What if your career relied upon nearly constant talking in high-pressure roles and you suffer from TMDs? For me, as a Human Resources and Training leader, I learned the hard way how this illness is completely debilitating.
On a quiet New Year's Eve day at 2:00 p.m., I started to cross an intersection of a busy street near home, but a driver, not paying attention to his red light, did not slow down. I remember a silver flash to my left, then a horrible impact straight into my driver’s door, and the rebound just behind the backseat door.
Several weeks passed, with only a large head contusion, concussion, and severe neck sprain. I had to get two crowns and a root canal on my right lower molars, then another crown on the last bottom left molar. The crowns led to a root canal, which only led to intensely increased pain. Bone shards began stabbing through into my mouth. An extraction and two surgeries to file away the jawbone down to soft tissue finally stopped the continual bone shards. The pain was unbearable.
Together, these dental procedures amounted to being in a dental chair with my mouth open nearly every week from August 2005 through January 2006. That’s when my oral surgeon explained the concept of chronic pain. I quickly learned that many people pass judgment on TMJ patients as being unable to handle stress and causing our own problems. So untrue!!
Chronic pain, difficulty concentrating/memory lapses, trouble sleeping, and fatigue became my constant companions, along with dizziness/nausea. I went through a jaw arthrocentesis, two rounds of pulse radiofrequency, braces (I could only touch two teeth!), countless injections into my face and in my head for the occipital neuralgia that caused head pain similar to migraines. My body began aching in multiple places and I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. When my pain flares up in any part of my body, it is like a lightning rod to my jaw, causing it to instantly tense and hurt. Stress, low barometric pressure, and talking remain my enemies.
Funny, how, after ten long years, I still get confused between who am I and who I used to be. No, I don’t have multiple personalities, but I feel I’ve lived two lives: Before and after “the Accident”.
It has taken me ten years to accept and that this illness must be managed, and that limiting and countering the effects of my top three enemies: Stress, talking and weather, is non-negotiable. I still cycle through the stages of grief - denial, anger, depression, bargaining, exploration, and commitment over and over. Denial expressed itself in continuing to try to work in my profession until denial slowly turned to anger and depression over the realization that my 20+ years’ experience, a Master’s Degree and multiple hard-earned credentials no longer seemed to matter.
A lot of you suffer with me and I’m sure some of you face similar career crossroads. I can’t tell you I have easy answers, but I can tell you that my evolution continues. My pain directly reflects whether I’m living in balance or not. Now I know what works and what I absolutely cannot do, and that includes trying to approach my career as I use to do.
How many of you struggle with questions like, “Where do I go from here?”, “What will be my second act?”, and “How can I use my skills in new ways that accommodate my body’s limitations?” I’ve helped others come to terms with these questions through career coaching, job searching, resume and cover letter writing. For me, these represent ways to contribute, and hopefully, make a difference. It’s natural to feel a loss of purpose when afflicted with TMD. You can also begin to question your own self-worth, which is compounded by having to be on disability and feeling dependent.
Statistics show the annihilating impact disability has on career-long salary levels. So finding something you can do is imperative. That can seem impossible, and for some of us, it may be. I do know that it is particularly hard when you have TMD and everything you’ve done centers on talking. When you are extroverted by nature, every non-talking task goes against your nature. When you do things against your nature, it drains your energy, compounding the fatigue and frustration you already experience from living in a state of chronic pain.
I have a favorite saying by Edward Hale: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do." What I choose is to journey through discovering what I can do, while realizing that it does not define who I am and who I can be. Maybe you feel the same.
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