I try to keep this blog to sports content as much as possible, but the truth is, I’m not just a former athlete, mom and wife, turned coach … I’m also just a regular person with regular issues and stuff I deal with like everyone else. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have something even more powerful than answers.
I have my story.
So, a slight deviation from my sports content for some real business, because after several chats with other regular humans this week, I figured maybe y’all could use some real talk too.
When I was a kid, I used to bite the skin around my fingernails.
Like if there was a hangnail, I’d just get my teeth on it and pull it right off, quick and easy.
Sometimes I’d get more than just the hangnail and have to work my way around the nail to even out the skin. I didn’t like if the skin was uneven, so I would work at it until it was. Sometimes I would get a piece of skin that was a little too thick or too attached and my fingers would bleed. It wasn’t self-harm, it was just kind of something I did when I was anxious, I guess. Some people bite their nails, I pulled my skin from the nail bed. Sorry, if you think that’s gross, it’s just what it was.
And so, even though I was a quiet, introspective kid, my nervous system was busy running laps, jumping on trampolines and doing cannon balls off the high dive.
My mom did not like this habit of mine. I was told repeatedly to get my fingers out of my mouth and she had me use that really gross tasting “nail polish” on my fingers so as to trick my mind into thinking “this is gross, don’t put your fingers in your mouth anymore.”
My brain was like “pssshhh, childs play.” So, I just washed my hands and continued my skin removing work.
Eventually, she took me to the doctor. My pediatrician to be exact. I’m not sure what she thought he was going to do there. Was there a vaccine for this? Would a prescription for an antibiotic help this finger biting child? Why won’t she stop doing this? Doc, can you give me a medical diagnosis for this ailment?
Turns out, my finger biting wasn’t a medical issue – it was anxiety. But back in the days of Gilligan’s Island reruns and the Brady Bunch in Hawaii, nobody talked about anxiety, especially in my family, especially in children. Most people tried (and still do) to treat the behaviors instead of understanding how/why they started doing it OR better yet what is maintaining said behavior.
I mean, what was all that finger biting about?
A coping strategy, albeit a gross one, to manage my anxiety and I won’t go into it here, but I had plenty to be anxious about.
Alas, I did grow up and every grown up has everything all figured out, so this is where this story ends … haha … jk … nobody’s got nothing figured out completely.
Here’s the thing. Not one human being is exempt from the human experience. Whether we bite the skin around our fingernails or we blame others for our issues, hurt others because of our issues, cut or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or sex or porn or whatever, if we are human we will try to find a way around our suffering.
Here’s the beautiful thing: pain, suffering, sometimes deep or debilitating sadness are all ways to experience joy, peace, happiness and connection. Like, if we don’t understand heartache, we will never understand love. I’m not saying we need to be miserable or harm ourselves or use destructive coping strategies to succeed at being human, but I am saying we will all experience a vast range of emotions, experiences, struggles (and also triumphs) throughout our lifetimes. When we can talk about these things (no matter how scary they seem) and connect with other people who have gone through similar things, we can grow, heal and move forward ever so slightly.
I don’t bite my fingers anymore.
I pick them.
That’s right, true story.
See, I still have anxiety. I’m also still a wife, a mother, a coach, a writer, a lifetime athlete and much more. My anxiety isn’t debilitating, I’ve learned to manage it and I have healthy coping skills to keep me in a good (great place, actually) 99.9% of the time. But I have my days and I guess my point to this whole thing is everybody is dealing with something. Ain’t nobody up in this place with no baggage.
We all have it.
Most beautiful part is knowing my honesty and authenticity about it might help someone else who is still hiding it. Hiding our imperfections or our humanness is actually scarier than just saying “I’m human. I’m in process and I’m cool with that even if it makes you uncomfortable.” Opening up and sharing real life is owning our process and showing up exactly how we were meant to be.
Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury, The CrossFit Games and OPEX Fitness. She was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, NCAA statistical leader, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball.
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed professional therapist. If you or someone you care about is experiencing anxiety or depression, please get help. Anxiety and depression are treatable and there are a varieties of effective therapies and treatment plans. I am thankful for my education in this area it helped me to understand that the best thing I could do was get honest about my struggles and ask for help.