My Jaw Troubles

I don’t think I ever posted here about my jaw issues, which means that when I have surgery, either it will come out of the blue, or you’ll never hear anything about it unless you know me on social media. I’m gonna add this one to the “things I’ve been ashamed of about myself” column, even though it’s entirely structural and there’s no logic to being ashamed about it.

So, my lower jaw has always been a bit off, since I was very little and couldn’t eat an artichoke like normal people by gripping it between my teeth. My teeth didn’t meet, it just slid through. By the time I was sixteen, I still hadn’t noticed that it was structurally wrong, but I knew my lower jaw was weird, and I thought it made me unattractive. (I was sixteen, of course I was gorgeous. Not sexy, but attractive? Sure. Who knew.) So my parents took me off to an orthodontist, who took all kinds of scans and made molds of my jaws, and sent me off to a couple of surgeons to talk about what was going on.

What was going on was (and still is) that my condyles (the vertical part of the lower jaw that connects into the jaw joint) didn’t grow correctly, so they’re about half as tall as they should be. Because of that, my jaws don’t meet right, and my upper face didn’t grow correctly either, because not having a joint operating correctly impacts things around it.

So we saw those two surgeons, and one suggested we could do double jaw surgery (i.e. cut my upper teeth apart from my skull and move them to a new position — such a wtf moment), while the other suggested we could replace both joints with teflon-coated metal parts (omg wtf). I nope-nope-noped all the way out of there, and left it to be a mildly anxiety-inducing thing that I would forget as hard as possible.

And to be honest, I did forget about it. Sure, my teeth didn’t meet, and I wasn’t a huge fan of my reflection (but who is?), but it wasn’t causing me problems (that I was aware of) and I couldn’t fathom taking a ton of time off for a surgeon to take my face apart. They told me at 16 it wouldn’t matter if I waited 6 years, so, like any sensible procrastinator, I waited 20.

As it turns out, I didn’t think it was causing me problems because I’d never known anything else, so how would I even know? I didn’t have pain, and I learned how to use my tongue and upper teeth to scrape artichokes.

As it turns out, my lower jaw (mandible) sitting back like it does means there’s extra mouth-stuff sitting further back in my head than it should, so my airway is crowded and is half as big as it should be. To compensate, I hold my head forward, which is terrible for my cervical spine, but gives me more airflow. It also causes sleep apnea at night, and we think it may be causing my vagus nerve to be pinched, causing my heart to beat too fast sometimes, my digestion to be not-great, and my anxiety to be higher than it otherwise would be.

In my mid-30s I finally came to terms with the fact that I hated my appearance. I realized how sad I felt about it, how unreasonable the hatred was, and how attractive I really was. Structural things are just structural. I came to terms with the fact that I would always look like myself and no one else, and that that would be OK.

That was when I was willing to go talk to a surgeon again about having the surgery. Once I stopped hating my face, I could bear to think about changing it. (I know it sounds backwards, but there it is.)

My new surgeon recommends the joint replacement, in addition to moving my upper jaw (maxilla) and my chin. In other words, the parts I was most scared of at 16, I should do them all. We think that double-jaw surgery would correct the functioning, but that not only are the condyles too short, the joint heads are undersized. Correcting the functioning would just put extra pressure on the joints and make them more likely to fail, which they haven’t actually done yet. (Also, my osteopath is pretty convinced that the cartilage discs that should be in the joints are dislocated and have been since I was 6 or younger. Wheeee.) So we should replace the joints and have just one surgery. (Plus the surgeries to replace the joints, which have a limited lifespan of hopefully as much as 30 years. So once at 65, and if I’m lucky they won’t need to be replaced at 95.)

And what I learned is that the teflon-coated joints that early surgeon recommended were found to be really terrible, the teflon flakes off in your head and causes all kinds of problems. So it’s just as well we didn’t do either of the surgeries when I was 16.

So, I’m going to have that surgery hopefully in the next few months. It takes 3 months to design and make the prosthetic joints, and we need to get the insurance company to approve the surgery (again! we got preliminary approval over a year ago before I got braces on), but even with COVID-19, we should be able to get it scheduled.

The recovery is going to be long, with my jaws wired shut, then physical therapy because, as my orofacial myofunctional therapist put it, they’re moving all the furniture around and your tongue won’t know where the sofa is! I’ll be off of work for weeks, and the swelling and numbness may not be completely gone for a year. But I should have even better range of motion than I have now, much better airflow, and my spine should learn to be happier.

I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. If I were more shit-together, I’d have photos of my jaws, or a diagram of what jaws look like, or something. You can google it, though.

Verbing Weirds Words

Verbing Weirds Language

A friend of mine shared a link to a Merriam-Webster usage note about how the definition of “literally” includes “figuratively”, and how outraged people are about it. Another friend shared an angry emoji on the topic — lots of outrage!

And friends, I understand the frustration. I, too, am a literalist by inclination. “Literally” means “literally”, how can you possibly interpret anything figurative there?

But I do accept it, because I like how smoothly our brains stretch to accept new meanings.

Did you know that the word “bead” came from “benediction”? Christians would “count their beads” when they said the rosary. All your jewelry comes down to a religious term.

And that “glamour” is a mutated version of “grammar”, because the written word was magical to some set of illiterate English-speakers hundreds of years ago.

How about that “awful” used to have the same meaning as “awesome”? (It seems obvious once you point it out.)

Here are some of my favorite new words:

“Wat”, which means “what” but in a particularly disgusted tone of voice.

“Because X”, as in “the power went out because PG&E”, which assumes you understand all the reasons why PG&E would cause power outages, and creates camaraderie. (For more on this, I highly recommend the book Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch, which is narrated by the author in the audio edition.)

While I’m at it, I recommend the podcast Lexicon Valley hosted by John McWhorter, as well as many of his lectures on the Great Courses and his books. He talks about all kinds of weird language quirks, including why sounds change, why grammar changes, and how Black English is an entirely consistent and regular dialect of English, and not just mistakes.

And by the way, “nice” started out meaning “foolish”, so if you insist on words staying exactly the same for all time, then I think you’re nice.

Being OK with Not Being OK

or Happiness Isn’t a Goal or a Destination

or When “Not Good Enough” Has to Be “Good Enough”

Author’s Note: I wrote this post in June 2020. I didn’t publish it because … well, either because it/I wasn’t good enough, or because I wrote it and got distracted before I finished, and then forgot all about it. So it’s a little outdated (I don’t get to claim I’m a “new” manager now that I’ve had the role for over a year), and I have a different perspective on shelter in place 9 months in than I did 3 months in, but I’ll post it anyway.

I suffer anxiety, ADHD, and chronic health issues. I am also a woman in a male-dominated field, in a time and place that idolizes Productivity as the pinnacle of value. I am valuable, even when I’m not productive. I am creative, curious, and engaged with the world. Sometimes, I’m anxiety-ridden, unmotivated, or miserable. Even then, I am valuable. I’m OK.

Since COVID-19 led most of America (& most of the world) to shelter in place, I’ve been at home. Not constantly; I get out for walks, errands, and the occasional doctor’s appointment. I even went for a socially-distanced walk with friends. You might think that I now have more time, that I can focus on home things, that I can be more focused on work. I don’t have kids and I don’t live alone, so I don’t even “have it that bad”.

Nevertheless, my productivity has been low. I get tired easily, and my anxiety leads to insomnia sometimes. My hormones are out of whack (“chronic health issues”), and I have ADHD. Put it all together and my emotions are all over the place, my energy is all over the place.

I’m also a new manager. I switched roles last October, and while my EQ is high, my planning skills are not amazing, and my management skills are in their infancy. My hope was that this year I’d be busy learning & practicing those new skills I don’t have yet. And yes, I’m doing some of that. But let’s be clear: I’m drained. I’m not what I’d call “productive”. Some weeks I work a full work-week. I rarely work overtime. (This is on average. On a given day, I may work longer or shorter. But per week, not so much.) I just don’t have it to give. Since SIP started, I’ve dropped projects, winged** conversations that maybe should’ve been prepared, and held less structure and accountability than I’d like for my team.

There was one particular week when I told them, this week I’m not a good enough manager. One of my reports, a very senior person who I trust and rely on as a key member of my team, told me, “I’m glad you said that. I’m not either.” I even told my boss. He just nodded and said, “yeah, I’m not supporting you enough either”.

My whole life, my shame about “not being good enough” or “not doing it right” has been immense. That week, not only was I not good enough, but everyone understood. Everyone wasn’t good enough that week. And my boss and I, by letting our reports know, made it OK for them to not be OK. We normalized “not good enough” as the new “good enough”.

How do I know that “not good enough” is still “good enough”? Because my contributions that week were better than no contributions. No one was emotionally or physically harmed by my inaction. I prioritized what to spend my energy on, and I didn’t collapse into the shame of “woe is me I never do anything right”. And I took stock of everything else I was doing that wasn’t “productive”. I was managing my health, my ADHD, and my anxiety. I was fostering healthy relationships with my partner, my friends, and my coworkers. When I was tired, I was tired. You can’t be not tired when you’re tired.

I didn’t do all the pro tips for managing anxiety, ADHD, or chronic health. I didn’t make myself go to bed on time. I didn’t meditate often enough. I didn’t drink enough water or floss my teeth. I didn’t even go for walks most days. All of my inaction led to worse symptoms, it’s a fact. And still, I am valuable, I am worthy, I am lovable. Of course I should get paid for my work (and I am), but my value isn’t in how I behave when I’m struggling the hardest. My value is in how I interact with people, in my unique perspective, and in my creativity.

Even in the worst of my anxiety, in the worst of my de-motivation, I’m still a valuable, lovable person. I don’t need to be fixed (although I would love to be), I just need to be OK with not being OK.

Unpublished Post – March 24, 2015


This is a stream-of-consciousness post I wrote in 2015. I was too ashamed to post it at the time, because I was ashamed of my overwhelm, of “not being OK”, not knowing myself well enough, not having an operating manual, and of not being Good Enough, both in my daily life and in what I write down.

Why not just leave it in the junk heap? I’ve spent the past five years undoing and repairing that shame, being willing to be seen as flawed and chaotic. So here: see me as chaotic, curious, and yearning for more, and see how I’m not ashamed.

But also because, it’s got my tone of voice, with all my rambling and self-deprecating, self-observant humor. If you don’t like my tone of voice, go listen to someone else talk. 💖

Might it make a better post if I already had the answers to what was going on in my life? Maybe. But if you’re figuring out who you are, how you work, and why you feel like a chaotic mess in a world of orderly normals… you’re not alone. I promise.

Today I am tired and overwhelmed.  I’m emotional.  And it took me so long to find a computer that would turn on, and then log in, that I don’t remember how the rest of this thought went.

I’ve been running between projects, and then running to catch up on sleep.  (FYI, that doesn’t work.)

I can’t find the pair of knitting needles that are the right size for my new sock yarn.

I have lots of my stuff still packed in boxes stacked around my house.  I feel like I have no time to unpack the boxes.

At work, I have to have conversations with people, and right now people are draining.

Last night I was reading about Highly Sensitive People, which I’d heard about years ago, but never really read about.  I can’t tell if it describes me or not… I don’t think of myself as being sensitive to noise, or particularly aware of what will make another person more comfortable.  But if my mom is highly sensitive (which she is), it’s quite possible that my point of reference is not, in fact, normal.  🙂

I can tell you that nearly every week, I have some emotional disruption to my life, and it makes it hard for me to do my day job, or to be useful at home, or … well, it can impact anything or everything.  Sometimes I can point to something concrete and say, yeah that’s a totally reasonable reason to be having trouble this week.  When we moved back into our house, we had a lot of really late nights and early mornings, and packing my stuff is disruptive.  Totally valid.  But there’s always *something*.  This weekend I went on retreat, so I was up late and up early, and didn’t have a restful weekend.  Go figure that come Monday/Tuesday, I’m exhausted and dysfunctional.  But I’m also miserable, uncomfortable in my body, and I wish I could stay home and knit.  (But I can’t even find the knitting needles.)

So last night, I didn’t read the written-for-the-lay-person book called “The Highly Sensitive Person”, I read the first third of a clinical psychology paper about HSPs written by the same author.  This was helpful, actually, because she’s talking about Jung’s definition of “sensitive” (vs. “introverted”, which she says is different), and I’ve firmly fallen into the Jungian camp, so it’s nice to have this concept cross-referenced with a theory I respect.  And according to Jung, most, if not all, people with neuroses are highly sensitive, which means that a disproportionate percentage of the people who go to therapists are likely to be sensitive.  On the positive side, I don’t seem to be neurotic, I just have issues.

But it’s funny, because I don’t think of myself as being particularly emotional.  I think I’m always surprised when I have strong emotions.  I like it when I’m just going along all neutral, it’s simple and predictable.

This doesn’t feel like an essay worth posting on the internet, and I don’t have time to sort it into something more coherent.

COVID-19 spreads mental health awareness

Recently I had a week where I told my coworkers, “I’m having a really hard week, I’m doing the bare minimum. Let me know if you need something from me and I’ll try to prioritize it.” I showed up to critical meetings, rescheduled non-critical ones, and made sure all of my 1-1s with my reports had enough buffer that I could focus on them. I did what was absolutely necessary, and postponed anything ambitious or innovative.

I wouldn’t have told my coworkers any of that 10 years ago. I’d have taken days off (“not feeling well”) or pushed myself to do work that would’ve come out badly. I would’ve agonized over it.

But this year, everyone I work with is struggling. People who usually have the best mental health are grappling with anxiety and depression. People with kids are being run ragged trying to watch them and do work. People who live alone are lonely. And those of us who already have mental health challenges still have mental health challenges. If we had coping mechanisms before, we’re leaning on them extra hard. And we’re sharing those tips with our neurotypical friends.

I’ve told people I have a therapist. I’ve told people the things I do to manage my anxiety. “Our brains lie, don’t believe them.” “Look for evidence that the anxiety is wrong, not only for evidence that it’s right.” I’ve told people the things I do to manage my depression. “Treat it like a cold: drink tea, wrap yourself in a warm blanket, and get plenty of rest. It will pass.” (My depression always passes. I know not everyone’s does.)

I’ve made myself a resource for people to talk about how they’re struggling, without judgment or the need to change it. Emotions are more like the weather than like truth. They don’t need to be fixed, any more than the rain needs to be fixed. They need to be experienced, and responded to appropriately. Don’t leave the house without a rain jacket, don’t act like your anxiety isn’t there. But you wouldn’t take the rain as an indication that something is wrong, so don’t take your anxiety as an indication that something is wrong. Maybe it’s just anxiety.

But also, anxiety brings wisdom. Are there things I should be doing differently? Great, let’s write down what they are and do something about them. But I can’t just do them differently while the anxiety has me in its grip — the anxious parts of me don’t have those skills. Writing them down is like putting on the rain coat.

I’ve appreciated feeling more normal this year, as more people have had brain demons like mine. I’m not weird, this year. This year, I’m more prepared than most, because I already have coping techniques.

I’m also really struggling. This year has been relentless, and I’m daydreaming of a month in a cottage by the ocean or a lake, where I have no responsibilities and can just float from one restful thing to another. Reading. Eating good food. Staring at the water. Going for a hike. Having a quiet chat with whoever I’m with. Not having to remember which coping mechanisms worked well last time.

I’m ready for a new year.

Politics is Life

A couple of years ago, at a Christmas dinner with my extended family, I apologized to my great-aunt for bringing up politics at Christmas. She gave me a stern look and said something like, we can’t afford to not talk about politics, they’re life and death. She’s a feminist, and for decades she ran a non-profit that helped women get jobs with flexible hours. I’m sad I don’t remember her exact words, because they humbled me.

Avoiding politics with family is like not looking at the homeless person on the street. They don’t stop existing, and someone’s life is on the line.

I respect that people have differences of opinion, different values, and different views of how the world should work. I respect that people don’t like each other, I respect that people feel afraid and want safety.

I don’t respect the attempt to disenfranchise American citizens, or the perspective that property damage is worse than murder. I don’t respect the idea that some lives have less value than others. I don’t respect anyone who would take away the human rights of people they despise.

Biden won. Halle-fucking-lujah. He knows how to speak with dignity, and how to acknowledge the humanity and value in everyone around him.

But he’s also not good enough. Is he going to end the concentration camps at the border? Is he going to defund the police? Is he going to make sure that every disenfranchised citizen is re-enfranchised? Is he going to make sure that everyone with a uterus has access to legal abortions? Is he going to stop pandering to the obstructive right? Probably not.

Politics isn’t about values, opinions, or perspectives. Politics is about human rights, who gets them, and who gets to decide what they are. I’m going to keep talking about them at family gatherings until human rights truly are universal. You should, too.

Black Lives Matter

Black rights are human rights. Until all Black Americans are just as safe walking down the street as me, a white woman, I am not safe either. Until the poorest, least-educated Americans are safe in their own neighborhoods, I am not safe.

Police brutality is not acceptable, under any circumstances. Firing rubber bullets at people’s heads is brutality. Destroying the water and medical supplies of protesters is brutality. Military without identification deployed on the streets of our cities is brutality: with no way to hold individuals accountable, there is no safety.

This isn’t about protecting “innocent Black people”. Even guilty civilians are due civil rights, the Bill of Rights assures that.

Here are some of the things I’m doing to support Black Americans and the ongoing protests:

  • Reading first-person accounts from Black Americans and protesters.
  • Listening when people make me aware of my privilege in ways I hadn’t noticed before.
  • Donating to BLM, bail funds, and local orgs that are coordinating and supporting the protests
  • Amplifying the news, mostly on social media.
  • Letting my Black friends and coworkers know that I support them and am available if they need me.
    • Trying not to put the emotional labor on them of deciding how to respond and what to say. Instead I’ll try to say, “I’m thinking about you, and I’m here if you need me. No need to respond.”
  • Writing to my elected officials to tell them what I support and what I expect them to support
  • Taking care of myself when I’m tired or overwhelmed. I can’t help others when I’m worn out. And when I’m able again, I tune back in, because the need isn’t gone.

Resources I’ve benefitted from:

(If you follow me on Facebook, none of this is new.)

This Facebook post offering a range of books, depending on what you already know and what you’re ready to learn next:

This thread describing the history of racial terrorism in America, covering the time white terrorists overthrew the US government:

Daily updates on what’s going on in American from Heather Cox Richardson, that are detailed and well-researched, with sources.

This fabulous list of 47 ways to help, ordered by what resources and skills you have (on Medium)

Headline & Byline:
47 Very Specific Answers to 'What Can I Do to Help?'
There's a role for everyone in this fight
By Miyah Byrd
June 3, 2020 - 5 min read

What resources do you recommend?

Vegetarian Shopping for Poultry in the Time of Sheltering in Place

Last night, we tried to buy poultry. You have to understand, I’m vegetarian. I’ve always been vegetarian. I don’t eat poultry. I don’t know what to do with poultry (other than that if you brine a turkey it comes out juicy… but I don’t really know what “juicy” means with regards to turkey.) I’ve never needed to buy poultry.

But. Last night, we had a shopping list that included poultry.

In fact, what it said was:

1 whole raw
OR, 3 whole legs
OR, 1 pkg breasts & 1 pkg thighs
OR, roasted chicken is fine too…
OR, whatever you can get (no feet or beaks)

This is good! This is a list I can work with. Start at the top, stop when you find that thing. How hard could it be?

Did I mention that this was last night? And that we’re in the midst of a coronavirus crisis, and everyone had bought all the food? Yeah. So, uh. We didn’t buy anything from that list.

There were no whole chickens. There were no chicken legs, breasts, or thighs. Cooked or uncooked. We did find ground chicken. (I did not know that chicken comes in ground. Now I do.) And we found the frozen packages of chicken feet! (Good thing the list told us not to buy feet, or we might have!)

There was turkey. There were 15lb whole turkeys, which was much more than was needed (even if the list didn’t say so). There was ground turkey. And we did finally find turkey breast, 6lb, for $32. Ben asked me if we should get that. I said I don’t know if that’s a reasonable price, but it’s almost like chicken breast, right? So we bought it.

What I learned from all this is that Americans in my town, when they’re panicked, are more likely to buy chicken than turkey or beef. So if you’re panicked, and you eat meat, buy the turkey or the beef. (Or go vegetarian, like me. 😉)

Also, there was no bread (closest thing was English muffins), or frozen vegetables (but there was plenty of fresh vegetables!), almost no broth or shelf-stable nut milks. Despite the hype, I forgot to check the TP aisle.

And finally, pro tip, when the county tells you to shelter in place but you’re still allowed to buy groceries, buy your groceries tomorrow (like we did) rather than the day of the announcement (like apparently everyone else did). The clerks were frazzled and punchy at the end of their workday, and told us that the lines for the past week have been crazy, and yesterday was the first sane day.

Speaking with My Self-censorship

I’ve been noticing that I censor myself. I allow myself to listen to my inner critic, who wonders what people (i.e. you) will think about or misinterpret about what I have to say. What if I post this post, and it’s just rambly and not interesting? What if you judge me for not being beyond this already? “I figured out how to conquer my self-censorship years ago,” I hear you say. “Why are you telling me about this?” Or worse, “What else do you think you have to say that no one else has said?”

“Nothing,” I whisper quietly and slink back into my closet. It’s all been said before.

But you know what? That’s bullshit. Do you hear anyone say, “All there is to say about love has already been said, so you might as well not bother,” and then stop telling anyone that they love them? Of course not.

Well, everything I have to say is just that: “I love you”, but in other words. And that’s probably what you mean whenever you talk, too.

That’s all my censor wants to say, also. “I love you, and I want to protect you. Please don’t say anything that can get you hurt.” It’s very loving, and damaging, too.

I’m choosing to listen to the most important part of that sentence, and ignore the rest.

I love you. I want you to know that.

Traveling to England

In other news, Ben and I are going to England for three weeks next week, and we’d love it if you’d follow along (and leave comments!!) on our travel blog: Liza & Ben’s Travels – Exploring without the Cat (it’s a silly tag-line… we haven’t thought of a better one). You can also subscribe via email, if you want ongoing notifications.