For decades — since I was 10 years old — I either bitten or picked at my nails. I’ve rarely had nails that had any white area to them at all. And when I say rarely I mean probably all told less than a year’s worth of having decent nails. For most of college and some time after I used to bite the cuticles until they bled. (Thank God I managed to kick that habit.) Periodically I would leave my nails and cuticles alone, even to the point of having “nice” nails, but the second anything happened, like a crack or a chip or boredom or a scary movie… Boom! Nail death.
In January, while we were on a trip, I looked at my nails and discovered they were fairly long. Well, fairly long for me. I thought, Oh hey, they’re looking really good! And you know what happened next, right? Of course you do. Within a day, I had bitten or picked every single one off. And I kept destroying my nails periodically, just like always.
A couple of months ago the frustration built to the point where I’d try anything. I sent out a plaintive plea for friends, neighbors, whoever: had anyone in this area seen a hypnotherapist they could recommend?
Several friends replied to my query with things like, “Get a manicure!” Trust me, I’ve had hundreds of manicures. I also own 100+ bottles of nail polish, which has led me to keep my nails polished and looking good…and then something happens and I destroy them.
I’ve also tried that yucky-nail-liquid stuff, but a)you get used the taste (yeah, you do) and b)I pick at my nails even more than I bite them.
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I’ve been interested in hypnosis for a long time: I probably have 5 or 6 books on the subject. There are lots of common misunderstandings about hypnosis. The obvious one is that you can be made to do anything the hypnotist wants (um, no) and that you’re asleep (no) and that it’s all nonsense and nothing really happens.
Something happens. Something definitely happens.
I can’t tell you what, though. I am what hypnotherapists call a somnambulist — apparently I go deep almost every time when I am hypnotized. This is common for writers, who are used to being lost in their imaginations. If I listen to a “relaxation” tape, I hear the beginning of the tape, and then I hear the voice calling numbers bringing me out of the trance. I remember absolutely nothing in between.
I’ve seen seen hypnotherapists before. I saw one in LA when I was trying to lose weight after Simon was born — I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but he was an older gentleman in Sherman Oaks (he had great-grandchildren) who could put me out just by talking to me. Seriously. There are people out there who can do that. It was fun seeing him, but I don’t think he helped with my weight problem any. I probably saw him twice, and then I got caught up in the move and didn’t follow through.
I met another one here in Los Gatos, and while I found the sessions very relaxing, I don’t think I changed my life as a result. But I don’t think I had a specific enough goal in mind.
This time I had a very, very, very specific problem. One that I would know right away if the therapy were working or not. And desperate people will do desperate things.
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I looked on Yelp and found lots of NLP people near me. I know, I’m probably unfairly biased, but NLP was a huge thing in this area in the late 80s and the way it sank its tentacles into everyone I knew made me crazy. Probably because every single person I knew who took an NLP class and raved about how it changed their life either was a complete asshole or was the same fuck-up they’d been before taking the NLP class. So no to the NLP practitioners.
I checked for hypnotherapists and found a couple in Saratoga. I think I called a couple and left messages. The first one who called me was Julie Herman, in Saratoga. “Hypnosis can definitely help you with that problem,” she said. Four session minimum.
Okay, I said.
The first session we just talked. We talked about when the problem started (when I was 10 years old and had just moved to San Francisco and started in a new school…hey, it’s not like I don’t know where these tics come from).
In the week between the first and second sessions, Sophia and I went for manicures. Sophia tends to have very long nails — I have to trim them to keep her from scratching herself or other people accidentally. (This has never been a problem for me.)
At the second session, I was still in the “nice” phase of the manicure. At this session, Julie put me into a light hypnotic trance. We went back to when I was 10 and had just moved to San Francisco and she asked me about a few things. It was a very traumatic year for a lot of reasons, and as I talked about it I started crying. Or rather, my eyes started producing tears, but my face didn’t scrunch up, I didn’t sob, I didn’t do anything. I continued to talk, and water started appearing. It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced.
(Next time you cry, even if it’s just from cutting onions, notice how many muscles on your face have to move to let that happen. Now imagine the muscles of your face are absolutely not helping out in any way whatsoever.)
When I came in for the third session, I showed Julie my nails. The polish had begun to flake and peel, and I’d scratched at one nail a bit. Julie said, “Diane, everyone picks at peeling nail polish! The second that happens, get nail polish remover and get the polish off!”
I said, “I didn’t take it off specifically to show you that this is all I’ve done to them. Generally the second I start picking at my nails, it’s mere seconds until I’ve peeled off all the nail polish and destroyed my nails to boot. I know this looks terrible, but this is actually progress for me.”
The third session was also a light trance, because I needed to respond to some questions she asked me.
The fourth session we did a heavier trance, so I lay down. I remember almost nothing about that session, other than the fact that the induction involved my watching the numbers on an old-fashioned elevator with one of those arms that would move from number to number.
Since the first time I had seen Julie, I hadn’t bitten or picked at my nails once. I did keep playing with them though — running my thumb over the edges, obsessively checking underneath for cleanliness, etc. I asked Julie about this and she said that was normal: I was in the process of adjusting to my new behavior and was in the “consciously competent” phase. After a while, I would graduate to “unconsciously competent” — I would be able to maintain my nails without thinking about them all the time.
I hoped she was right. Because it was time to go on vacation.
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I packed nail polishes and emery boards. I packed cotton swabs. By the way, it turns out the TSA didn’t steal my nail polish remover; I had left it underneath the sink and forgotten to pack it. <cue scary music> But it turns out Canada has nail polish remover (Who knew, am I right? Turns out they have electricity too!), so that was cool. Things actually seemed like they were going to be fine.
Then my nail cracked. A big crack.
And I thought, “That’s it. I’m going to lose all of my progress now.”
But I decided to give saving the nail my best shot. First I picked off as much of the cracked nail as I had to (the crack was such that it was in danger of snagging on things), and then I rubbed on the edge to make it blunter and less rough. Hours later (because I’d forgotten my emery boards, natch) I filed the nail down.
Without destroying any of the other nails.
I considered that this process was actually going to work.
~ § ~
It’s been two months since I first visited Julie. And as I noted on my Twitter feed earlier tonight, my nails are so long I’m having trouble taking my contacts out. Scrrrraaaaaape on the eyeball. Yeah. I can still use an iPhone (I hear that long nails can be a problem with them). I did have an unfortunate incident the other day of using my nails to dig into skin, but it was my own skin. And wow, does that hurt. Jesus, these things are deadly.
I’ve started making lists for other issues I might be able to use hypnotherapy for, the kinds of things that get tangible real-world results (so I can see whether or not it’s working).
The first one might have to be a hypnosis session convincing me it’s okay to keep my nails just a wee bit shorter.