The Symptoms

Onychophagia & Dermatophagia

I don’t remember since what age I began to chew my fingernails, and that is not all. I even chew the skin around it, the skin on the inside of my cheeks, and the outer skin of my lower lip. There are days when I cannot hold a pen, so I am unable to write, and my fingers hurt when I dip my fingers in something hot or spicy. I cannot do stuff that involves fingernails because I don’t have any, and I try to keep my hands hidden when I am outside. I am told I have bad breath, and my hands smell of raw flesh and blood. At any given time, at least two of my fingers are bleeding.

I cannot remember when I made this a habit. The earliest memory I would say is when I was 7 or 8, and my parents began to reprimand me whenever I had my finger(s) in my mouth. They even complained to my teacher, who would do the same in front of the entire class.

‘Biting My Fingers’ self-portrait by San Francisco Bay Area artist Julia Kay (Friday, 15 June 1990)

I did make a fair few half-hearted (or so I believe now) attempts to break the habit growing up. I am 27 and still do it, so clearly it made no difference.


(Source: Plum Grove Dental Associates Ltd.)

This one is tricky, because I do it in my sleep. My mother noticed it first back in 2014. She mentioned it to my then psychiatrist in Mumbai, who brushed it off as nothing serious. It was officially diagnosed in 2015 by my dentist in Hassan, who said it was so severe that, along with the already existing onychophagia, nearly all my front teeth have worn out by now. I wear a rubber-like (acrylic) teeth guard that is supposed to prevent further wear. As of yesterday, I continued to grind my teeth heavily in my sleep. Bruxism is a common symptom for stress and anxiety.

Dream Interpretations

This is personal, since I cannot present tangible evidence for this. I never shared it with anybody. It was only last year when I was reading a research paper in psychology that I came to know that dream interpretation is actually a thing. Until then, I had not taken this very seriously at all.

I am going to list the five vivid dreams that I do happen to recall:

  1. I had this particular dream on a night in 2011. I murdered a faceless stranger with a dagger. Then standing over the dead body, drenched in sweat and blood, and crying with guilt, I chopped off my hand with the same dagger as bystanders closed in on me (it was a crowded place). I woke up at this point. Killing dreams occur most often during bouts of depression. And this was 2011, mind you.

If you killed a stranger, you may as well have been trying to assault a facet of your personality that is particularly troubling, self-destructive, or shameful to you. By killing the stranger, you are showing your desire to excommunicate this bad aspect from your life. This can be valuable.

Basically, it was me trying to break free from my situation but giving up eventually. Interestingly, it was a one-off dream. I have never had violent dreams or nightmares ever before or since then.

2. Dreaming of being unable to run or even walk because my legs would give away. This used to be a very recurring dream up until last year. I haven’t had this dream for a few months now, thankfully. It almost always led to a situation which required me to move quickly- walk or run, like a race or a chase, but the harder I tried, the more helpless I became until I would have no strength left to even stand up on my feet.

Sleep paralysis reflects the dreamer’s depressed state and his own lack of options, suffering from manic depression and being unable to do anything because s/he was lacking in energy.

3. Falling teeth. I sometimes dream of one or more lower front teeth going loose and falling off. This has been a recurring dream for quite a while now, and many a time, I have woken up frantically checking if all my teeth are still intact.

Loose teeth in dreams signify that you are facing a difficult decision in your life. Feeling that a tooth is not stable and your worry point to concerns about the stability of your foundations. Loose teeth in a dream generally represent (a) instability in your life; (b) ambivalence about committing to a decision, or indecisiveness; and (c) things are loosening up or going out of control.

4. This one is as recent as last week. I saw a yellowish brown snake chase me around relentlessly, jumping off furniture as it followed me around, eventually catching up, winding up around my leg and biting me. I woke up, breathing heavily. When I went back to sleep, this time I was outside the room, and when I went in to check if the snake was still there, I found its shedded skin and the snake was nowhere to be seen. When I looked it up, this particular dream has mixed interpretations:

  • A snake biting you may represent abusive or hurtful remarks made by you or others.
  • Running away from a snake that is chasing you may symbolize someone or something that you are unwilling or afraid to face or acknowledge.
  • If you are afraid of them in waking life, they may represent something that you are afraid of facing, accepting or dealing with in waking life. It may symbolize someone or something that you feel is threatening to your physical or emotional well being.
  • A yellow snake may be advising you to proceed with caution.
  • Dreams of snakes shedding their skins can mean that the dreamer is sloughing off the trappings of an old life in favor of a new skin more appropriate to the dreamer’s growth.

5. The last one is not particularly negative, in fact it is a happy dream. I get one every once in awhile, though it hasn’t occurred for some time now. In the dream, I mysteriously have the ability to spin my body fast enough to lift off from the ground and levitate a few metres above the ground, much to the amazement of onlookers inside the dream. As far as I can remember, the mood and the setting is usually quite positive, yet it is a strange dream. I could find no interpretation for this on the internet.

Also read: My latest dream (Saturday, 22 September 2018)


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