Monday, October 15, 2018

Misson Accomplished!

I have some good news, blog!

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been dieting with a lot of positive benefits and results.  That was back in March.  I'm happy to say that, nine months later, I'm proud to announce that I've reached my goal weight!

I lost 40 pounds!

I have been fit and athletic my whole life.  The weight crept up on me following my car accident in 2016; I was in a wheelchair for a long time and unable to walk on my broken leg.  Weight gain and weight loss is often gradual, so it wasn't until I saw a picture of myself onstage at a bar contest that I went, "oh my God, I got chubby."

This is the picture that made me decide it was time for a change.

I made a commitment to get back to my previous body type, which was no easy feat since my knee still has issues and I can no longer do any high-impact, strenuous exercise.

Over the course of nine months, I went from a BMI of 27.3 to 19.7.

Here was my system: not the keto diet.

 I got abs now.

 And a thigh gap, unfortunately.  I am not a fan of the thigh gap.

Seriously, though, I did not use any specific diet or system.  That's because I firmly believe that there is no magic diet or system. I used the TDEE calculator to calculate how many calories a day I needed.  Then, I eliminated 200 calories a day.  I tracked calories and weight change using My Fitness App.  (This app can calculate for you how many calories you need to scratch per day in order to lose a pound a week.)  (A pound a week is considered the safest amount of weight to lose, assuming you are normally overweight person in generally good health.)

Here's what my weight loss graph looks like on MyFitnessApp.

Here's some fun facts: a pound equals about 3,500 calories, so you'll need to be in a deficit of about 500 a day to lose a pound a week.  This sounds like a lot but it really isn't.  I didn't even do any exercise until the last month or so.  (During the last 2 months, I joined LA Fitness.)

One of the easiest things to cut out was alcohol, which has a lot of discretionary calories.

Protein & Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram. 
Alcohol = 7 calories per gram.  
Fat = 9 calories per gram.  

I'm feeling a lot better and happier with myself now.

With regards to the keto diet, the current hot diet of the day, I want to take a moment to examine its effectiveness.  Is it effective?  The short answer is, yes.  Like most fad diets (Atkins, Mediterranean, gluten free, etc.) it forces people to examine the food they are eating and second-guess what they put into their bodies, which naturally tends to make people focus on their calories even if they aren't strictly tracking them.  It also eliminates a lot of crap from one's diet.  A person on keto won't be eating cake... nor will a person on Atkins or a person who is gluten-free.  Creating barriers to eating junk typically results in weight loss because, well, you're suddenly not eating junk.


Note that I'm not talking out of my ass when I talk about the keto diet.  I studied the keto diet and its efficacy in treating epilepsy for two years, so I've got a pretty goddamn good idea of how it works and what it does.

Personally I don't recommend the keto diet for weight loss because I do believe it's sustainable in the long-term, and every diet should be a sustainable one.

The basis of the keto diet is this: your body typically converts carbs into glucose, a simple sugar, for energy.  If there are no carbs in the diet, the body shifts its metabolism into a state known as ketosis, in which the liver converts fats into fatty acids and uses those for energy instead.  The best indication that a body is in ketosis is the presence of ketones in the blood.  Note that ketones are a byproduct of ketosis, so that ketone weight loss coffee is total bullshit.  The ketones don't make you lose weight; the ketones are an indication that you're losing weight.  I goddamn hate keto coffee, the largest supplier of whom is ItWorks!, a multi-level marketing pyramind scheme best known for selling people weight loss cling wrap.

Here's the income disclosure statement for those thinking of slingin' the cling.
The top one is what's on their website.  
The bottom one is a corrected graph that isn't trying to deceive you.

(Side note: ketosis is a "sliding scale" metabolism measured by ketones in the blood.  Too few ketones means you're not in ketosis, and too many puts you into ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition.  The "sweet spot" for people attempting to achieve dietary ketosis is 1 - 3 millimolar.  Ketosis can also be induced rapidly through starvation but this can put you into ketoacidosis and is not recommended.)

The thing about ketosis is, it's a very delicate metabolic state that takes time to achieve, and it's very easily disrupted.  It can takes weeks to establish real long-term ketosis and can be undone with a single cookie.  The diet was originally created for epileptic patients who were resistant to treatment and it has some potential drawbacks.  For me, thought, the primary drawback is simply that the idea of eliminating carbs (bread and fruit) from your diet entirely simply isn't that realistic in our society.  And like any diet that requires broad-stroke diet eliminations, it can be a lot harder to get the right balance of nutrients.

This isn't to say I'm necessarily against the keto diet.  I have friends who are doing it and love it.  But my question is, are they going to do it for the rest of their lives... or are they eventually going to go off it and gain back the weight?  Personally, I think that the ideal diet is one that teaches you how to identify good foods, gauge your own health accurately, and learn not to overeat.  The ideal diet is one that becomes a permanent lifestyle change that keeps the weight off.  And honestly, the amount of work you'll put into managing a ketogenic diet is probably more than trying to maintain a caloric deficit the old-fashioned way: by counting calories.


There are, of course, plenty of people out there who claim that diets aren't effective and that no one keeps the weight off.  These people are wrong.  The myth that "95% of people gain back the weight" is based on a single study in 1959 that had only 100 participants... and those participants were being treated for their weight at a nutrition clinic, and gained the weight because they left the program and reverted to their old eating habits that had caused them to be obese in the first place.

One of the things I've become hyper-aware of during the last nine months is that "body positivity" posts are almost always aimed toward overweight people that put down slender body types, discourage diet and exercise, and mock those who lack "curves." (These include posts that say things like "overweight men are better in bed!" and "only dogs like bones!")

REAL body positivity means BUILDING UP people, not breaking them down. Real "body positivity" shouldn't make people feel bad about their bodies. Full stop. Everyone deserves to love themselves, and no one deserves to feel like less of a person because of their weight... whether that weight is high OR low.

That being said, losing all of that extra weight has made me more mobile, more energized, and has given me more confidence in my appearance.  I consider myself body positive, and it was out of love for my body that I decided to start feeding it better and exercising it more.  Here's to a lifetime of fitness and health!

Remember, we're all just ghosts driving meat skeletons around.
...but why wouldn't you want to drive the Cadillac of meat skeletons?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Women Are From Venus

Today's post is about Venus.  No, not the goddess.  The planet, which was named after the goddess.  Venus was the Roman goddess of love and beauty; Venus has long been considered Earth's "sister planet" because it's right next door to us (261 million kilometers), about the same size as Earth, and, like us, covered in a dense layer of clouds.


Those clouds made people assume that Venus was a swampy, marsh-like planet; it was thought of as a swamp planet up until the 1950s, and plenty of science fiction writers suggested humans could go and live there.

In fact, the inspiration for this post was a short movie I remember seeing in high school, called All Summer in a Day.  The short film, based on a short story, is about a group of kids who live on the planet Venus, and mercilessly bully a girl who moved there from Earth.  Venus is so cloudy that the sun only comes out once a day, and on the day that the sun comes out, they lock the Earth girl into a closet and she misses it.  That's... that's the whole thing.  Yeah, it's really weirdly depressing.

Anywho, we all figured Venus was a world rich with life.  We've been sending probes to other planets since the '60s but we only learned in '78 that Venus wasn't what we expected at all.  The Pioneer Probes of NASA (along with the USSR's 23-year-long Venera program) revealed that Venus turned out to have a totally uninhabitable, hostile, acrid environment.


That picture was taken on Venus's surface, revealing a desolate wasteland domed with a stormy sky of sulfuric acid rain.  The probe crumpled quickly under Venus's atmospheric pressure, which is 92 times greater than Earth's.  With a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide, Venus's surface is actually hotter than Mercury's.  And it's humid heat, not dry heat.  A weak magnetosphere means that Venus is constantly buffeted by cosmic radiation and solar winds.

In short, Venus, the "women's planet," is a hostile environment.  Which, considering the events here in America recently... well, you see where I'm going here.


But I don't want to talk about the very upsetting decisions made by the current administration.  No, I want to talk about Venus.  We've been poking around up there a lot.  Russia, then the USSR, sent over twenty probes to Venus in the 1970s and 1980s, most of which failed hilariously.  Their biggest problem was getting the lens caps to come off of the probes.  They failed to separate multiple times, and when they finally did, the lens cap landed directly beneath the probe's soil sampler, causing the craft to measure the compressibility of the titanium lens cap instead of the dirt. You can actually see the offending lens cap in the Venus picture above; it's the little pie tin thing in front of the probe.

One of the most interesting things about Venus is that it is the only planet that rotates clockwise.  A single Venusian day is 243 Earth days... making a "day" on Venus longer even that a year.  (It takes Venus 224.7 Earth days to make an orbit around the sun.)  Why does Venus rotate differently?  One idea is that its a fluke caused by the attraction of Venus's loco tidal atmosphere combined with the sun's gravitational pull.  Another is that it was at some point flipped upside-down.

 Presumably while shooting b-ball outside the school.

But the most appealing idea to me is that it used to rotate counter-clockwise, and took a severe enough impact from a meteor to turn it around.  This idea is supported by the fact that Venus's rotation appears to be slowing down... and may, perhaps, one day reverse back to the "correct" counter-clockwise rotation.

I guess this idea appeals to me because I like the idea of the universe fixing itself.  I like the idea that, despite taking catastrophic hits, the damage done is reversible.  Which, considering the events here in America recently... well, you see where I'm going here.

Emmeline Pankhurst is one of my personal heroes.
Here she is getting carried away from a protest by the fuzz.

Venus, our "sister planet," the place where women are from, is a resilient little ball of unsympathetic maliciousness.  It takes a hell of a lot to withstand, and it withstands a hell of a lot.  Well, isn't that the plight of women in a nutshell?

Venus was the goddess of beauty, of sex and love and womanly seduction.  We named Venus, the planet, after her, because we thought it, too, might be a fertile place.  But Venus did not take the USSR probes kindly.  Oh, no.  Venus crushed 'em up and spit 'em out.  Venus is not to be trifled with.  Perhaps a better name for Venus, and a better patronness for women, would be Freya, aka Frig, the Nordic goddess of love... and war.  Freya, goddess of beauty... and death.

 Freya is most often depicted with some battle gear, usually a spear, hanging out with her cats and holding her own boobs, presumably because of her refusal to wear a bra.

I do not like to comment too readily on current political affairs.  They depress me, and they should depress you, too.  Women's rights are humanity's rights.  If women are from Venus, then women must surely be stronger than they are given credit for.  I mean, you'd have to be, to withstand the 90 atmospheres of pressure and the temperature hot enough to melt lead and the volcanic activity.  (About 2/3rds of the surface of Venus is made up of lava plains.)

If Venus, the planet, has taught us anything, it's that even the biggest hits can be absorbed and eventually, over a long time, corrected.  Venus is a strong, independent planet who don't need no moon.  (Did I mention Venus is one of only two planets in our solar system without a moon?  The other is Mercury.)  (Side note: Yes, Pluto has a moon.  Its name is Charon and it's so big compared to Pluto that it makes Pluto wobble.)

The lesson we take from our humble little sister planet is that we can overcome any devastation, no matter how bad it seems, if it goes against the natural order of things.  We can overcome a meteor hitting us so hard that it flips our orbit around.  We can overcome the trials and tribulations of heat and pressure and crappy USSR lens caps.  Yes, if Venus has taught us anything, it's that, given enough time, things will turn out okay.

But if Freya has taught us anything, it's that we don't have to wait.  We can choose to ride a chariot pulled by cats into battle and take what's owed to us.  We do not have to wait for years or, in Venus's case, days, which, please remember, are longer than the years over there.

Now is better than later.  Now is the time to act.

 Do your civic duty, and vote this November. 
Take your cat-chariot if necessary.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Anniversary Update!

So, remember in 2017, everyone was all excited about Queen Elizabeth II's "Sapphire Jubilee?"  The Queen was crowned in 1953; now 92 years old, she is the longest-reigning British monarch, and her Sapphire Jubilee marked 65 years of rule.

But what the hell is a "sapphire jubilee," anyway?

Those earrings must be insanely heavy.  
If you tear out the Queen's ears, do they send you to the Tower of London or what?
Is THIS why the Crown Jewels are stored there?  Because of queenly injuries??

The reason for calling the jubilee (aka celebration) "sapphire" has to do with 65 years being associated with sapphire anniversaries.

(The 75th anniversary is the original diamond anniversary, which might confuse you, as Queen Victoria, the second-longest reigning British monarch after Elizabeth II, celebrated her Diamond Jubilee on her 60th anniversary in 1897.  Nice try, Queen Victoria.  Can't get that shit past me.)

I'm a big fan of etymology so let me diverge just a little to talk about the word "anniversary," which is a portmanteau of the Latin "annus" (year) and "versus" (turning) (as in "versatile," something that can turn).  Also, "coronate" is not a verb; it's incorrectly assumed that you "coronate" a queen at her coronation, but actually, you crown her.  Coronate is used colloquially as a verb but is more correctly an adjective.  A crown is coronated, meaning it has coronets, referring to the little cross-like ornamentations on the band around the crown, which themselves have various meanings.

If you are a viscount, the meaning is, "Look at how stupid my crown looks."

Anywho, sapphire is the "traditional" present for a 65 year anniversary.  (If you were paying attention in the last paragraph, the phrase "x year anniversary" should bother you in its redundancy, since anniversary already includes the inherent implication that it's an annual thing.)

For the last 1,000 years, and perhaps even longer, people recognized milestone anniversaries with traditional gifts.  Twenty-five years of marriage got you a silver wreath in Germanic nations and gold on the fiftieth, leading the 50th anniversary to be dubbed the "golden" anniversary.  (And, in many nations, the gold anniversary can be formally recognized by a president / prime minister / other head of state.)

But why stop with silver and gold?  At some point, everyone decided that you ought to have a celebration every five years, and so they padded out the wedding anniversary list.  The fifth anniversary became wood, and the tenth tin, with the associated materials getting better and better every five years.  Then, in 1937, the American National Retail Jeweler Association introduced an expanded list of gifts, one for each year up to the 25th, and then for every fifth anniversary after that.  You might think the jewelers were somehow benefiting from this, but I can't for the life of me determine how, since the first 25 years include such things as "linen" and "pottery," which few jewelry stores carry.  Maybe they were just trying to get people more conscientious of wedding anniversary years.  Who knows?

Previously, people had to enjoy each other's company without an associated material display of affection.  
Poor souls.

In any case, since I am a sucker, I love the idea of "themed" anniversaries and have whole-heartedly embraced the concept.

"CONSUME."  - Santa

Andrew and I celebrated our first anniversary, the paper anniversary, with cards and tickets to Disneyland.


Our second was Saturday, the 22nd, and it was the "cotton" year.  I found myself thoroughly stumped on what would be a good gift.  Andrew likes practical things, and cotton, while perfect for stuffing bears, is not an especially practical gift.

Fortunately I managed to slap something together: I got two cotton blankets and a cotton picnic basket and, after going to Il Cielo for dinner, surprised Andrew with a picnic at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  This sounds less creepy when you know that the Hollywood Forever Cematery has frequent concerts and movie screenings.  (Side note: if I were buried in a cemetery I would love for people to go live their lives there, watch movies, have picnics, enjoy themselves.)  (Side side note: the reason I say "if" is because I would most like for my body to be disposed of via jhator, or "sky-burial.")

 Il Cielo is considered one of the most romantic restaurants in Los Angeles.

The food is excellent if not very heavy and very expensive.

This table behind us was later occupied by a couple with, by my estimate, a 30 to 40-year age gap.
Ahh, Los Angeles.

We watched The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," which tied in nicely to everything because a) the picnic basket had a nautical themed, and b) "All You Need Is Love" is the song we walked down the aisle to at our wedding.  I have never packed a picnic basket before and had to Google it, but I did a fine job (in my opinions) with dates, pistachios, red wine, goat cheese, crackers, and black licorice.  Following the movie (which is mostly an excuse to watch colorful music videos interspersed with Ringo delivering deadpan one-liners in the most delightful way imaginable) there was a firework show, which Andrew said was one of the best he'd ever seen.  He took pictures but, as usual, pictures don't do firework shows justice.

 Andrew hates that I shoot pictures in portrait mode.

After two years of marriage, I'm happy to say I not only have zero regrets but feel more confident in my decision to tie my life to another person's.  Andrew is my best friend and he builds me up, and in the end, I think these are two of the keys to a successful relationship.  I'm a better person because of him, and he is (I hope) a better person because of me.  Anniversaries are a good time to reflect on what you mean to each other, ways to strengthen the relationship going forward, and an opportunity to give aggressively over-the-top themed gifts, which is one of my hobbies.

Here's to another amazing year of us... and in case you were wondering, leather.  The third year is leather.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Getting Serious about Mental Health

I had a heck of a week, blog, let me tell you.

I often talk about mental health here.  I believe mental health disorders (more specifically, mood disorders) are one of the great problems of my generation.  I myself have them.  But this week I got to see the display of a full-tilt diva with mental health issues and it was as terrible and glorious as the crashing of the Hindenburg.


So remember the guy from the St. Guinefort post who believes in a lot of weird occult stuff and is super narcissistic and anti-social?

On September 13th he went and "tried to" kill himself.

He posted a "suicide note" on Facebook and then, when it got no reactions, he posted it in the group chat.  And also tagged his family members in the note.  That didn't go over well.

Tagged his mom and siblings.

Now, the reason I put the "tried to" and "suicide note" in quotes is this.  I do not believe that he was honestly serious.

I worked in mental health for two years and there's a difference between people who are trying because they really, truly want to die and those who are "trying" as a cry for help.  I don't want to understate the seriousness of an attempt; an attempt is an attempt.  And even if you're "only" trying in a "non-serious" attempt, there's always the possibility that your attempt will be successful and you'll die.

According to this guy (let's call him "Crazy Jeff" from now on) (although he VERY publicly tried to kill himself, I still try to respect people's privacy on this blog), he's had seven (seven!) past attempts.  I'm generally unsure on whether or not I can trust a damn thing he says, but that's not the point.  I'm not going to let my intuition steer the course here.

He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he planned to kill himself, and I responded in the only logical way.  (I called his bluff and then he called mine and then I called his.  Ahh the drama.)

Here was the experience on my end for any others who find themselves in the same position:

I called 911 and told them that someone I knew seemed imminently about to commit suicide.  I read them the chat log that I posted above.

The Los Angeles 911 dispatcher transferred me to the city he lives in (about forty minutes away from Los Angeles) and I was able to give his name, address, and some other personal info to the police, including identifying features and some of the medications he (claims) to be on, along with his claim that he's attempted before.  The phone call lasted a little longer than ten minutes.

They sent out a PET (Psychiatric Emergency Team) and told me that the dispatchers would return my call and follow up with me.

Well, that never happened.  I did end up speaking to his roommate/landlord about six hours later and gathered that when the police showed up, he had failed to tie a noose but had himself a big ol' length of nylon rope and a bucket to stand on and presumably overturn, if he ever figured out how to tie a noose.

This isn't really a laughing matter, 
but I would be remiss if I didn't use this occasion to share a few treasures from my very large collection of depression memes.

Those six hours were an anxiety-laced personal hell for me.  Not because I was worried about him.  I knew he was okay.  But because I was in the center of a drama that wasn't mine and I had to spend the next six hours as the main "point of contact" for concerned friends and family, all of whom took this threat completely seriously.  My own, personal emotion was one of overwhelming fury.  He was wasting my time and my emotional energy and forcing me to react to his stupid drama, and was dragging the well-being of all of his friends and family through the mud.  It was selfish and manipulative.  I described him to my therapist as being an "emotional predator."

 I totes wanted to spend my afternoon talking to his weeping family members.
/sarcasm
 
Anywho, I reassured everyone and spoke to the roommate.  I relayed the number given to the roommate by the mental health professional on the scene to Crazy Jeff's mother and then informed everyone that he was safe and I was Audi 5000.

Incidentally, another guy within our same community actually did kill himself the following week.  What followed was a week-long hysteria of dramatic people pointing fingers at each other and wantonly accusing one another of "bullying" for no discernible purpose.  Shockingly, this failed to bring back the guy who had passed.

I downloaded Farmville during all this mess because I felt completely wrung out by everyone behaving so... shitty.  It was incredible, the inability to feel sympathy and lack of awareness on social media.  I stayed away from that mess, having already navigated through a similar drama.  For me, it was like avoiding a hurricane by trying to remain in its eye for the whole time.


The whole point of this post is really just to talk about how people SHOULD respond to suicide.  Too often, I see someone threaten or hint at suicide.  And everyone rushes to comfort them, offering ears to listen and shoulders to lean on.

Look, it's fine to be sympathetic, but you are not a licensed mental health professional and reacting to cries for help in this manner only reinforces the behavior as an appropriate way to get attention.  Mental health crises should be treated as crises, not like a teenage girl's first break-up.


If you or another person is experiencing suicidal ideation, DO NOT DELAY in getting professional mental health intervention. You can call the suicide hotline and they will help you find psychotherapy and psychiatric resources.  If someone says, "Thinking of ending it all!" then it is not your job to "talk them out of" it.  It is your job to try to get them the help they need.

Not like this.

If you or another person is SUICIDAL or having suicidal tendencies (ie, engaging in self-destructive behavior or actively planning suicide or imminently about to commit suicide), call 911.

Emotional support is important but is no substitute for mental health intervention or qualified long-term treatment. The best way to support people experiencing psychological crisis is to encourage them and support them in seeking long-term treatment.

Don't milk the drama.

When you call the suicide hotline, in fact, one of the first questions they ask is if you have planned out how to kill yourself or not.  This is to determine if you are having suicidal ideation only, or if you are truly suicidal.

Personally, I think Crazy Jeff is only experiencing suicidal ideation.  Unfortunately, suicidal ideation usually progresses if it's left untreated to (you guessed it!) actually being suicidal.

He was placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold and then released.

Here's what that looked like.

The Tuesday after the Thursday he tried to kill himself and he's better than ever?!
No apologies, no reassurances, just the usual self-absorption.  
This is some bullshit.

Crazy Jeff aside, I hope that my actions demonstrated what actual help looks like.  It doesn't look like engaging in kind and meaningless platitudes.  It means action.

For some, it's hard to understand how mental health works, so let me translate this into physical health to better explain it.

Imagine your friend is sick with a virus.  People who have depression, anxiety, et cetera are sick.  You, as a friend, try to comfort your sick friend, right?  That's normal.

But now let's say their virus is getting worse.  They took a week off work and they're throwing up constantly and can't keep anything down and they're looking really fucking bad.  They aren't getting better.  This is what suicidal ideation looks like.  This is the point where you stop trying to merely comfort them and help them get to a doctor because it's clear your own personal care won't be enough and you're not seeing any improvement over time.

Being suicidal?  That's like if you walked in to your friend's house and your friend was lying face-down in a puddle of vomit, unresponsive.  At this point you don't try to comfort them; you call 911.

Saying you have a plan or are imminently about to kill yourself is the ebola of mental health.

With a generation of sad existentialists wandering zombie-like through their lives, we talk a lot more about depression and suicide.

But we need to talk more about the appropriate reaction to it.  De-stigmatizing it doesn't mean letting people get away with talking about doing it in earnest.  It means being more aware of the subtle differences between suicidal ideation and actual suicide, and responding in the most appropriate way to ensure the other person gets help.  It means finding and giving ourselves the tools and resources to help ourselves and each other.  It means knowing when to say your platitudes won't be enough, and directing people to call the Suicide Hotline, text the Crisis Line, or contact a local psychotherapist to get long-term counseling.  It also means protecting ourselves from potential emotional predators and manipulative people, who use threats of suicide to garner attention.

I have been to some pretty dark places in my life and while comfort and sympathy was nice, in the long run, what got me pulled out of my depression was psychiatric intervention.  I take anti-depressants and I see a licensed mental health professional once a week.  I do that because I recognized when I was experienced suicidal ideation and decided it was time to make a change.  And that change didn't mean posting about it on social media and asking people to validate me and tell me how treasured I am.  It meant seeking medical intervention.  Something I hope people people who are plagued with mental health issues do.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nail Biting

Confession time: among my bad habits is nail-biting.

 My readers, finding out I'm not perfect

Nails are a remarkable aspect of human evolution.  Made of a single layer of hard alpha-keratin, nails are analogous to claws or talons.  Most mammals have claws, which are rounded.

One of the features of primates is broad, flattened nails instead of claws.  Many primates bite their nails to keep them shortened; onychophagia is the technical term for nail-biting and it's seen in chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, althought not universally.  Some chimps are bigger nail-biters than others.


It's also seen in macaques, which are not primates but "old world" monkeys.  Old world monkeys include baboons and rhesus monkeys.  Old world monkeys are most often distinguished from "new world" monkeys by the tail; old world monkeys lack truly prehensile tails.  New world monkeys (such as capuchins and squirrel monkeys) have fully prehensile tails. But, interestingly, nails are also different among these two families. New world monkeys (cebids) have curved nails. Old world monkeys (cercopithecids) have flat nails that are more like a human's.

Nails are long been considered a defining feature of the human being, ever since 2,300 years ago, when Plato defined man as a "featherless biped," prompting Diogenes to run into the Academy with a plucked chicken, screeching, "BEHOLD!  A MAN!"

...Plato added "with broad, flat nails" to his definition.

 If Diogenes were alive today, his YouTube prank channel would be fire.

(Random fun fact: Plato could have instead includes the presence of chins.  Humans are the only animals with chins.  While pretty much anything with a mouth has a lower jaw, only humans have a bony jut coming out below our mouth.  In all other animals, the lower jaw slopes down from the front teeth instead of projecting.  It is unclear whether this trait serves any real purpose or whether it's a byproduct of genetic drifting.)

Robbie Rotten has long been known to be the pinnacle of human evolution by memers.

So why do we have nails instead of claws?

The short answer is, nails were more practical for the type of locomotion that apes were doing.  For smaller animals, like squirrels, nails are sufficient to grip onto tree bark.  But for larger primates, claws went out of vogue and instead we developed broad fingers designed for grasping.  (Fingerprints, by the way, are a crucial part of primate fine texture perception.  And the wrinkling of fingers in baths?  That's also designed to help you grasp.)

Getting back to nails: they aid in the grasping of things not just by being flat and kind of out of the way, but they help deliver grip feedback by counter-pressure exerted on the end of the finger.  This may be one reason nails only have a single stratum, unlike claws or talons, which have 2 strata. 

In other words, apes developed with the concept of "grabby hands" in mind.

But evolution isn't really directional.  Rather, it employs a guess-and-check method.

This led to some scientists questioning whether or not the last common ancestor of today's living primates had nails or claws on the ends of their digits.  Current evidence suggests that our ancestors had lost claws quite early and developed nails, but that those nails were two-layered.  This is a seriously big topic of scientific argument, one apparently confounded by the horrifically-named "toilet claw" that is present on lemurs and tarsiers.  (It's a claw on the second finger used for head scritches and more recently has been called the "grooming claw," which is a lot less gross.)

 Feel free to Google it.  It looks kind of gross, too, to be honest.
Sorry, lemurs, but your feet are naaaasty.

But this post has wandered into speculative territory and roamed, as evolution does, fairly far.  Originally, you recall, I began this post by saying I bite my nails.

I'm not special in this regard.  About a third of people are nail-biters.  This is a condition that has long been recognized as an indication or symptom of anxiety along with other body-focused repetitive behaviors.  (For example, skin picking, aka excoriation disorder... another one that I have.  Again, not surprising, since nail-biting and skin-picking have a high comorbidity.)


I think nail-biting is an interesting example of anxiety.  It's very much, for me, at least, a "can't see the forest because of all the trees" scenario.  When I bite at or pick at my nails, it's because there always seems to be a teeny-tiny imperfection that I'm trying to "fix."  Ironically I usually end up making it worse.  A lot of nail-biters tear off their cuticles for this same reason, the idea of an invisible hangnail.

(Side note about hangnails: the term "hangnail" might seem obvious.  It's a little bit of nail that's hanging off, right?  Wrong.  Hangnail is a folk etymology of the Old English angnæġl (
agnail), from ang- (“tight/painful” - think of anguish or angst) +‎ -næġl (“nail”). It has nothing to do with the nail "hanging.")

Just as nail-biting creates an anti-solution to a non-problem and, in turn, makes things worse, so does anxiety.


I find that if I can force myself to adopt a new perspective then I can often curtail my nail-biting habit.  When I look at my nails critically, they're actually just fine and need no attention.  Natural wear exfoliates just fine; there is no need to constantly be filing or picking at them.  Nail-biting, as a habit, can be broken; body-focused repetitive behaviors are a result of poor impulse control, and while impulse control disorders are considered a psychiatric "disease," their treatment often comes down to modifying the behavior of the individual.


(Another side note: Rocko's Modern Life had an episode where Rocko breaks his nail-biting habit using a 12-step program.  Except the program is actually a series of utterly ridiculous tasks and ultimately the way Rocko breaks the habit is by simply forcing himself to stop.)
 

As someone with a boatload of anxiety, forcing myself not to bite my nails was a hard-won battle.  My father bit his nails, too, down to the quick.  In the same way I shifted my diet at the beginning of this year, I have also stopped biting my nails.  Which isn't to say I don't slip up often, especially when I'm stressed.  But my nails do not resemble those of a nail-biter, something I'm proud of.  Like maintaining a diet, breaking the habit of biting one's nails requires a lot of self-reflection, impulse control, and constant, vigilant mindfulness.  Something I'm all about.  I like to challenge myself to do better and work on self-improvement at all times, and I believe that nail-biting is a good example of a habit that's hard to break but not impossible.  People with depression and anxiety all too often hear people say things like "just choose happiness" or "just don't worry about it."  And we can't really help that.  But at the end of the day, living a good life isn't about always being right, or avoiding drama, or not making mistakes. It's about handling those human challenges gracefully and with dignity.

I am a nail-biter and always will be, but by working hard, my nails look okay.  There are others who don't have to think about it and who don't ever have slip-ups.  But I can't live my life comparing myself to them.  Everyone needs to live their life for themselves and ask, "Are my actions ones I will be proud of in the future?  Am I saying and doing the things that help me reach my goals?"

Ultimately I think most personal growth stems from 1) the ability to self-reflect, and 2) the ability to control one's impulses.


Nail-biting is a good example of what it's like to live with anxiety.  It's easy to give in to.  It's hard to fight.  But it can be done.  And the first step is looking at your nails (or life) with a critical, logical eye and saying, "You know what?  This is actually fine.  I need to just let it be."

This doesn't mean you can "cure anxiety" just by wishing it away.  But it means you can control the consequences of the anxiety and how (or to what degree) anxiety affects your life.  If you're a nail-biter, you'll always be a nail-biter; you'll often find yourself picking at invisible defects on your nails.  The question is, when you realize you're doing it, are you going to stop yourself?

Evolution didn't spend millions of years giving you those magnificent one-strum alpha-keratin nails just so you could bite them off.  You're a primate, damn it.  Be kind to your nails.