Ask Jimmy

Dear Jimmy,

I am almost forty and I'm still biting my cuticles. I stopped chewing my nails late in 1999 when my parents told me that the millennium would see all nail biters jailed. Living in a strict religious household I believed them, until nobody arrested me in January 2000. I left home as a teenager shortly after.

I had stopped nail biting but the unconscious habit was still there, so I turned to the cuticles instead. I don't think I just do it when I am stressed as I've reached a time of life where I am relatively unharried.

Please share your wisdom on what I could do to help. I look like a nervous wreck and it has ruined several relationships.

Thanks in advance,

Clive Ragden


Thanks for writing in it takes a lot to reach out. I can share some personal insight into this "disgusting habit" as my parents used to call it. (It is not a habit and there are much worse disgusting ones out there.)

I struggled for years with Dermatophagia as it is medically known. Now I can manage it through some tools I picked up from the old head doctors I used to see. Rather than a habit it is actually a compulsion disorder, which can be conscious or unconscious. Many people will still call it a habit and tell you to try harder or some other helpful bullshit. Ignore them they are fucking idiots.

It is not believed to be something that you can break out of easily like a habit can be. Instead it needs to be managed as there is no known cure for it. Before we get to that Clive I want to say that you've made a huge step by acknowledging that there's something wrong. In wrong I mean that this thing affects your life in several negative ways and without it your life would be better. I don't mean wrong in the way my parents and many others used to use it in reference to my disorder.

My immediate advice would be to get the help of a mental health specialist as it is a psychological condition that falls under body-focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB). Be prepared to ask for different doctors if they don't offer treatments for it as not all of them are clued in.

In my personal experience I found a few things helpful. Sucking on a hard boiled sweet can re-focus the mind on something else than chewing your cuticles and you get the pleasure of a sweet instead the pleasure of removing flesh. Chewing gum didn't help me as much as there is no end to it and when it loses it's flavour I would reach for more, probably not great for the stomach! Secondly I found that writing down anything that was agitating me or causing me to chew my nails/cuticles helped to make it real and give me space to address those concerns. Thirdly I would say that you are not alone in this. There are a huge amount of people with compulsive disorders and a lot of them are here to help. If you want to join the conversation my friend Tom has kindly provided a community space that you can join.

Finally if any fuckwhit tells you that it's a disgusting habit just say "autoerotic asphyxiation" and walk away.

Best to ya mate,