These are the three big ways that my anxiety manifests itself: picking at my nails (or my eyelashes), grinding my teeth, and napping. I sleep when I can’t handle the negative emotions threatening to overwhelm me.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen and everyone still finding a label or choosing to be label-free — I am one of those who has struggled with my mental health for more than a decade. Sometimes I’m vocal, and other times, I keep it to myself for many different reasons, some of them valid and some of them fabricated by my own mind. But right now, I’m healthy, and that’s something.
One of the indicators of health is controlling my sleep, only napping when I’m truly tired instead of using it as avoidance or coping, or because the exhaustion is a result of pushing myself beyond my endurance. Another is that picking. I’m not a nail-chewer, though I’ve tried it once or twice. No, I run the tips of my fingers over my nails regularly and frequently, checking for snags, dips, chips, and weak spots; I rub my cuticles, looking for loosened bits of skin in the corners and along the edges of my fingers; I examine them closely, and the moment I feel imperfection, I begin to work at it. I whittle and pull and slice with the other nails in a futile effort to bring things back to smoothness. Sometimes this ends up taking the nail right down to the quick, or in a cuticle turning into a hangnail, or both. It’s a nasty, occasionally painful, and curiously satisfying business, but only to a point — as soon as I find another irregularity, it starts all over again. The only thing I’ve found to be helpful in stopping the madness? Knitting.
This week, I discovered that because I’d been knitting again, consistently, my nails had grown out to a surprising length — long enough to clack and click on the keyboard, and therefore be prone to chipping, dipping, snagging, breaking, as well as being a general nuisance in my documenting at work. I started to feel the urge to pick.
Instead, I found a nail kit I’d bought months ago and stashed in my knitting bag. And folks, I slowly and carefully trimmed and filed my nails to an appropriate length. No pulling. No mad angles jaggedly running down into the pink bed and making hand washing, typing, and peeling fruit a stinging pain. I didn’t get the temporary satisfaction of material easing away, but I do have ten even, clean fingernails with healing cuticles (for the most part).
Part of my brain will tell me that this is trivial in the face of other problems in the world. But another part of my mind says, this is a battle won. Self-care is important when it comes to mental health. If I can take this little step of looking after my hands, instead of abusing them, it’s one more positive light that helps to push back the dark always threatening around the edges of my perspective.
I took care of my hands. Point: Me.