Unless my geriatric cat finds it necessary to wake me earlier, my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I usually jolt out of bed to thwart the noise and then proceed in slow motion to the bathroom to take my meds. With the light on, I examine my face, poking it a few times to feel the tender pressure where new acne has sprouted. It’s then I notice some of my fingers are tingling in my nail beds and sometimes at the tips. I notice the places where blood has pooled and subsequently crusted in the corners of my fingers.
In those moments, I despise myself.
I am 31 years old and on my worst days, my fingers show all of the signs. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a nail biter.(Actually, in the spirit of candor, I started as a nose picker and somehow exchanged one for the other. I can’t decide whether or not I’m thankful for that.) As a child, I’d think with my fingers in my mouth, teeth chewing at my nails. As a teenager, I wore my boredom in the corners around my fingers. When the bleeding started, I’d do my best to hide it for it was no longer cool to ask the teacher for a Band-Aid.
I feel the occlusion of anxiety with my nails between my teeth. When I’m tasked with making a decision, the decision is over-deliberated with my fingers in my mouth, biting off distress in little pieces. When my borderline personality disorder (BPD) threatens to spew forth and bury everyone and everything I love, my fingers become the stop-gap. At the impasse of perfectionism and willpower lay the unreasonable expectations I place upon myself. My coping mechanism is to somehow force them out of my skin by pinching, scraping and squeezing in order to empty a hole only to fill it with all of my feelings.
It is in the moments of pronounced breakouts and stubby, razor nails that I am repulsed not by my appearance, but because I cannot hide all of the physical symptoms of my mental illnesses. I never feel more naked than when my skin is completely covered.
There’s a reason I am very rarely seen without makeup or some sort of nail polish. I need the added layer of protection. With it, my hands stay off of my face and the polish affords me enough time to stop and think before I chew it off of my fingers. With it, I don’t try to bury myself by tunneling an escape route through my epidermis.
So when it looks like my makeup is especially on point and my nails look near-professionally done, please know I am not high maintenance, but my mental illnesses are. This assumed affectation is not vanity, but rather the armor that keeps me in the fight every day.