The only thing about me that ever really bothered my mother was this toughness – "My God, this doesn't even faze you, does it?" – she would yell, in the face of some miscellaneous catastrophe. But she didn't know the half of it, or the worst of it. And neither did anyone else.

I've been a chronic nail-biter since I was six. I was diagnosed with a "nervous disorder" when I was seven, when the skin on the palms of both hands puffed up overnight into little pillows of air and then sloughed away.

That same year, in shaking anticipation of a terror the cause of which I can no longer even recall, I burst a blood vessel in my eye.