Will you hold my hand?
I didn't know anxiety could look like this
“No one is going to hold your hand if it looks like that,” I remember the first time that you told me that. Eight years old, I had chewed my nail and picked the cuticle so badly I was bleeding. “I just need a bandaid,” half embarrassed, with zero understanding of how anxiety can manifest itself.
Thirteen years old. That phrase rang weekly in my ears as normal as “good morning.”
First year of high school and I finally broke the habit of chewing my nails (for the most part).
Nail polish became my best friend. Using left over lunch money to run to Duane Reade to buy the newest Essie colors of the season. If my nails looked pretty, I wouldn’t dare bite them. Don’t draw attention to the skin around the nails. Then the ring collection began. Two expensive habits, a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (A.K.A. excoriation disorder) subconsciously forming right before my eyes. Two rings become three, become an entire army. Nails always perfectly polished, dreading when they would begin to chip away. My breath caught in my throat until I could layer a fresh coat over the now ruined paint job and my exposed hands. Exhale. That’s much better. Please just don’t look too closely at my bad habit.
Seventeen years old. My locker nicknamed the drugstore; tampons, Hershey’s Kisses, Advil, and most importantly, bandaids, always stored there. Anything I could do to draw attention away from my bleeding cuticles. This is the year I break the habit. I say that every year, with zero understanding of how my hyper awareness fuels my anxiety even more.
“No boy is going to hold your hand if you don’t stop picking your nails! When are you ever going to stop this?” I listen as I pick my thumb even harder under the table. Shit, I’m bleeding again. Don’t let it show.
“How about a paper clip?” My therapist suggests. I’ve never been good at holding onto things. A week later, the paper clip is gone and my thumbs are raw as ever. “A rubber band?” I sit on my hands out of embarrassment.
“You’re going to get sick if you don’t just stop this!” Their words always ringing in my ears. "I don't get it; don't you know how bad this is for you? We're just looking out for you." With every word circling around me, anxiety wins and I pick even harder. “When are you ever going to stop?” I grab another bandaid.
Twenty-four years old. A sixteen year old habit still alive and well even as I write these words on the page. My nail polish and ring army protect me from the outside world. Rubber bands, paper clips, and bandaids try to protect me from myself.
There’s a hand that wants to hold mine, even when raw and beaten down. There’s a hand that keeps rubber bands by the bedside when I’ve lost mine. There’s a hand that holds onto mine when I’m blinded by my anxiety, preventing my bad habit. A hand that comes with me to pick out new nail polish so I don’t always feel the need to hide my hands from the world.
A voice gently washing away the shame ringing in my ears for so long, creating a space to properly heal for the first time. Now, instead of daily, weeks go by before anxiety comes knocking back like an old friend and my bad habit picks up again.
This is the year I break the habit. Once and for all. Please, just until then, don’t stop holding my hand.