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.

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

Context:

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.  πŸ™‚

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.

When not having creative energy isn’t a moral failure

I just read this blog post by Neil Gaiman.

He’s a Real Author, and he’s been very busy, and then he’s been very brain-dead.

His brain-dead is (morbidly?) reassuring to me. I’m an author, and I have a full time job, and I run a small business, and I have health issues, and I have a committed relationship that requires intentional effort to maintain (as any good relationship does).

It’s just lovely to have a reminder that it’s normal to have only so much capacity. Creative people create less when their mental energy is used up. When my day job requires creativity, I have less available for personal projects.

I always have a vague belief that if I cared more, I would create more. That if I were more diligent, I would sit and write every day like they tell you to.

I remember how I allow myself to get sucked into things that aren’t worth my time, like fascinating podcasts when I should be working, or brain-dead games on my phone when my brain isn’t working.

But.

But I spend a lot of mental energy on my day job, and on the other things I must do, and it’s not a moral failure that I don’t write every day. It’s just a fact of time and energy. It’s normal.

I just read Swordheart, by T. Kingfisher1, set in the same world as her Clockwork Boys duology, but it’s about normal life things (and nearly being eaten by magical sky-jellyfish) rather than being about saving the world. I loved it so much.

I tell you this because: I want to be T. Kingfisher when I grow up. I keep ruminating about how to become an author, a person who has hours every day to be creative and inspired, who also isn’t broke. Make it important now. Wake up early2. Write every day. But right now, I don’t have the energy to spend being creative; I’m spending most of my energy in keeping normal life going, eating healthy food, getting exercise more often than never.

Neil Gaiman reminded me that it’s ok to be an uncreative creative person. It’s normal to have physical limits. It’s not a moral failure when I don’t write every day… or even every week3.

Do you have times when you can’t be creative? How do you handle it? How do you give yourself permission to be where you are?


1 It’s a lovely silly book about a woman who doesn’t know her own value, having to fight for her own value, and developing friends who support her exactly the way she is. I loved it so much, you should read it.

2 I hate this advice. Mornings are my nemesis.

3 Not for nothing, I’ve been writing blog posts. That’s creation, even if it doesn’t feel like “creativity”. Maybe my definitions are just wrong.