Instead of the relief and relaxed feeling I was hoping to feel after I passed my comprehensive exams, I’m dealing with jaw problems.
The day before my oral defense I woke up with a sore jaw on my right side. I was able to talk so I just chalked it up to grinding in my sleep and tried to ignore it.
I’ve been to known to grind in my sleep in stressful periods, but in its been so intermittent, I haven’t focused on it.
I did get a quote for how much a mouth guard would cost, but after seeing the fifteen hundred, non-insured figure, I passed for the moment.
My mom wears a night guard, but her grinding was severely wearing down her teeth and I haven’t had any problems like that.
My problems seem to be focused on my TMJ, the joint near your ear that keeps your jaw functioning.
Apparently, you can tense up that joint so much that it goes on strike. It’s like the tension I have all through my body as a result of stress and anxiety, but it makes it hard to use that joint.
That means this week I’ve had trouble opening up my mouth wide enough to brush my teeth or eat.
I fell back on my usual habits of trying to ignore it in hopes it would resolve itself and just dealing with the pain.
But my Friday I was almost crying every time I had ate, even soft foods, so I saw my amazing chiropractor.
He sat down and listened and said,
“Yes, you’ve thrown out the joint. I can work on it so it goes back and you can open your mouth normally again, but it’s going to hurt. A lot. You’re going to feel bruised and sore for a couple of days. But this should resolve it.”
I looked at him, and waved his words away with my hands as I said, “I don’t care. It hurts so much now, hurting me to fix it is just fine. I just want to know you can fix it.”
He smiled in understanding.
I laid back and he massaged my muscles around the joint, at one point getting gloves and manipulating the joint from inside my mouth.
It hurt so much that tears sprung from eyes and trickled down my cheeks.
My chiropractor laughed a little ruefully and announced that “Tears are a good sign, unfortunately.”
Finally, he wrapped up after I could almost open my mouth to normal again. Not without pain, of course, but progress is progress.
This weekend my job is to keep trying to do the exercises and massage my TMJ as frequently as I can stand.
But it hurts and I feel let down by my body that despite everything I’m still dealing with such dramatic manifestations of stress and anxiety, including a migraine and stress-related canker sores.
I feel that I should be feeling good, healthy, strong, and relaxed right now. I should have the energy to do everything I need for the next steps in my life—everything I ignored during the exams and defense.
But I don’t—I am instead meeting with my psychiatrist to discuss my medication, my therapist to work on my anxiety, and the chiropractor to treat my body.
I do recognize that I am very lucky to have these people in my life. They remind me that “should” is not useful or helpful and that I have an illness and that I can manage it only so much and so well in different situations.
I am trying to be okay with how I am feeling right now and attend to what I actually need, not what I think I should feel and what I think I should be able to do, but it is so hard.
I’ve read so many other blogs and articles about tricks for managing TMJ problems –WebMD says it will resolve on its own, for instance—and others about eradicating should from your thoughts.
I wish it was as easy for me as a list of tips and tricks. I wish I could offer something like that, but unfortunately, my management of my anxiety and its physical manifestations is much more gradual and sometimes it doesn’t look like I think it should.
And that is part of dealing with anxiety, I have to deal with my expectations. And my disappointment.
For me that means writing these posts and continuing to talk to my therapist and support system honestly about how I feel, not how I think I should feel.
I am taking today real slow to give my body and jaw a break. It’s not what I was planning, but it’s what I need. So that’s what I am doing. And for me, that’s self-care.