TMJ disorders most often affect women in their childbearing years, however it is important that we not forget about the men who suffer as well. We’d like to share thoughts from David, a fellow TMJ patient.
To give you some background on my condition: I have TMJ in both sides of my jaw, but my left is worse than my right. There are days when they both flare, and I’m done on those days. Most of the time it’s my left, which I’ve learned how to adapt to, but when it’s the right, days are not as easy. I get migraine headaches, and a lot of head and facial pain that isn’t a direct result of my condition. I manage my pain to the best of my ability using things like Zomig, ibuprophen, Excedrin, herbal muscle relaxants, ice, etc., but all of the medications I’m taking are also contributing to other medical issues. Without them, though, bad days are numerous.
Men are not allowed to show pain, or if they do, they are not allowed to complain about it. Try going to a job and telling them you’re having a bad pain day and see what they say. I’ve had too many times in my life where I’ve let an employer know that I’m having a bad day, even after making American Disabilities Act (ADA) arrangements with them, and I’ve been told that I just need to get over it, or the like. Women tend to just pull out the baby card: I’ve gone through labor so just shut up and deal with it; men generally don’t want to see weakness, it calls into question your toughness, or ability to just do what you need to do. These attitudes permeate our entire society, at the individual and organizational level. We want to assume that ADA has done a lot to help people with disabilities, but I argue that we have a long way to go. We need change in how the ADA is managed and enforced at the individual and organizational levels.
There is an overall attitude that hidden disabilities means that you’re not disabled at all. You have no idea how many times I’ve been told I’m not disabled, but those people who haven’t lived MY life have no idea just how disabled I can be. I don’t have disabling pain every day, but I do have pain: some days are better than others. Those days that I feel less pain I work hard to make up for time I feel more. People tend to see those days, and not be anywhere nearby, when I have bad pain days. Life has been very lonely as a result because ultimately nobody thinks I’m disabled, or nobody wants to support me when I am.
I don’t want people to think I’m weak, or the like, because of my disability. I don’t want them to think I’m seeking sympathy or having my hand out. Again, this is another attitude that seems to permeate our society. A man with pain, or any hidden disability, tends to be seen as someone wanting to get out of something or other. It’s not. I’m just not capable of doing things when I’m in pain. I’ve reached a point in my life where I just don’t care what others think, though. It would just be a pleasant change if people actually believed me once in a while.