The Mighty Logo

When I Found Out My Excessive Nail Picking Has a Name

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I think the last time I trimmed my nails was in grade school, maybe middle school. I’m 24 right now. No, I’m not growing my nails to try and break a word record. The truth is my nails are extremely short. I can’t remember when it started. For a little while, I bit my nails, and while I still do occasionally, that’s not the main problem. No, the main problem is that I “pick” my nails. As it turns out, I’m not alone.

I was reading an article on trichotillomania when I started to relate to it. If you swapped out “pulling out your hair” for “picking your nails,” then it was me. Then, the author mentioned they had always thought they were alone in their compulsions. It made me wonder if I was. I mean, I’d heard of trichotillomania. I’d heard of excoriation disorder. Nail biting I’d also heard of, though I couldn’t give you a fancy name for it (until now- It’s called onychophagia. I looked it up.)

However, I’d never heard anyone mention nail picking. As in, using my other nails, usually my thumbnail, to pick my other finger or toe nails. I didn’t think that was a thing, but I decided to type it into Google. The internet is magical, and you can literally find anything on it.

Onychotillomania. That’s the name. It’s a thing. While I didn’t exactly dive deep into the internet to try and find out more, I got the basics. Most of the links took me back to the same few scientific articles, which I could only get a paragraph or so in to before the language got too fancy for me. The Wikipedia page, my go-to source for quick info (don’t judge), was incredibly short. It didn’t give me much useful information, except for the name of the doctor who named it, which might come in handy someday. I don’t know.

Google images gave me lots of pictures of nails. Some looked like mine. Others were more severe, and others appeared to be entirely different conditions involving the nails. There were also some weird, cartoony, anime drawings thrown in for good measure. Gotta love the internet.

Yet, the search still gave me something. It gave me a name. Until then, I’d always attributed it to one of my other disorders. Anxiety of depression when I was younger. Asperger’s as I got older. I had gotten to the point where I figured it was just my form of “stimming.” Maybe it is.

I know it’s some sort of coping mechanism. It relaxes me. It releases tension. A lot of the time, I have no idea I’m doing it. I just suddenly realize I am. Often, it’s in social situations, but it can also happen when I’m alone and perfectly relaxed.

I can try and stop myself, but 10 minutes later, I’m back at it. I’ve tried to talk to other people about it. I brought it up in a psych class once when we were talking about bad habits we wanted to quit. The professor didn’t seem to get it though. She didn’t seem to understand what it was or why I wanted to stop it. No one seems to understand that it’s hard to stop. I mean, it should be easy, but it’s not.

So what’s the point of this rambling, stream-of-consciousness article? Honestly, I’m not sure. The story I just told, about having looked it all up, took place an hour or so before I started writing this. My mind is jumbled right now, partially because I’m still recovering from a bad cold, but also because I’m wondering how this one word, this one name that I’m not 100 percent sure how to pronounce, is going to affect me.

Maybe it won’t affect me much at all. Maybe I’ll get passed it. After all, I used to scratch my skin until I bled, but I got past that. Nail picking seems to be sticking around though. Yet, knowing this bad habit of mine has a name is oddly comforting and a bit unnerving. It makes me wonder how many other people there are who have this, which I suppose, brings me to my point, to get the word out. That word is onychotillomania.

Image via Thinkstock.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: November 1, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home