When I was first diagnosed with Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD) – I was relieved. Finally, I could get on with feeling better.
Boy, was I wrong…
The hardest part of living with an invisible illness is realising that no one will ever understand the daily struggles you face.
Chronic illness is more than just constant pain – it’s an endless cycle of anxiety, disappointment, insomnia, tears, and nausea-inducing pain meds.
It’s the overwhelming disappointment when a treatment doesn’t work. It’s learning to take time off and rest when you need to. It’s dealing with disapproving relatives, co-workers, and friends who just don’t understand. It’s dealing with disapproving doctors who think you’re just trying to get a codeine prescription. It’s dozens of tests, thousands of dollars wasted, and a whole lot of anger and exhaustion.
In 2014, the stress of the HSC was starting to take its toll on me, physically and psychologically. I was a nervous wreck and my body was copping the brunt of my anxiety.
During the day, I was clenching my teeth, leading to head-splitting migraines and searing facial pain. Nights were little better: I suffered night terrors and as a result, I was grinding my teeth so forcefully that it was audible from the next room.
As exams started, my jaw physically locked shut. I couldn't open my mouth any wider than 2cm. Eventually, I resorted to a soft food diet – say goodbye to chewing gum, steak, or anything remotely chewy. I was eating like an elderly lady in a nursing home.
It took three different doctors, a chiropractor, a physiotherapist, and two dentists to even get a diagnosis for my condition – and it's one you've probably never heard of.
What is TMJD?
TMJD is painful, compromised movement of the TMJ jaw joint. The temporomandibular joint is the "ball and socket" that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, allowing you to talk and eat.
Place your fingers on your upper jaw, just in front of your ears – as you open your mouth wide, you will feel the working and moving. In the case of TMJD, that motion doesn't function correctly. The teeth are misaligned, causing strain during everyday jaw movements like eating, speaking, smiling, sneezing and swallowing.