First of all, I am a veteran nail biter turned eyelash plucker turned teeth grinder. One thing I’ve learnt in all my years is that, despite mum and dad ordering me not to bite my nails, autism dictates that I stop one repetitive behavior only to start up another in its place.
As an autistic person, I must stim. I must find an outlet for the energy building up within me – be it happiness, stress, anxiety or anger. This is crucial. Keeping all those emotions bottled up would do me harm. Over the years, I have learnt just how serious the health implications are if stress and anxiety are not managed properly. So, like the person who initially posed this question, I too bit my nails – still do, now and again – despite the social stigma. Years ago I was seated in a nightclub, biting my nails and waiting for a good song to dance to, when an attractive blond woman leaned towards me and asked: didn’t your mother tell you to stop biting your nails? I leaned towards her and asked: Didn’t your mother tell you not to talk to strangers? So, if nail biting is part of your stimming, you may have to just accept it – including those around you. However, if you want to try and stop (believe me, I have!) I do have some experience with “stim toys”; probably less than most autistic people, since I was not diagnosed until I was 48.
I have two Tangles. I never imagined myself using them (they look a bit child-like to me) but when I was in Mainspring Arts’ Square Pegs Scripts workshop they provided us with some and I grew to like them. I eventually bought two; however, I never really use them. I find them too obvious and awkward to carry around; they feel uncomfortable in my suit pockets and, when in my bag, they seem to take up too much space, get wrapped around everything (living up to their name!) and I don’t like fussing with them. In an act of shear optimism, I bought a black one to go with my attire, but fashion does not go before comfort; being autistic, the opposite is true!
However, I recently uncovered some worry beads that I bought in Corfu, Greece back in 2010.
Studying them closely, I wondered why I didn’t use them all along; probably because I forgot I had them (what I really need are some memory beads). Worry beads are less obvious, easy to carry (can go around the wrist like a bracelet), made of natural materials and they’re rather fashionable! If you’re like me, you want to make purchases that have some sort of social-cultural-historical importance – something to research, learn about and take pride in. Something that has been tried and tested many times over. Worry beads fit the bill. Worry beads (komboloi) have a very long and interesting history – too complex to summarise here – and they share some characteristics with Buddhist meditation beads, which I also use. So, if you’d like to cut down on nail biting, you might want to try them.