Jawline Journeys

 

Last Thursday I had my final appointment at my TMJ doctor’s office. TMJ, in all its acronym-istic glory, stands for the temporomandibular joint, a disorder of the jaw, where the joint is misaligned, misplaced, or gone fishing. For the last fiveish years, I’ve been treated for a case of TMJ so wondrous that my jaw locked and my mouth wouldn’t open all the way. While it wasn’t all that unusual to my doctor, it was weird to me, painful, caused headaches, and seriously impacted my ability to eat food. It wasn’t life-threatening, I kept reminding myself, but it was definitely life impacting. Initially, I realized I might have a medical problem when I began having to cut bananas because I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough to eat one straight out of the peel. I figured the locked jaw would clear up on its own. When it didn’t get any better and, in fact, got worse, I went to the doctor. This was about six months after my jaw locked for the first time. I’m an idiot.

I have mentioned before that I adore this doctor and his entire office staff. They were professional, fun, pleasant, and tolerant of the fact that Italklikethisallthetime. They got used to the jokes I’d tell when I was nervous, and the fact that when I’m scared I will hold someone’s hand, doesn’t really matter whose. This only happened once, my first treatment, and then I was fine, mostly because they were fine and we could all be fine together. Their calm was sustaining.

My jaw tendons required a type of therapy that redirected the tendons back to where they were supposed to be. The tendons were stubborn, much like the owner of the jaw they were misbehaving in, but eventually they realized that my doctor was the boss of them and they’d better stay put. For the first time in ever, I followed directions. You want me to practice opening my mouth to the point just after discomfort but just before it feels like it has been hit by a jackhammer? Okey doke. You want me to wear an appliance that holds my mouth somewhat open while I teach middle school? Ummmm, okay. You want me to use warm compresses twice daily? You betcha. I’ll see those compresses and raise you one more. I would have attempted to stand on my head and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to my jaw if that had been prescribed. Thankfully, it wasn’t. I can’t stand on my head any more without a wall to stabilize me.

Eventually, the pain went away, the mobility improved, and then finally, I could chew big people food again. Do not underestimate how awesome it is to eat food with your teeth and jaws working together in harmonious tandem. It’s glorious. First, I could eat a banana without a fork and knife. Then ground meat. Then chicken. Finally, nachos. God, how I missed nachos. Once I could eat them again, I cried real tears of real joy over how great it is to eat without first cutting food into bite-size pieces.

I didn’t really think about the fact that there would come a day when I would no longer need jaw therapy, even though I joked that I was looking forward to missing them. This past Thursday was that day. My doctor measured my ability to open my mouth, checked the alignment of my jawline, and pronounced me good to go. As in leave. As in all done. While I was thrilled to be rehabilitated, I found myself wondering who was going to need their hand held, or who was going to give the office staff goodies to celebrate the wonders of chewing, or even who was going to like them as much as I do. Of course, I realize that there are already patients under their care who fill all of those categories. It’s just not going to be me.

With hugs to anyone within reaching distance, I graduated from the office. Like all good patient-graduates, though, I consider that place an Alma Mater of sorts. Every time I chew food without cringing or yawn without tearing up, I will remember them with thanks.

 

Seeing yourself through a different filter

A popular quotespirational phrase that people pass on to their daughters and loved ones goes something like this: “If you could see yourself through my eyes, you would know how special you are to me.” My first question is and always has been, why not our sons? Don’t they deserve to know how we see them? My second thought is that, while the sentiment is lovely, it’s still a little selfish. As in, you’re special to me … but you might not be special to that guy over there and definitely not to that other person over there. Wrong. Nope. Nuh-huh. Plain and simple, I will correct the other phrase for you and remind you of this simple fact: you are special.

You are present, powerful, awe-inspiring because you are you. Maybe you got distracted and forgot to pay attention to yourself. The other day you were quick to point out that you couldn’t bench press 200 pounds like some other person, totally ignoring the fact that your current bench press is up 20 pounds from when you first started. Another you was saddened by the fact that someone else got to be the keynote speaker at the event, while you got passed over; you didn’t know that this person has been trying for six years, while you’ve only tried this once. Give it time. Another you is jealous of how easy another person has it – they’re brilliant, stylish, popular, and you feel invisible. Do you see yourself? Or are you too busy looking at someone else?

Here’s the thing: I see you. I see you try, and I see you try again, and I see you smile, and I see you when you’re angry and frustrated. I’m not Santa Claus or the Ghost of Christmas stalker-land, I’m just reminding you that you’re pretty cool. No, I haven’t been watching too many Barney shows (is he even on TV anymore?) and singing “You are special” until my brain has become anesthetized; I just see how conflicted we are this time of year. Do we give a gift to the friend who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, do we share goodies, bake them/buy them, and oh my gosh can you believe that Suzee is going to France over the winter break? She’s so lucky.

That’s where we get off track. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to these other, more wondrously awesome-seeming people because we don’t know their whole context. We can’t walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (as a way to understand them) when we can barely make it a mile in our own shoes without taking a break to regroup. Like anyone, I tend to get distracted by what everyone else is doing, or at least what it seems like they’re doing, I lose focus on my own goals, my own sense of purpose, my commitment to myself and the people I love, and for what? So that I can compare myself to an idealized version of someone else? That’s not the recipe for contentment and well-being; that leads to envy over someone else’s presumed situation.

So, especially this time of year, please take a moment to look at yourself the way you would look at someone else you love. Do it often enough and you might even become a little more focused on all that is you, and less focused on whatever all those other people of awesomeness are doing. You have your own awesomeness to nurture.

Joy

Do you remember when you were young and you would spin in a circle with your arms spread out, whirling and whirling until you dropped to the ground from the dizzies? You’d watch the clouds spin from your ground-level vantage point, if it didn’t make you too woozy. Essentially, you were self-inducing the same feeling you would later come to recognize as drunk. The point is, though, that you would spin in the circles for the simple joy of it. No need for someone to correct your technique or tell you that you were spinning wrong, there was only this moment when you played with gravity and gravity may have pulled you to the ground, but you still won. It was wondrous.

Then you “grew up,” stopped spinning because you realized that it gave you an upset stomach, or too closely reminded you of being drunk and nauseous. Other activities induced similar feelings of ‘glad to be in the moment’ for you: maybe it was spending time with friends, or spending alone time with a special someone, or reading a book, jumping from planes – whatever it was, you did this thing for the simple fact that it brought you joy.

Being joyful is a tricky proposition during adulthood because there’s so much that threatens it. How can a person be joyful when there’s so much pain? Joy isn’t a constant, or at least not for me, but it is there among the other emotions and deserves its nurturing too. We do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to allow ourselves that small respite from everything else we’re supposed to be doing to engage in the activities we love. I submit that our capacity for joy is one of the few things that makes life bearable. It isn’t money, or 500 skamillion friends, or an overabundance of things to do: it’s an appreciation of the moment, a connection to the very things that make us glad to be hanging around on this planet in the first place.

I am serious about protecting my own joy. This is an awkward time of year for many people, and definitely for me. I don’t handle conflicting demands on my time very well and instead usually opt to behave in a zombielike fashion because it’s easier that way. That is until this year when I promised myself I’d simplify. So far, and I admit it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, I’m doing well at cutting the excess out from the to-do list so that I can enjoy myself (go figure).

One of the most enjoyable activities for me this time of year is sending holiday greetings. Even though I’m killing trees and spending money on postage, I like to send a happy hello to another person that they can hold in their hands – like a 49 cent hug, I suppose. I know email is quicker and the graphics on my social media are all cute and what-not, but I haven’t put my hand to pen to cardstock so it doesn’t give me the same happy feeling that getting paper cuts on my tongue from licking envelopes does. That’s my unapologetic nod to doing a thing that makes me happy.

The other nod is that I love movies. On the big screen, popcorn beside the point. I love hanging out in an alternate reality for a length of time so that I can feel the feels without any sense of responsibility for them or any need to make them better. It’s the same reason I like to read, but my more immediate circle of friends understands the reading more than the movies. Why would I love to go spend too much money for a couple hours of escapism? Well, because it’s fun. The movie I saw yesterday, for its entire 130 minutes, momentarily filled a place in that part of me that still believes there is no problem that can’t be solved as long as we have hope. I left the theater with the same feeling I had when I used to whirl around in circles until I fell: a little woozy, but joyous.

As a warm-up with hopeful carryover beyond the New Year, I encourage us all to engage in the activities that bring us joy. They aren’t less important than our other commitments; that’s like saying our commitments to other things are more important than our commitment to our own health. That said, with all movie-going, card-sending joy in my heart, I encourage you to do the things that bring you joy. If it’s spending time with people, go do it. If it’s sitting around the house eating Cheetos, bring extra napkins to wipe that orange-y goodness off your fingers. If it’s writing your story, or telling your truth, or walking the dogs, go. You deserve the joy.

Look for the Helpers

Fred Rogers of the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood show from yesteryear, once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s an understatement to say that the news has been a wee bit scary this year, and particularly recently. I am certain that on other elections people have been where I was on November 9, staring stunned and horrified into my coffee. I don’t like that feeling.

I’m left with the question: What did America just do? This election has been like when a party breaks up too late and friends are left passed out on the sofa when the parents come home. We were only playing, we didn’t mean to do anything wrong, we’d apologize. Sorry we messed up the house.

But we’re the parents now, and our house has been messed up for a while. When we don’t take steps to understand each other, isolation and fear ensue. This is not a leap of logic, this is basic kindergarten manners. Go make friends with the new kid, my grandmother would tell me, they look like they could use someone to talk to.

I love my country and I know we can behave better than this. One of the aspects of my nation that I took for granted until recently was its can-do spirit, its celebration of the underdog who rises to the top. Ask anyone who saw the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. In this election, though, there was no underdog, just candidates slinging mud that got splattered all on America’s face and there’s no one to wipe up the mess for us. That can-do spirit has taken a beating.

“This isn’t my mess, I didn’t do this,” I hear people saying. No, this isn’t any one person’s doing, but this is definitely a mess. We all live here, so we’ve got some work to do. If we are going to move forward we’re going to have to remember that it might not feel like it right now, but that America is a beautiful nation full of potential. We’re going to need to bridge the gap between what we have been doing and what we could be doing. However anyone voted in this election, and remember we have the right to disagree, we don’t have the right to hurt each other. To remix Mr. Rogers’ quote, there have indeed been scary things in the news, so we need to look for the helpers.

In fact, rather than looking for helpers, we need to be the helpers.

Just Checking In

In my previous post I mentioned that the death of a friend sent me into a bit of a mental fog so I needed to follow my routine in order to get myself through the grieving process. It has helped, and going to the funeral allowed me to celebrate her and thank the universe that she was in my life. The church was full – as in, standing room only. This was a quiet person who habitually checked in to see how people were doing. She wasn’t obtrusive, didn’t need to be the center of attention; she just cared about other people – and she let them know.

She called me once a year, usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas, to find out about the kids and tell me she loved me. She didn’t believe in social media, preferring a phone call or sitting around a coffee shop talking face to face to a post on a website. She made a difference by working hard and being kind.

In fact, she so fervently believed in working hard that, for reasons that are still unclear to me, she had me washing walls one day in the classroom we both served in. She told me there was nothing that a good bleaching couldn’t get rid of (this was in the days before we knew bleach was a problem) and that the classroom needed a good cleaning. She was also the boss of me in personality if not officially, so I swallowed my snark and got busy. While we washed walls, we chatted about the students, our own kids, the teacher we worked for and adored. When I left that classroom to teach in my own, she reminded me to keep the classrooms clean and bright. I know she meant that both metaphorically and literally. I have not washed walls since then, but I do believe in the joy of shared effort.

I looked forward to those annual calls, whether we’d seen each other the previous week or not for a few months. Sometimes I even called her first, but not often enough. “I love you, keep working hard,” she’d say before she hung up.

I love you too, my friend. I will.

The Power of Routine

Teachers are procedural superninjas. We spend the first days of school teaching the students how to enter the room, how to complete their bell work, how to get ready for class, where to put the homework, and so much more. It is astounding to sit and break down what we consider mundane routines, or the things we do because that’s how we do it. Not important? I present to you the age-old debate of which direction the toilet paper roll should face. It’s okay … I’ll wait while you argue about this either internally or with someone else.

Routine is everything. Still don’t agree? Change the order in which you get dressed, or do laundry, or make your sandwich differently. You will feel that there’s a disturbance in the force, young Skywalker. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is something else entirely if your routines interrupt the flow of your day or interfere with you going to work or living your life, but routines are also something of a life enhancer.

I submit to you the need for a routine of productivity. Have you ever noticed that when you have a lot to do, you either get a lot done, or you don’t do anything at all? I am on my A+ productivity game when I have conflicting priorities. I am also well aware that I get distracted by sparklies – lately in the form of a tech game on my tablet. I also know that these conflicting desires between relaxation and fun, work and chores creates a type of creative tension. In the act of having much to do, I notice that I putter. I do this activity for a bit, then that activity for a bit, then back to this, and so on, and nothing gets completed in a timely fashion.

I don’t believe in 100% structured time, but I do believe in the power of routine. In an effort to up the ante on my productivity so that I have more time for my sewing projects, I have been teaching myself to mind my time a bit better. I have a set time to come home because I pick up my son on the way. I began spending the first half hour after he’s home doing my housekeeping/ bookkeeping, managing the house type chores, and then working on homework and projects in a 25 minute work/5 minute break schedule called the Pomodoro method. At first, I rejected the notion that a break should “only” be five minutes. My five-minute break became 10, then 15, then I would realize I spent more time breaking than working. Oopsie. Because I only use timers for cooking, I put my phone on vibrate and set that timer. For me, that works a lot better and I can whoop out some major productivity before dinner (or before bedtime, if I have appointments after work). It keeps me from ‘needing’ a snack that is, in reality just another task avoidance technique, but also allows me to get the snack during my five-minute break if that’s on my personal free/happy time agenda.

After feeling all satisfied about the increase in productivity, I began to wonder about those times when I don’t have conflicting priorities or when working on anything at all is not on my horizon because of life. That’s the test of routine, isn’t it? I’ve been known to counsel others to keep following their routines when they were working through difficult times, but I hadn’t applied that notion to myself until recently when a friend passed away. I needed to grieve, and my brain got muddled along with my heart, but I still had my job and I still had homework to do. I decided to follow my routines. I did the coming home routine, then the productivity routine, and then when I was finished with my to-do list, I had the time to mourn her loss and send my shouts out to the universe in thanks that I got to know her.

We need our routines. They help us get projects done on time, certainly, but they also help us when our thinking is otherwise distracted, either through stress, confusion, grief, or some combination of any of life’s events. I now wonder whether that’s why my stereotype of a British person includes time for tea. We’re doing the day, we’re breaking for tea, we’re back to doing the day. There’s comfort in routine, and I am absolutely in favor of that.

Celebrate Yourself (and keep going)

My friends tease me that my catch-phrase is “I celebrate you.” I celebrate names on papers, first trips after getting a driver’s license, and winning Nobel prizes with equal amounts of congratulatory gusto. Yes, equal. I have noticed, however, that I’m doing much less external celebrating lately, and the reason is simple: I can’t celebrate for you or with you if your fervor in drawing attention to yourself far exceeds any measure of congratulations I could offer.

I’m not just talking about selfies. I think they’re fun, spiffy, and contain just the right blend of self-congratulation and attention seeking to be mildly annoying and occasionally excessive. What I am referencing is the attention seeking that validates one’s reason for the effort. Did you really just get an A in Chemistry so that I could celebrate you? I surely hope not.

I hope, for all our sakes, that our reasons for exerting extra effort don’t rely on someone else drawing attention to that effort. If you want to run a marathon, that is awesome, but your joy should come from the fact that you lived through the experience and not from the fact that I will hug your sweaty, electrolyte-depleted self and say congratulations.

People who succeed at whatever endeavor they undertake don’t attain their goals so that someone can shout hurray from the mountain tops or so that they can prove someone wrong. They may begin that way, but they succeed on blood, sweat, and grit because that journey becomes more about themselves and less about others. Their successes are mental, not public. Of course people like knowing their efforts are appreciated and will work harder in response to that recognition, but at some point don’t we have to put on the Adult Pants and celebrate our own selves without the validation from the multitudes?

I am reminded of a video clip I watched recently about a person who lost 70 pounds in her quest for a more healthy lifestyle. That’s awesome and I would hug and celebrate her if I knew her. The thing she mentioned having to come to terms with is how little people cared about her weight loss, and how sometimes people undermined her efforts or gave her negative attention for it. That made me sad at first, but then she pointed out that she began to understand that her healthy eating journey was hers. In other words, the things that are most important to you are most important to you, not necessarily anyone else.

We definitely need to do a better job of celebrating others, but we also need to do a better job of recognizing that our own efforts are ours, and not for someone else to celebrate. I am reminded of the phrase that “You have to toot your own horn.” Well, good, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is obligated to sing along, or that you’re any less worthy if you don’t get a parade in your honor with confetti and balloon animals. It just means that we should all build some internal motivation to be a better version of ourselves each day without seeking permission or acknowledgement from others. It’s time to get out those Adult Pants, get to work on whatever thing of awesome we’re passionate about, and let the confetti fall where it may.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries