TMJ as a teacher, part two.

TMJ is caused by over-clenching the jaw. We clench our jaws when we feel stressed out, but also related is when we feel silenced.

Unable to speak, forcibly silencing ourselves, we shut our mouths. Either we feel that our opinions are not wanted, or that will not be respected or well received. We fear speaking because we will be laughed at or be punished. We forcibly clench our jaws to keep ourselves from talking.

Give thanks for the self-preservation instinct. Give thanks for mindfulness too, and becoming aware. It keeps us safe, but it also operates from a fight or flight, caveman place.

Here are some options –

Give speaking a try. Write what you want to say down first, then speak it. Practice alone, like you are in a play. Before you are around those people again, pray for the words. Pray for the right time to speak as well.

If you honestly feel that you can’t talk, then create. Give voice to your fears and concerns in art. Write about it, paint it, dance it. Express it to get it out. Then you have an option – if you still feel that you cannot share this, burn it, offering it up to God.

One of the last options is to change jobs or friends. Every difficulty is a chance to grow. If you leave a difficult situation early, you are missing out on the lesson, and it will simply be repeated in the next relationship you create. However, sometimes leaving is the right thing to do. Pray about it and feel out the right answer.

Just a pinch.

What is it about doctors who say that “This is just going to be a little pinch”? It never is a pinch. Sometimes it is more like a punch.

Perhaps they think that if they warn you, you’ll tense up and it will hurt more. Perhaps they don’t know what that procedure feels like for themselves. Perhaps they just aren’t thinking at all.

I remember when my father in law went for a bone marrow test. My Mom had been through the same procedure many years earlier and I remembered how it was for her. I asked him if he wanted to know and he said yes. I told him that it was not going to be “a little pinch”. It was going to feel like a mule had kicked him in the hip.

A bone marrow test is like a core sample of your hip. They put a huge needle straight into your hip bone with only topical anesthesia. It is an in-office procedure. It is done if they think cancer has spread to your bone marrow.

He sat with that knowledge for a bit. He didn’t quite believe me, but he trusted that I would have no reason to exaggerate or lie to him. After the procedure he said that he was grateful that I had told him. Otherwise he said he might have punched the doctor because the pain was so surprising.

I had an experience recently that wasn’t as physically painful but it was still upsetting. I’d gone to the dentist because my night guard had broken. I wear it because I have TMJ. They had changed the way that they make them and the assistant had to make an impression of my teeth.

The only problem was that it has been a long time since I’ve had an impression done and I’d forgotten. The last time was at least 30 years ago when I got braces.

She made the mold, asked me to open my mouth, and then put it in. She asked me to move my tongue and then she put her fingers on the mold to hold it in place. And then she stood there, like that, with her fingers in my mouth, for probably five minutes.

I couldn’t ask how long it would be. I couldn’t ask anything. I was a little freaked out.

It is very intimate to have someone’s fingers in your mouth, especially a stranger. It is very overwhelming if you have sensory processing disorder. I don’t have a strong case of it, but it is still there.

Now when I normally go to the dentist, I know what to expect. I know how to prepare myself mentally. I kind of go away in my head. It works. But this was new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect. Nor did she think to tell me. It was routine for her. It wasn’t routine for me at all.

The feeling of the mold in my mouth was a little much. It took up a lot of space in my mouth. Fortunately the smell of the material was a bit like Fruit Loops. That helped a lot. But still, I had a stranger’s fingers in my mouth for a lot longer than I’d expected, which was not at all.

I don’t know why she didn’t tell me what was going to happen. It seems logical to prepare people.

My chiropractor told me exactly what to expect when he was going to adjust my hips for the first time, and again when he was going to adjust my neck. I’m grateful for it. He told me that he does that because he remembers when he was adjusted for the first time when he was eight. He said that the first time his neck was adjusted he cried, and he doesn’t want anyone to have to go through that trauma. He’s very considerate, and that is part of why I continue to go to him.

I have a dream that all doctors will understand what life is like from the perspective of the patient, and stop seeing us as products, but people.

TMJ as a teacher.

I have TMJ problems. My jaw doesn’t line up properly. Overuse, and the ligaments in my neck hurt. The more I talk, the more pain I’m in. It isn’t a large pain. It isn’t terrible. But it is just annoying enough to keep me mindful.

I’ve become very conscious of everything I say. It is as if I have a bank account and I’m being careful of what I spend. Each sentence needs to be worthwhile.

I remember when a teacher in junior high had an assignment that we had to come up with a list of just twenty words. These were (hypothetically) the only words we would be allowed to say for the rest of our lives. This is something like that.

If it hurts to talk a lot, then you have to pick your words carefully or suffer the consequences. What do you have to say? What can be dropped?

This is totally in line with the Buddhist idea of right speech. Every word you say needs to be true, kind, and helpful. Is it necessary? Is it useful? Or is it mindless chatter, meant to fill up the silence? Is it gossip?

There is a great saying that “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” (Maurice Switzer)

There is a Ghandi quote as well that I’ve also heard attributed to the Quakers. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

We are afraid of silence. We fill our houses and our heads with noise. We have iPods and cell phones attached to our ears constantly. Every store has music playing. The TV blaring on, all the time. When was the last time you were silent for longer than 20 minutes, and not asleep?

This disorder has become my teacher.