@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
Too Much Jaw
TMJ does not stand for “too much jaw.” Despite the fact that I have confidently told people that and they’ve believed me. Saying silly nonsense to people is one of the traits I inherited from my Dad (as did my brother). My dad’s twin sister still falls prey to his bullshit, even after over 60 years of being the best of friends. And still, it makes her laugh every time. My sister is also super gullible. I once told her I had the ability to smell underwater, and when she tried she came to the surface of the pool coughing up chlorinated water.
TMJ actually stand for “Temporomandibular joint dysfunction,” which I am unable to pronounce so I say “too much jaw,” making no sense whatsoever. The world wide web explains TMJ as a pain in the jaw joint that can be caused by a variety of medical problems. The TMJ connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone) in front of the ear. Certain facial muscles that control chewing are also attached to the lower jaw.
As for me, I’ve had coming and going clicking jaw problems for at least ten years. My brother also complained of TMJ, which he said stems from his years wrestling. I guess there’s some hereditary issue here, though I’m sure mine is trigger by stress and the fact that I unconsciously clench my jaw both in the waking hours and sleeping hours.
For much of last year, my jaw continued to click almost daily, though it didn’t really hurt. It’s more just annoying. Though by the end of 2019, the left side of my jaw would become tense, causing an almost tugging sensation on my left ear. Into 2020, not only has it been clicking on a regular basis, from chewing food to talking on stage during stand-up, but it now hurts all the time. The pain isn’t so terrible, but it is constant. It really starts to bother me, however, when it causes ear pain. If you’re a frequent visitor to my blog, you may already know that I have some form of PTSD when it comes to ear infections, riddled with them as a child—which was a tricky infection given my allergies to antibiotics, thus resulting in permanent hearing damage. Middle ear infections are especially painful because unlike other wounds or pains there is little you can do for temporary relief, and it fucks with your equilibrium. I’ve broken bones, gotten stiches, had surgeries, kidney stones… and I’d place some of my middle ear infection pain right up there.
It’s almost a guarantee that the severity of my current TMJ is a symptom of stress. Provided I don’t die doing something awfully stupid like climbing a cliff without proper equipment, simply killing myself or getting shot on stage (I’m not famous enough to get shot in a comedy club for being ‘offensive,’ but if I was, you could say, ‘she died doing what she loved… dying’) it’s likely I will get a tumor that is caused from my years of continued anxiety.
My dentist and I have formed a friendly rapport. Unlike most, I love going to the dentist. I would go more than twice a year if it were up to me. I love that fresh feeling. I’ve said for years my most ideal date would be that myself and my date go the dentist at the same time and then we make out with our freshly minted teeth. For many years, I didn’t like kissing because of the thought of passing germs. Luckily, I’ve mostly out grown this, though my harrowing hypochondria has caused me to withdraw at the touch of many.
The lower teeth of my mouth have crowded since they were once straight after years of braces. Much to my parents disappointment, I refused to wear my retainer because I couldn’t sleep with it. Even back then, my sleeping problems started to surface. The truth of it is, my orthodontist fucked my teeth up, however, perhaps for the best. My teeth are actually almost square shaped, not circular, causing my front teeth to be prominently displayed. For those a fan of my smile, this seems to compliment my face. My teeth also aren’t the same size. My orthodontist didn’t properly align my top and bottom teeth, so the lower teeth crowding was somewhat inevitable (according to my dentist). This may be an added cause to my TMJ. I didn’t much care for my orthodontist, after I once inquired when I would get my braces off and he said, “when you no longer look like a rabbit.” I furiously left the orthodontist that day. “Stupid orthodontist,” I complained in the car with a sore mouth, “I don’t look like a rabbit.” “But if you did,” my Mom said, “it would be a really cute rabbit.” “I DON’T LOOK LIKE A RABBIT!”
My current day dentist once pitched fixing them with some sort of Invisalign product. “You do know that my insurance is Medicaid, right?” “Yes.” “Well, that means I have no money whatsoever. Literally no money at all.” He laughed and told me if that ever changed to let him know. To his credit, he hasn’t bothered me about it since.
At my last visit, I told him of my too much jaw pain. He confirmed it wasn’t any problem with my (never had a cavity!) teeth. Also, given my late blooming status, at 30, I still haven’t gotten my wisdom teeth. I suspect they’ll grow in my 40s. The first and easiest fix is wearing a mouth guard. “Doc,” I explained, “you have no idea how rotten my sleep is, I will never sleep with a mouth guard.” The following suggestion was to manage my stress better. “Doc,” I explained, “you have no idea how awful I am at relaxing.” So he gave me a referral to an oral surgeon if the pain worsens, to see if there’s a more serious issue.
Some friends suggested I try acupuncture, something I’ve always been curious about but never really had the money or desire to do. But, alas, I was getting desperate. Especially with the side effect of ear pain. This is decreasing my daily quality of life. I walk around stretching my jaw, opening and closing it like a weirdo.
Finding a good acupuncturist in NYC wasn’t hard. The woman was sweet and professional but she did ask a lot of questions about my sources of stress and I withheld information about being a stand up, frustration with rejections of writing jobs, heartache and the fact that we ARE HURLING THROUGH SPACE ON A PLANET THAT WILL INEVITABLE HEAT UP TO DUST AND ALL OF THIS IS COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS AND THERE’S SO MUCH SUFFERING HOW DO ANY OF US GO ON AND HOW DOES ANYTHING WORK, GOD THIS IS ALL TERRIFYING, IF YOU’RE NOT OVERWHELMED YOU MUST NOT BE PAYING ATTENTION, FUCK MY JAW HURTS ALL THE TIME.
Initially, right after the acupuncture, my jaw felt better than it did in months. No clicking! No pain! What miracle is this? Then, later that night, my jaw hurt like fucking hell and I was again pissed. However, in the morning, my jaw felt lose and pain free. I didn’t want to schedule an appointment the following week because I don’t have a lot of money and also I wanted to see how long the relief would last. A week later, my jaw started clicking again, sans pain. Then, the following week, my jaw stopped clicking all together, but is so tight, I can’t fully open my mouth, chewing anything chewy or remotely hard hurts, and the pain shoots to my ear.
There’s a cheap massage place down in the West Village, where I frequent because it is the epicenter of comedy. I’ve been there several times. It’s cheap so it’s a no frills place, but it’s always clean.
This time, the Asian woman was super aggressive. She was yelling at me for how tense my muscles were. I don’t know how to react in scenarios like this. “Um… I know, that’s why I’m here?” But I also sort of enjoy her bossing me around? I have some dom/sub fetishes that aren’t to be discussed on this here blog. Even though I like getting massages when I’m in pain, I’m still uncomfortable getting them. I’ve always been weird about people touching me, but also, I feel bad for the masseuse, even though they are getting paid and this is their chosen profession. I have to remind myself, that as far as bodies go, I’m probably a more favorable client than most. In addition to being tiny, my skin is extraordinarily smooth and soft. My boney ass especially, having seen little sun, is so silky soft, it’s a favorite feature of my past lovers.
This woman was especially handsy with my butt, to the point where I was, “what the fuck?” Like I previously stated, I do like it when they use their elbow just below my spine and try to stretch my leg from my hip. That spot is troublesome for me. Not only did this woman excessively massage my butt, but it is the only massage I’ve ever gotten where she just completely removed the towel. Is this my metoo moment? Despite the actual physical relief, it also made me feel weird. I mean… did this woman really enjoy massaging my butt? And do I have a problem with that? The people pleaser in me would rather her be happy massaging my butt than hate doing it. If she was like, “I really enjoyed massaging your butt,” in all honesty, I’d have to go, “well, I enjoyed it too.” Are we married now? She continued to berate me throughout the massage, so it kind of felt like a marriage.
The massage did prove needed relief for my entire body, and some loosening of the jaw muscles as well. It still fucking hurts though. I don’t really want to see an oral surgeon about it. Ultimately, I have to calm down. Lamenting to one of my best friends I said, “I think I’m too neurotic to be in show business.” To which she replied, “you’re in showbusiness because you’re neurotic.”
Sure, often I seem to have a laid back California demeanor, but this a façade—in actuality, I’m scared and suspicious, ready to run away as fast as I can at any moment… kind of like… like a rabbit? Goddamnit.