In January, I cracked a back molar. It happened while chewing gum, but was likely susceptible from many years of unconsciously grinding my teeth during sleep. It took awhile to figure it out, and has caused a lot of physical and emotional pain. Over the past four months, recovery has required muscle relaxants, massage and muscle releases, a root canal, two rounds of antibiotics, a disturbing amount of anti-inflammatories, and a lot of money.
Last week I was back at both the dentist and the endodontist, who have provided compassionate and thorough care during this whole debacle. Their conclusion: the remaining pain radiating from my jaw into my head, ear and down my neck is attributable to TMJ disorder (which for me normally flares up only in December due to holiday stress).
This was, in a way, good news: that the root canal worked, and is healing (if slowly). But if you are familiar with TMJ, or suffer from it yourself, you will know that this is also bad news. TMJ is tough to treat and slow to heal. After the pain goes away, it basically just lies in wait until the next stressful event. In my case, and I suspect in many others, it is just another physical marker of mental unrest.
Thankfully, my body seemed appeased by the TMJ diagnosis, and so the pain has been slowly decreasing. The weekend was awesome. After a lovely evening with friends Saturday night, we rolled into my best Mother's Day to date. Sleeping in! Breakfast parade with gluten-free waffles! Family bike ride! Fancy brunch! Pedicure! And then, miracle of miracles, the kids played quietly together for A FULL HOUR while both of us read our books. Topped off by three decadent episodes of Dexter.
I was hoping to ride this glow for awhile. But today, a phone conversation with a loving friend kicked the pain back into gear. This friend was the first in my orbit to brazenly de-stigmatize mental illness. Through honesty and humor about her own issues, she helped me recognize my own and get some help.
Because she has been there, this friend instinctively reads between the lines. She knows that my life is awesome, but that in the midst of all this awesome I am still unwell. That contrast becomes her call to action.
Today, she listened to my story of the past few months, including the tooth/jaw debacle, persistent low energy and need for emergency naps. I also may have mentioned the fact that I recently swore off attending child birthday parties because they are too loud. And we didn't even cover the acid reflux, or the fact that I often wake in the morning with my fists clenched.
My friend expressed her concern approximately as follows:
"Your life is kick-ass but you feel like shit. You cracked your own tooth from clenching your jaw. Your experience of the world is not normal, and it is not YOU; it is a chemical imbalance. You need a lot more medicine than you are currently taking, from an excellent psychiatrist."Her level of concern is a bit shocking, but also reassuring. She understands too well my related mental and physical pain. She knows that I can get better, and won't let me pretend I'm okay.
I have been trying hard to get better. I will keep working at it, for myself as well as my husband and kids. I know that medicine is not the only answer, but maybe it is AN answer.
As I write this, the pain is ebbing, and there is a bit more space and peace in my body. Writing is good and helpful. And friends are good and helpful, too.