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Living with TMJ Disorder: The Magical Powers of Friendship

Stacy’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts written by a close friend of mine and long-time volunteer of TMJ Hope’s, Nicole (who some of you may know from the forum).  Nicole is a TMJ disorder & chronic pain patient, and she’ll be discussing friendships with you, and how to nurture your friendships even though you have pain.

How many times have you cancelled plans with a close friend because of your pain?  Did you make up an excuse or tell the truth?  Why do we often feel the need to lie?

I’ve recently found it necessary to let go of a few relationships where I could not be myself, and instead am learning to embrace the ones that seem to embrace me – chronic pain and all. I hope you will too!

Like many women these days, I’m generally preoccupied with my family’s needs, their schedules, the endless to-do lists, doctor’s appointments, and obviously my pain high levels.  Anyone who has TMJ pain knows that the best medicine often can be simply resting the jaw, ice and heat, avoiding triggers, eating a special diet, paying attention to relaxation, getting some sleep, etc.

However, I believe it is in our best GIRLFRIENDS that we truly find nurturing and healing. It really is a big part of taking care of ourselves, and each other!

Whether it’s a girlfriend you’ve known since childhood, or one you connected with on TMJ Hope, our girlfriends seem to give us something we can’t get anywhere else. I often say my girlfriends have magical powers, powers that far outweigh anything from a doctor’s office!  I say this because after a really good talk, encouraging email exchange, or a weekend away with my dearest of friends, I feel I’ve found sanity again! I feel suddenly like I’ve received a boost of energy and confidence and can relax. I do actually lose track of time and forget to take my medication. I forget because my pain is not nagging me! Girlfriends give us a kind of medicine and positive energy I wish I could bottle up!

When you live in pain long enough your closest friends can easily be broken into two groups – your girlfriends, and your girlfriends with chronic pain. In this article, we’ll talk about the first group.

We all likely have one or two friends we’d call “lifelong” friends, our oldest and dearest, and what a treasure!  If you’re lucky enough to have one of those friends, hang onto them as they are like no other friends in your life.  These are the women who know the most sacred of secrets and all about your biggest dreams.  Lifelong friends are precious – they are family we choose, your sisters, and what a gift they are!  These are also women that perhaps knew what you were like “pre-tmj” and often need some help learning about how your life has changed now because of it.

Clearly they can’t fix you, but you can do something – HELP THEM to HELP YOU.

Here are some tips to help you nurture these friendships:

  • Be honest.  When you don’t feel well, what is it you need? Do you like to be alone? Do you prefer company?  What is most helpful to you on your worst of days? Perhaps there is a special soft dish your friend makes that you can request? Is there an errand she can run for you? Friends want to help you feel better, and as patients we have to learn to let others help us. Open a dialogue so it’s not uncomfortable to talk with your best friend about your pain.
  • Be a patient teacher  –   It is difficult to have patience when you’re not feeling well, but we must remember that these friends are trying to help. TMJ Hope is one place that has suggestions on how to talk to your loved ones about your pain. Whether they truly “get it” or not, give them credit for trying.  Say thank you for putting up with you in the worst of moods, or coming over to help out, or just calling to say hello and check in!  Pain patients often hide just how bad we are feeling, but if these are your closest friends they may appreciate you telling the truth.
  • Make “Girlfriend Time” a priority.   It’s hard for others to understand that those last minute cancellations are not to be taken personal, but our pain often dictates our schedule doesn’t it?  Add in children, spouses, work and life’s unexpected events, and well there isn’t much “girlfriend time” leftover. Realize that certain people may pull away because they are tired of declined invitations over and over again.  So, when you find yourself having a good day make time for those friends. Show your friends that you appreciate and recognize their efforts. Ask about their lives and see how you can be there for them too. Reconnect with them and do what you can, when you can. Make time for your girlfriends because in turn you are truly nurturing yourself also. Personally I find that when I’m relaxed and able to just be myself, and take care of myself, I may forget all about my pain! Yes, you heard me! Even if just for a few hours, it’s worth it!

Bottom line… It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling frustrated, happy, sad, or purple… From the dearest of friends who have been there since childhood, to the friends who checked on me and sent care packages after my surgeries, these are the girlfriends that take the time to love and appreciate ME – the good, the bad, and the TMJ!

Stay tuned for part two of this article – we’ll discuss why it’s incredibly important to develop and nurture friendships with those who have chronic pain, too.

Do you have any tips to share with us about friendships and pain? How do you balance friendships, pain, family, work, etc?  


1 thought on “Living with TMJ Disorder: The Magical Powers of Friendship”

  1. This article brings up an important point-how do you maintain or create a social life when chronic, debilitating pain is constantly in the way???  I don’t know how many times I’ve avoided phone calls, outings, dinners, etc…with friends and family because I don’t feel good.  I try to explain that I have to answer phones and talk at work, which is difficult in itself, and when I arrive home, I just physically can’t socialize. Most people don’t truly understand it; the people in my life that care about me do try to understand though.  Sometimes it means texting or instant messaging on facebook instead of a phone call; sometimes I reschedule things for a time that I know I’ll feel better.  For example, a Saturday afternoon, after I’ve slept and relaxed, is a better time to talk to me or hang out than a Friday night, after a long week at work.  It’s never fun or convenient to be in pain, but when you are always in pain, you learn to work around it. It is a blessing to have someone to talk to that knows what you are going through; thank you to Stacy (here on TMJ Hope) for talking to me! :) I think it’s important to try, as best as possible, to maintain your friendships. It’s not always easy, but if it’s too hard to be friends with someone, that person may not be a true friend… It shouldn’t require an extreme amount of effort (at least not usually).  Your friends and family love you; they don’t mind staying home and watching a movie instead of going out; they will sit with you in comfortable silence to spend time with you, if need be. My husband is amazingly patient; he wakes up when I’m crying in pain in my sleep and rocks me back to sleep.  He eats soup, instead of steak, in united solidarity with me.  I don’t have many female friends that live near me anymore, but maintaining communication with friends is so important! Also, if you’re a parent, maintaining some sort of “adult time” is vital to your psychological well-being!!! Thank you to my friends and family that are with me, and there for me, when I need them!!!

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