands are worth the effort to stop.
Teresa is enrolled in the Bachelor of Professional Arts Program, Communications Studies, at Athabasca University and is enjoying returning to school after 18 years. Teresa enjoys writing, union activism and gardening, and lives and works in Regina, Saskatchewan, with her partner Kevin and son Adam.