Since my middle school years, I’ve been a cuticle and nail picker. No matter what I do, I just can’t seem to stop the habit. I especially do it a lot when I’m annoyed, bored, or frustrated. There is only one thing that historically has worked to prevent me from doing this, and that is having regular manicures. Back in my digital agency days when I used to get taken out by Google all the time, there was a group of female Google reps who loved to get their nails done, so they used to take me and my female teammates out for regular mani-pedis (in other words, they treated us with their massive T&E budgets to treat themselves, which in the end, benefited both parties). And that gave birth to my own spending, as I would research Groupon deals and the equivalent for cheap mani-pedis. When I see that my nails look perfect and pretty, I have zero urge to pick them. Now that I am a mother, though, I don’t want Kaia exposed to those fumes, nor do I want my nail polish flaking off into food I prepare for her. Plus, I’m too cheap to get my nails done at a salon regularly. And I’m also too lazy and impatient to do my own fingernails, though I do paint my own toenails during warmer months.

I also tried using cuticle oil, but that is a very short-lasting remedy for me because once the oil dries out (which is often since I use my hands for everything, and cooking does not help this), the urge to pick comes back again!

Finger nail/cuticle picking unfortunately runs in my family: it all stems from my dad, who has this gross habit of picking the skin on his fingers and his cuticles. When Ed was still alive, he also struggled with the habit, though it wasn’t as conspicuous or disgusting as my dad’s. My dad used to leave massive amounts of his dead skin in the computer keyboard we all shared. I used to have to constantly clean the desk from all his dead skin and shake out the keyboard, and it was really making me mad (plus, it just wasn’t sanitary!). So one day as a teenager, I made the ballsy move to confront my dad and tell him to stop picking his nails over the keyboard because it was messy. Predictably, he erupted into a roar and screamed at me, telling me he never did that. Instead, he insisted that it was actually MY skin that was all over the keyboard every day. That was a truly fun exchange. That same day he exploded at me, my mom’s friend had come over for a less-than-fun visit. During her short stay at our house that day, she got to hear my dad talk to himself loudly in the kitchen about how his daughter was a bitch as he rummaged through bags and cabinets and did a bunch of nothing. My mom got so embarrassed by her husband’s behavior that she told her friend that she’d be back in a moment. She went into the kitchen, closed the door, and quietly yelled at my dad to stop talking to himself. My dad loudly whispered back, “She accused me of picking my nails over the computer, and I never did it!” It sounded like a child retorting back to his mother and was even more embarrassing for me to overhear as the child of this man child.

Anyway, so during our trip to El Salvador, I had a weird hang nail on the side of my left thumb. We didn’t travel with a nail clipper, and because it bothered me so much, I ended up ripping it out, leading to the side of my finger bleeding. I didn’t think it was a big deal and figured it would heal after I washed it. Well, days later, while I can see that my nail is slowly but surely growing back, a pain had appeared every time I touched or pressed the side of my left thumbnail. It started to turn red, and I realized the pain wasn’t subsiding after a few days. So I then went down the Google rabbit hole, which led me to the term “paronychia.” Paronychia refers to an infection of the skin around a finger or toenail. When the infected areas can get swollen, red, and painful, and a pus-filled blister can even form. Most of the time, it’s not serious and can go away on its own. In rare cases, it can spread to the rest of the finger or toe and lead to a deeper infection that may need antibiotics or a doctor’s help.

Luckily, I started doing the home remedy recommended, which is to soak your finger in warm salt water for 15-20 minutes a few times a day to help the nail heal on its own. After a day of doing this, the pain has definitely lessened, but it still persists when pressure is applied to my nail. Now, I also see a tiny white spot that’s developed right around the area where the hangnail used to be.

This is probably a good sign for me to find a real remedy to fix my nail/cuticle picking habits because the last thing I want is a real infection due to my own nasty picking habit.

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