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The Toll Chronic Pain Has Taken on All Aspects of My Life

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Fifty-two days. It has been 52 days since the start of my latest pain flare-up caused by TMJ disorder. I’m writing this from my bed, groggy from what feels like an endless regime of muscle relaxants. I don’t know if they even work at all, but I feel like if I don’t take anything then I’m not actively trying to participate in my recovery, whatever that may end up being.

My life now revolves around endless specialists. I am still trying to find out what works, and shopping around for practitioners gets confusing. Chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, medical doctors… the list goes on. I went to two chiropractors, both came up with two different treatment plans. I do not know which to believe, I am not the expert in physical anatomy.

What I’ve come to be an expert in is my pain. Before learning about TMJ, I had no idea that there were so many muscles in your face and that they could become a source of incredible amounts of pain. At its worse, it radiates from behind my eyes, into my ears and throughout my face. And that’s when it’s resting. Talking, chewing and, god forbid, yawning, all can exacerbate the intensity.

Chronic pain has slid itself into all areas of my life. I am irritable all of the time, on edge in anticipation of my condition worsening, and depressed at the lack of solutions. I missed two days of work last week alone.

The financial burden of numerous treatments is insurmountable. I have spent around $700 in the last two months alone in a desperate attempt to find relief. That number will climb this week when I see a specialist whose price for a consultation is $245. Yes, that’s a consultation.

Socially, I am afraid of becoming a one-dimensional character who has nothing better to talk about than their pain. People don’t realize that when you’re constantly in pain it is all you think about. Can I accomplish this task today? How many hours until I can go to bed to escape this? On a scale of 1-10, how bad is it today?

I try my best to not lash out at others because of how I’m feeling. Because of this, my condition is not obvious. Like many illnesses, it is invisible. I can’t carry X-ray images of my jaw or receipts from the hundreds of dollars worth of treatment I’ve had. So I bare down and try to smile when people ask me “how are you doing today?”

The severity of the pain is not what bothers me the most. In all honesty, I’ve had more intense pain (with appendicitis, for example) before. At least with surgery or emergencies there is usually a path forward. The expected recovery is within so many days, weeks or months. The lack of progress with chronic conditions intensifies the pain.

The level of pain is not bad enough to go to the hospital for, although I am tempted to try just because it is an avenue I haven’t yet pursued. It is a constant throbbing in my head and face. I wake up with it in the morning and go to bed with it at night.

I have broken down and cried many times in the last 52 days. The relentless and continuous nature of the pain is what breaks me down. The frustration and desperation that comes along with it. And the fear. Oh the fear. What if there is no real treatment? What if 52 turns in to 152 or 1,052? Can I survive?

It seems to me that the mental agony that accompanies physical injury is just as damaging. I need to learn how to deal with both aspects before anything will improve, I imagine.

Like most things in life, there is no way to wrap this post up with and package it with a nice bow on top. I thank you for reading and am sending love and care to my fellow pain warriors out there.

Getty Image by Anna Ismagilova

Originally published: December 27, 2018
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