A little TMJ trouble

My jaw has popped for as long as I can remember. Pop, pop, pop. It popped before, during, and after braces. In high school sometimes it would lock up and wowzers-try getting your jaw to open after that-OUCH! For a while in college if I hugged someone taller than me my jaw would hurt and if I chewed gum too much my jaw would hurt. And because of a weird fear of halitosis, I chewed gum all the time! To this day if I laugh while I’m chewing, a sharp pain shoots violently down my jaw line (I’m not sure if this is associated with the other stuff, but it’s intense). I talked to my dentist about it about 10 years ago and he said, “I can’t do anything for you, stop chewing gum.” So I bought altoids. Off and on during my 20’s, I’ve had these issues. But (and foolishly I might add) I thought, “I mean, what can be done for TMJ?” and I lived with it.

This summer it’s gotten pretty crazy, so I finally mentioned it to my husband, who then informed me that our dentist (who I’d not visited since moving here) specializes in bite and jaw issues. I nearly jumped out of my socks while immediately making an appointment.

When I got to the dentist on Monday we started talking and all of a sudden I felt like I was at a counseling session or something. This guy knew what I was going through: the headaches, the exhaustion, the pain, the fact I’d sort of ignored in interest of carrying on with my life, etc. And he knew how much it was kicking my butt. Unbelievable. We talked about treatment and I started to feel some hope-I started to feel some relief as if my jaw was relaxing just thinking about it. Then he took some x-rays, and the truth came out. My jaw and teeth, in thier misalignment for 20 years or so, have sufferend some irreparable damage. Lurking underneath my ignored pain, I’ve slowly wittled away at my left jaw bone and I didn’t even know it. Scary. It’s not reversable but it can be stopped and slowed down-the good news. The bad news-it is what it is and treatment is necessary. The better news-braces are not the answer. Hallelujah!

Anyway, all of this got me thinking. The fact is our bodies are all aging from the moment we are born, for a while the aging process is seen in plusses: learning to walk, learning to talk, learning to read, etc. But then somewhere around 25 (at least with me) aging seems to start doing a number on us: tightness, fatigue, inability to enjoy loud concerts while standing up the whole time, etc. This is natural, it’s life. It happens to all of us and we get diagnosed, and treated, and usually move on with it. Physically. But what about emotional pain?

It’s pretty hard to ignore physical ailments, but when we do they cause irreversable and sometimes fatal damage. However, most of us seem pretty adept at the art of stuffing emotional pain. And whether we’ve been abused in some way or abandoned by those who were supposed to love us (friends, spouces, parents), or suffered some major loss (a job or loved one), we’ve all got emotional baggage that most of us insist on dragging around with us through life. This too, can cause major and irreversable damage. Maybe we have trouble trusting people or want to run away when life gets hard. Maybe we turn to drugs or alcohol. Maybe we just become freakishly cynical. But whatever we do, if we don’t diagnose our ailments, we won’t be cured. And life is not good, and our relationships suffer-and everything is affected.

In my life I’ve found diagnosis to be the key to freedom. Whether it’s my jaw or my car or my dog or my heart. It’s all a lot scarier when we know there’s a problem but don’t know what it is yet. Diagnosis is the scariest part but then comes healing. Sure, my jaw will not rebuild the bone that is now gone (I mean, what I’d give for some Harry Potter bone regrowing juice), my car is not any newer, my dog’s allergies are still here, but I can get relief for all of those things and hopefully come out happier, more peaceful, and more content. We can experience emotional healing also. Yes, there will always be scars-but there is life after hurt and anguish.

I urge you to make the step toward emotional recovery. In most states and cities is a program called Celebrate Recovery, which I have seen send many loved ones on the road to healing. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to go, just a person with hurts-any kind.


If this is not up your alley, I truly believe everyone of us can benefit from some sort of counseling, whether formal or informal. I am so grateful to have had a number of men and women in my life over the years who have spoken truth into my life with genuine depth and insight.

The holidays are rough for a lot of people who are hurting. But this holiday there is hope.


2 thoughts on “A little TMJ trouble

  1. R.G. says:

    Great post. Timely for the holidays when memories of better times can overwhelm and people can slip easily into loneliness. The thing about counseling is that if it’s approached with an open mind, one might find that they are given access to a whole new set of tools on how to approach communication and/or life in general. At the very least you are able to try these tools and see if they help you out. Odds are, if you are going to see a counselor, something in your life is making you miserable anyway, so a counselor probably won’t make it worse. The other plus is that sometimes people just need someone to listen to them and a counselor fulfills that.

    Most physical injuries that people sustain, I’d venture, are of the type that can be cured by rest and rehab. I’d argue that most emotional damage is probably the same, and I enjoyed how you pair an untreated condition with erosion to irreparable damage over time and emotional scars/baggage left untreated.

    But occasionally there are confounding factors that cause a seemingly standard injury to become a substantial/mortal one, not to even mention major traumatic injuries. A lingering question I’ve had, though, (and I’ve had a discussion similar to your posting about physical injury versus emotional injury) is that if some physical injuries are so devastating to the affected limb that they cause immediate and irreparable damage and the limbs dies, can the same thing happen emotionally to a heart? I would imagine that if it does it’s probably a pretty rare occurrence (sp?), but I’m convinced it happens in the world to a few. I would also imagine there would be a large number of people telling hypothetical injured/broken-hearted person things like “Time heals all wounds,” or “get over it already ya ****.” What are your thoughts on this, then, particularly when great efforts have been made to rehabilitate by the injured person?

  2. Anna B. says:

    That’s a great discussion started Ryan. Something else I was thinking about but left out in the interest of being concise was that while physical wounds age us, emotional ones usually lead toward immaturity in some way (ie. reverting back to childhood behaviors, etc). So, yes I do think someone can be so wounded emotionally that they will never be the same. I do believe some can die of a broken heart, but also look at children who have never had nurture in their very early years. They will most likely mature the way most of us will. Remember that video about the girl named Genie (I think) that we all had to watch in Sociology classes? She was horribly neglected until her adolescence and while she mades strides toward a normal life, she never achieved it. No, I don’t think it happens a lot, but yes I think you’re right. Sometimes the emotional wound can be so deep that it is fatal.

    Oh yeah, and there are always those jerks who say “just get over it!” I used to be that way, until I got my heart broken. I find that the heartbreak I suffered has made me a more compassionate person therefore not in vane!

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