I Pick My Cuticles Until They Are Bloody, And I Think It’s Time to Stop

I don’t want to continue to wear my pain on the outside because I can’t deal with it on the inside.
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Valerie Steighner
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I don’t want to continue to wear my pain on the outside because I can’t deal with it on the inside.

Take a look at the photo below. That is not ketchup. And if you can’t tell I have a bit of a problem.

Picking bloody finger.

Not hot sauce either.

I didn’t stub my finger. I didn’t get a paper cut. I didn’t get bitten by our lizard, Nappy. I did it. I took the time and energy to tear the skin off of my cuticle. And I have been taking the time and energy to tear the skin off of my cuticles since I was a kid. 

There is no stopping. Everything is a trigger: talking to my boss, reading a book, driving, typing (I don’t even know how I do it), talking to friends, sitting on the couch, watching a show — pretty much anywhere and at any time you will find me hunched over with my hands scratching at each other. And when I am particularly stressed — yes, there will be blood.

I took the above photo about a year ago and thought, hey maybe I will write a piece about not picking for thirty days… I think I declared day one twenty different times and about an hour after each vow to never pick again, I would catch myself picking. Then I would say screw it. No one can see my hands anyway.

That is until a month ago. I am typing away at work, and my coworker says very loudly with a large gasp, “Oh my God! What happened!?” pointing to the oozing gash on my thumb. My whole body went cold. Holy crap, people can see my hands? Has this been going since I was kid? Have people just quietly watched in horror as I wiped blood off on the inside of my shirt? Thanks a lot. You know, usually people just quietly judge me.

I guess it really hasn’t been a secret. I have told people outright. But, usually people don’t say anything. Except once, years ago, when I decided to show my red and swollen fingers to a friend. 

He said, "you know, when you pick, you are detaching from your present feelings and focusing on the pain you are inflicting on yourself. So in essence, picking is avoidance, a defense mechanism, a way to cope. Any time something comes up that is uncomfortable you pick so you don’t have to deal with it. The pain of tearing off your skin derails your mind from actually participating in what you are presently feeling."

I said, “Oh no, maybe your right!” while picking.

When my coworker vocally exposed me, I felt washed with shame. I don’t even think I acknowledge him. I didn’t want to admit that I wounded myself. I just hoped he thought I fell while jogging and my thumb got caught on a rock or something.

Picking bad cuticles.

They hurt. 

I don’t know why, but for some reason I have always thought my picking was kind of enduring. Like, aw she is just a ball of nerves. Pretty cute, eh? But with a few years of therapy, I have started to develop some awareness of how I move about in the world. In reality it’s probably such a detractor. People are probably more like, “Aw she is so nervous. She will probably have a nervous break down in the middle of a power point.” And that's truly not how I want to present myself. 

I don’t want to continue to wear my pain on the outside because I can’t deal with it on the inside.  Because of this, I have been making a real effort to stop. The term of this childhood defense mechanism that has followed me into adulthood is up, and I would like to have big girl hands now, please.

It’s been one month since I was, gratefully, verbally humiliated. So far I still pick, but I have made a real effort to curb my two-decade old habit; and with some serious resolve and constant reminders there was a solid week where my hands actually looked semi normal.

Picking semi-normal hands.

See, better.

I now carry hand salve with me at all times. As soon as I catch myself picking, I rub the salve all over the issue areas. Oddly enough, it’s almost the same as picking because it’s stopping me from doing what ever I was doing, but at least instead of making myself callused, I am making myself soft. Even if it is a little obsessive, at least it’s nurturing instead of harming.

I also cut my nails to stubs. Unfortunately, I will never have long beautiful nails. It’s just not going to happen. As soon as they start to peek over the skin, they wreak havoc on everything close to them, and I just would rather have nubs than dangling skin fingers.

I don’t like to spend money on manicures. I am not a fan of nail polish because I am lazy, and fake nails -- I just can’t deal. So hand salve and constant clipping is where it’s at right now.

and donuts.

and donuts.

A few things have happened since my hands started to heal — I am not afraid to point at something with my finger. I am able to go to bed without pulsing throbbing hands. I don’t have to worry about infection (since we are being honest with each other, I have had infections. Let me just say, pussing fingers are not cool.) I am not hunched over with my jaw forward. (For some reason I stick my lower jaw out when I pick. I just realized this might be why my jaw is stiff from time to time.) I smell better from my homemade hand salve — I don’t always shower so this is a super plus.

I am nowhere near where I want to be yet. I would like to get to the stage where the only reason I rub lotion on my hands is because I have dry skin. And I have the option of growing my nails out without an impending fear of tearing my own flesh.

And I would like to see if maybe when my body language changes, I will communicate with my surroundings differently. Maybe, I will get a different response. Maybe instead of people seeing a scared girl, they will see a woman — a woman that doesn’t run around pain and fear but goes straight through it.