The 1 Moment I Knew I Had to Take My TMD Seriously (and 5 Things TMD Patients Should Know About Sign Language)

We were trying to check in using a reservation I made. But talking was excruciating. Even trying to utter one word meant my pain levels spiked to a 10 according to the universal pain chart of doom

I  began to cry right there in the lobby. Hard. It was embarrassing. I had this weird fear that people would think I was faking my pain. I was in a rush to get to our room because our one night stay was an expensive gift and I wanted to get all the good out of it while we could. Standing there hurting, thinking about money and career and not being able to communicate a simple series of numbers to the desk clerk was all too much. 

This moment was THE culmination of years of denial about my TMD. 

If you don't know my story, I had "tmj" (aka TMD, tmjd and "ahhh, why does my entire skull hurt constantly?!" ) for years, but it went undiagnosed. During that time, I lost all the cartilage in the left side of my jaw and developed acute arthritis. Now when I speak, my doctor tells me it's essentially "bone on bone". This causes swelling, migraines, vertigo, sleep problems and a plethora of other symptoms.

Of course, I didn't know all that standing in the lobby of our hotel on Christmas day. I just knew that opening my jaw, even a teeny bit, meant a sharp zap of pain running from my jaw joint, up to my left eye and down my neck, then migraine-like spikes to my temples and finally a sickening, nauseating ache through my entire body. Fun, right?

At that moment, I knew I no longer had no choice. I could not speak. I was the only one with the information we needed. I had to write everything down in the notes section of my phone (Not an easy task to type or look at a screen once a migraine has begun.) and my husband had to translate. I also immediately Googled the sign language for "I'm sorry," and, "I can hear you but I can't speak." 

After that day, I knew 2 things:

1. I had to start taking my TMD far more seriously, even if that meant figuring out how to pay for it one doctor's appointment at a time, and...

2. I had to start learning basic sign language! Even if my husband and I just learned a few key phrases. I knew if they were common enough and we could replace speaking them with sign language, it would save me hours of talk-time cumulatively over a lifetime.

People with Acute TMD will start to learn their pain levels. Just like with migraines, sometimes you can catch your pain when it's at a lower level, take care of yourself and prevent the severe pain that might force you into bed for days at a time. (I HATE being stuck in bed. It's my least favorite part of having chronic pain.)

For people like me who have Acute TMD, you should know that sign language is absolutely an option for preventing a bout!

 Here are some other things you might find helpful about the #1 most overlooked pain relief option for TMD sufferers:

1. You don't have to be deaf to use sign language. For a long time, I hesitated really diving in because I was worried it was offensive for me to learn sign language. Which is kind of crazy, right? Because it's just another language anyone can speak.

2. You may not need to learn everything to use sign language. Start with what you need most, start with the alphabet. Start small. As I mentioned, the first two things I learned to sign were "I'm sorry" and "I can't speak but I can hear".

3. You can learn some basics for free at Isn't that cool? I use Giphy a lot to make jokes on Twitter and it warms my heart that they are offering something like this.

4. Learning another language is a good thing to do anyway. Let's say, your TMD miraculously heals and you never need to sign again. Won't it still be good to know how to speak sign language? Won't it be great to be able to communicate freely with others who speak sign language? There's basically no down side to learning a new language.

5. If it helps you feel better, why not just try it? Have you ever heard that joke, "A guy says to his doctor, 'Doctor, it hurts when I do this.' So the doctor says, 'Don't do that.'"?

Well, you just did. It contains some very simple wisdom. Listen to your body. Trying this certainly isn't going to hurt you, so go for it! What do you have to lose?

I know I have some nerve opening a story about chronic pain by telling you I was hurting at Disney World. Not exactly sympathy-inspiring, right? But for anyone with Acute can probably guess how well the rest of that vacation went. I was in absolute agony.

If you can avoid a bout, if you can avoid pain, trust me, you will do whatever it takes to avoid the sharp spikes, ear cracking and constant dull aching of severe TMD. Do yourself a favor and start learning sign language! 

Before it ruins your Christmas/life.