By the time she had reached age 27, Charlotte was accustomed to hearing people declare to her: “wow, it looks like you are really killing it at your job!” However, if Charlotte was being honest, it generally felt like a more accurate version of the statement to say, “wow, this job is really killing me.”
Most of the time, she was able to look past the ways in which she felt burned out, repeating the wise mantras of Drake to herself as inspiration —
cuz I’m only 27
And I’m only gettin better
If I haven’t passed you yet
WATCH ME come up now for real
Yet there were days when stress reigned unfortunately paramount, and she was an unstable mess as her thoughts declined into an increasingly dark rabbit hole – like, would it be possible to falsify a drug addiction, or pretend to be mentally unstable, just so she could be checked into a rehab facility or an institution that allowed her to take a sabbatical from life? Because trying to do it on her own all the time was just too fatiguing…
One extreme manifestation of the stress occurred following the Christmas of 2017. Charlotte had returned to her hometown for a brief holiday, and woke up on the wrong side of her jaw — that is, as she rose from the bed, she realized she had clenched her jaw all night, and was very sore on one side.
Not alarmed, she proceeded with the rest of her holiday, though the clenching pain did not subside. Upon her return to Southern California, the symptoms began to worsify. It escalated into a sleepless night when a self examination uncovered that a huge chunk of bone had actually grown through her lower gum on the painful side of her jaw, and a smaller one on the other side.
At first, Charlotte was pretty impressed with herself. “I mean, I am a natural born over-achiever,” she rationalized. “While the average body may have 206 bones, I’m definitely above average enough to grow 208.” She also had to hand it to herself for keeping her calcium levels so on fleek that her bones were not in jeopardy of evaporating – in fact, they were actually multiplying! Yet these feelings were soon replaced with sheer and utter panic when she realized that this could be enough to cause her dental bills to multiply above average even faster than her bone growth.
As these revelations progressed, Charlotte also realized that her mouth was entirely criss-crossed. While once she had been able to touch her top and bottom teeth together at the back on both sides when she shut her mouth, and have her front top teeth overlap the front bottom teeth, all of a sudden, the painful side of her jaw would not allow her teeth to close all the way, and it was as if her whole bite had shifted over significantly, and her teeth now rather than fitting comfortably together, awkwardly mashed on top of each other.
Naturally, as one does, Charlotte took to the internet in attempts to self diagnose. She pragmatically rejected the notions of some type of oral cancer or rare mouth disease. It seemed logical that she was experiencing a severe case of bruxism — teeth grinding and clenching resulting in exposing bone growth within the gums. However, as she read on, it seemed like her case was…well, above average, but this time in terms of destructive potential. If it did not simmer down, would she face permanent misalignment of her bite, difficulty speaking and eating, damage to her hearing and more. It was even possible that the bones would need to be surgically extracted! Yet, somehow, as she considered the consequences of this, it seemed unlikely that the tooth fairy would leave financial remuneration for surgically extracted bone fragments underneath her pillow, and that instead, it would be both a painful and painfully expensive procedure.
She fired off a panicked late night email to the office informing them that she would be out in the morning due to a dental emergency, and spent a sleepless night tossing and turning with anxiety, waiting for the dentist’s office to open.
Christy Thai of Lakewood Modern Dentistry definitely deserves to be put on blast for being the absolute worst. This “dentist” uncompassionately laughed in Charlotte’s face, telling her that these bones had always been sticking out of her gum, and that her misaligned teeth always looked this way, saying something along the lines of:
“Bones and teeth can’t just shift overnight. You probably just didn’t realize how messed up your face actually looks until today. Wait three weeks for the pain in your jaw to go away, which it will probably just do on its own, and if you are still worried then, we will send you to the orthodontist to get some braces.”
“Hold up, Dr. Thai. I mean, with all due respect, I think I would know it if I was walking around looking like a modern Picasso incarnate with my face all scrambled up. Like, what if your nose suddenly shifted from being in the middle of your eyes, to being underneath one eye only? This is what happened to my teeth. It is not normal and it is not okay.”
“Bite down for me?”
Charlotte, crying: “I CAN’T. MY BITE DOESN’T GO TOGETHER. THIS IS WHAT I AM TRYING TO TELL YOU.”
“Okay, you’re clearly crazy, but you also have some TMJ, so just get a mouth guard and call us in three weeks if you are still worried. Don’t panic, BYE!”
This being her first experience with TMJ, Charlotte had no choice but to decipher the acronym into “TOTALLY MESSEDUP JAW.” Borderline hysterical, she drove to the office. Upon arrival she consulted with her coworkers.
The difference between fake friends and real friends: the real friends not only believe that you are not crazy, but they even want to verify your evidence by asking to look inside your mouth at your bone growth.
“Nah dude, it’s really gross for you to look into my mouth,” Charlotte cautioned. Not only did this true friend adamantly desire to take a look, but she also gasped outloud, was like “HOLY SHIT YOU ARE RIGHT I SEE THAT CRAZY BONE,” and then encouraged other real friends to examine the bone too.
They then rallied with her to come up with a game plan for a second opinion, frantically searching the internet for chiropractors with specialization in TMJ and/or just being hot male chiropractors that said coworker had prior experience with.
“He will teach you how to squat properly in his office, so even if it doesn’t fix you, at least there’s that.”
Soon, Charlotte and her Totally Messedup Jaw were on their way to Irvine. It was her first chiropractic visit, and she was somewhat nervous and skeptical as she signed her way furiously through all of those papers that you know are like, “you’re probably going to die and/or become paralyzed, and if so, we have nothing to do with any legal accountability so good luck with the impending medical bills k thx bye.”
She grimaced as she presented her card for payment…“are you sure you guys don’t do any pro-bone-o work?” Unappreciative of her pun, the disappointingly non-sexy chiropractor took her into his back room.
It took him a mere five seconds to feel her jaw and affirm to her that rather than being crazy as the dentist had suggested, she was totally right, and he could tell just by asking her to smile that some crazy things were happening for her jaw due to extreme levels of stress and tensely keeping herself in a clenched state. While it was not as bad as some of the cases he had seen, her mandibular disc had definitely slid out, hence the slide to the right that her bottom teeth had experienced.
“I could completely remove your whole jaw from its sockets and slam it back in to fix this,” he calmly prescribed, “as that is how MOST chiropractors would resolve this situation. Yet the result of that will be excruciating pain…”
Expectantly hoping for him to reveal a plan B, Charlotte expressed her best apprehensive face.
“However, I did my entire internship on Totally Messedup Jaw and I have learned that there are better ways of treating it that I would like to start with.”
So he massaged her jaw with those electo-pulse-pad things that go by some much more medically advanced proper name, as well as using this little hammer tool to slam all around her mandibular joint. Then, with the force, sound and grace of a polar bear slamming through an iced-over body of water, he cracked her neck and back into oblivion and sent her on her way, with instructions to return first thing in the morning for a progress update, as well as to abide by a relatively liquid diet while she waited for it to heal.
Charlotte’s standard diet is comprised of equal rations of coffee and wine which typically assume the majority of her own personal food pyramid, so the instructions didn’t seem too difficult. As she simmered a soup while sipping Shiraz, she reminded herself that even in the darkest of times, as long as the jokes you are making about your situation are even more terrible and lame than the situation itself, you’re probably doing okay. When you are being literally worked to the bone, and killing yourself to kill it, literally grinding so hard that you are grinding your jaw out of your face…you just have to remember, while stress bones may not be the same as funny bones, the whole thing IS kind of humerus, and at least now this explains the headaches, and you have an x-ray of your anxiety. It’s a tangible thing. She has vowed to wear a mouthguard to work from now on, because the bridal industry and the NFL should have at least one thing in common, after all.
It’s a self realization that occurs time and time again in the hardest of ways, when you understand that you are detrimentally dedicated. And maybe it is the lesson to put into practice in 2018: that rather than allowing yourself to be in situations where your dedication will be abused and taken advantage of to extreme degrees, that it is time to identify places where your dedication will be honored, uplifted, and fostered in a way that is positive for everyone. Rather than dedicating yourself so deeply to a relationship that will only bring you personal woes, or spending all of your time in a place where your wellness is disregarded, there are people out there who have your protection in mind, and these are the people and places worth pouring yourself into.
This concludes the excerpt “Charlotte And The Jaw-Dropping Day,” a portion of #MemoirByChar, coming vaguely someday to a bookstore near you.
*For reference, below is a photo of what my mouth looks like when I bite down as of a couple weeks ago, vs. what my mouth looks like when I bite down as of today. Or should I say TMJoday.