BRANDI JEWETT: My bad habit
Everyone has a bad habit. Some of us chew with our mouths open. Others don't pick up after their dogs when the pooches do their business on a public sidewalk.
I have recently undertaken the endeavor of quitting my bad habit: biting my finger nails. Some may consider "endeavor" a strong word, but I don't. Ask anyone in my family, I've been biting my nails as long as I can remember.
I've also tried to quit dozens times, but each has been a failure. I read "The Bernstein Bears and the Bad Habit" as a kid, but apparently I lack the willpower that Sister Bear had to kick the habit.
My mother has been nagging me for years to stop. She threatened to buy me Bite-X, a concoction you put on your nails that is supposed to make them taste bad. I considered trying it for this year's quitting attempt but read reviews in which people said they just got used to the taste and continued biting, so I decided not to take that route.
Other websites suggested painting your nails will keep you from biting because they look pretty. I decided to give it a try. I ended up with pretty nails for two days then one would chip, and I would eventually end up with the top half of my nail still covered in polish but the bottom half...not so much.
A couple of years ago, I tried wearing fake nails to keep me from biting my real nails. Not the expensive salon-installed kind, mind you -- I didn't plan on chomping through a $60 manicure if I broke down and relapsed. With the fake nails, I stopped biting but still had to have the nail between my teeth. Plus, there was the downside to re-learning how to use my fingers. Going from no nails to having nails is very unsettling. I had to relearn how to type, open pop cans, put my hair up in a ponytail and pick up simple objects.
The faux nails worked until they fell off. Then I found myself back at square one: nubs for nails.
So, here I am quitting cold turkey.
While researching other methods of quitting, I came across the darker side of the issue. Nail biting is more than just a bad habit. It's considered an impulse control disorder, one that usually develops in childhood. The scientific term for it is onychophagia and doing it isn't without consequences.
As I discovered, when you bite your nails, your cuticles are casualties caught in the cross-fire. Improperly removing pieces of cuticles (such as the hangnails chronic nail biters get) leaves them open to viral and microbial infections.
The act of nail chewing also puts biters at risk for other problems, such as contracting illnesses from parasites -- like pinworms -- and bacteria that may be camping out under nails. Swallowing the chewed nails can also result in stomach problems.
The fact that something so simple could lead to serious health problems should be enough to get me to quit, right? I'd like to think so but so far that approach has been unsuccessful. The thought of all the germs my hands encounter every day suddenly throwing a party in my body in the form of an infection isn't enough to control the impulse.
Maybe the social stigma that comes with nail biting would be enough to stop me? Whenever I see lists of pet peeves men have about women, nail biting is usually on there. My guy friends have expressed a similar sentiment.
Not only is my bad habit unhealthy, it's also apparently unattractive. I certainly don't want to be shunned from society for the way my fingernails look.
I guess being a vain young woman could be the key to quitting.
The Internet was kind enough to inform me that people who bit their nails can develop anxiety from the embarrassment and self-consciousness that stem from the condition. This is bad news for people who bite their nails when they're anxious to begin with. I consider myself a pretty relaxed person, so giving off the false impression that I'm nervous is undesirable.
By far, the most frustrating part of having onychophagia is there is no escaping it. You have to buy items to sate other vices: cigarettes, alcohol and ice cream. But your fingernails are always there, free of charge and mocking you as you write yourself a Post-It with the reminder to stop biting.
The good news is I didn't give in to biting while I wrote this. I just have to keep it up for about 50 more years. But with every other "addiction," it's one day at a time.
Jewett is a Herald reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.