It’s not often I use the blog to address my personal life, but as the year is nearly at an end, I’d like to take some time to reflect on just what this year has brought me. Lately, I have been very stressed out. No, not even stressed out…I would say “slightly derailed,” better describes how I’ve been feeling. For me, 2012 has been a year of sudden change and sustained effort, two things I typically despise. Between the 20-page research papers and hazards of my daily hour-long commute both ways, I’ve been thrust by providence or fate into the proverbial spotlight. Doing speeches, and panels and attending board meetings and functions and lots and lots of parties. I’ve met many people, some of whom I simply adore, and others I decidedly don’t. Handling these waves of new personalities is a challenge in and of itself as I’ve found it’s integral to alter your approach depending on who you’re dealing with and I think that’s something a lot of us fail to take into account. This world is full of people and people are like little machines you’re constantly having to punch codes in…the wrong codes lead to breakdowns, the right ones lead to updates. Not sure if that allegory even makes sense (it’s early!), but it is a demanding process that never seems to end.
In the midst of all that melee, it has been integral to do one thing: take care of myself. For my own personal self-care routine (and I’m assuming, for many of my readers as well), balanced hormones are fundamental and the only way to maintain them balanced is by taking them every day at a regular time and scheduling periodic blood tests with your physician. I haven’t been and finally it showed yesterday before a holiday party I attended. I was in my car, crying and had, in a manner of minutes fallen completely out of love with life and the people in my life. Almost systematically, I became disillusioned and livid all at once and when pressed for the reason, I had none to give. I felt a loss of control and an utter dearth of joy. It just spilled out of me and it was a mood-swing. One of the side-effects of estrogen therapy many of us fail to take into account because we don’t think it’s as “serious” as stroke or thrombosis. But I assure you, it is. I know because I was one of those people who scoffed at the “mood-swing thing” as being something I could easily handle. And I realize I must admit my fault in all this, too. In the frenetic chaos that my life has been this past year, there have been many times when I’ve gone to sleep after pulling an all-nighter at some ungodly hour and forgotten to take (or just been too lazy to take) my hormones. Thus, I’ve experienced spikes and lows and kept pushing them aside, brushing them off until the holidays rolled around and my seasonal sadness became the catalyst for a mood swing that left my nerves jangling when they should have been jingling.
The world can wait. It’s important that you and I know this. It won’t fall apart if we take the time to take care of ourselves, but we will. If we allow ourselves to grant importance to our problems, even when others we confide in may not consider them very important at all, we also grant ourselves importance. We don’t put on the “I can do it all” facade and power through it. We each have differing levels of resistance to outside stressors, and it’s important to be respectful of that. My pain may not be the same as yours, but it is just as significant. And as a tg woman who’s been undergoing long-term HRT, I sometimes forget the element that was missing from my life during last night’s mood-swing: balance. So, I had a rare moment of practicality and made an alarm on my phone at 10 AM sharp that reminds me to take my hormones every. Single. Day. No matter what. Equally helpful is my return to this blog and being able to take solace in my writing process again. Never ignore your outlets! For me, that outlet is writing…but lately it’s been something I haven’t had the energy or time for…or at least that’s the excuse I give myself. And that’s another thing: Be mindful of your own excuses and analyze ways to break them apart, because most of them just injure you in the long-run. So, sisters, my advice for the new year…cut through the garbage you give yourself ABOUT YOURSELF…cut through the garbage other people fling at you and just focus on you. Sounds so simple, but often, it’s exactly those simple things we fail to remember.
So…recently I was diagnosed with TMJD or temporomandibular joint disorder (erroneously, yet widely, known as TMJ) which is basically a mandibular joint issue akin to arthritis, where there is a misalignment of the muscles. Boxers get it after too many knockouts to the jaw and so do anxiety-ridden tooth-grinders. Guess which one I was. Imagine being in excruciating ear pain for a week or so, not being able to talk really due to the pain but still being asked questions every five minutes, having to sustain yourself on a mostly liquid diet because eating solids feels like you’re swallowing daggers and knowing that there’s no cure but “waiting it out” until the next flare-up. As you might expect, it’s rather awful.
Currently, I’m doing well, but every now and then I’ll have a flare-up, usually when I’m stressed. I’ve read that TMJD is more common amongst menopausal women on hormone-replacement therapy, and by extension I’m assuming, transgendered women who are not only hormone-laden, but also perpetually stressed out…so in my case, it makes a lot of sense that I developed this. However, I’m also keenly aware that the initial trigger for my jaw issues started one Thanksgiving weekend long ago, when in my engorged holiday mind-set, I decided to raid the fridge for leftovers and sunk my teeth into some stale chunks of french bread, unhinging my jaw like a cobra and hearing a tell-tale ‘pop,’ which I assumed was perfectly normal. Only, after that, every time I would try to stretch my mouth open, the left side of my jaw would click. I thought it was nothing but then this happened years later. At first, I thought it was an ear or sinus infection because I was prone to those and because it felt like one, but upon consulting an Ear, Nose, Throat Specialist, I was told that wasn’t the case.
So, what is all this preamble leading to? I want you girls out there to keep healthy, of course! ^_^ So, if you’re dealing with this terrible ailment too, here’s a list of tips to keep those flare-ups few and far between!
1) DON’T STRESS THE SMALL STUFF…WHICH, BASICALLY, IT ALL IS! Seriously, I know I’m stealing this phrase from somewhere, but that’s because it’s good and also, very true. Go meditate yourself! Nothing’s worth ruining your health over, so as difficult as it is, try to just let whatever stressful thoughts you have drift on by. Don’t force yourself not to acknowledge them, because forcing anything is a stressful process in and of itself. Just let them pass through you. Unless, of course it’s a thought like, “Oh I have to pick my son up from daycare,” or “I have a deadline…if I don’t do it, I’ll get fired,” those you should probably deal with. But everything else? Nah…
2) USE A MOUTH-GUARD AT NIGHT! They’re like 15 bucks at Target, so price shouldn’t be an issue. Honestly, I started doing this whenever I have a flare-up and the next day I feel waaaaay better. You may look funny, but at least it’s in the bedroom where crowds won’t see you.
3) AVOID COOL AIR DURING A FLARE-UP!! Air-conditioned rooms, blasts of fan-swirled air on the face…they’re all bad during a flare-up because they make the muscles contract in a way that makes your jaw ache so much worse.
4) HEAT, THEN COLD, THEN HEAT!! Hot compress to the jaw (not too hot, but here’s a tip…heat up some salt in a frying pan then bundle it in a towel, it stays hot longer), then a cold compress, then another hot compress all while slowly opening the mouth to condition the muscles to be okay with that sort of thing.
5) NO CLENCHING, NO GRINDING!! Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, leaving a space between the top and bottom rows of teeth…like singers do!
6) JAW MASSAGE!! A quick fix, but when that flare-up hits, you need all the help you can muster. A quick massage in circular motions of the jaw and ear area is a big help, calming spasms and generating heat to relax away tension.
7) PUT DOWN THAT STEAK!! Or corn, or apple, or carrot, or practically any other hard food that forces you to open your jaw wide in order to eat it…at least until after your flare-up’s over.
There you have it, my dears…TMJD is a rotten break, but like everything else in life, not insurmountable! ^_^