Note – This post about my stomach and jaw pain discusses a part of my mental health story from 2018 to 2020 and may trigger unwanted thoughts or emotions in those that have suffered traumas. This post is part of a story told chronologically.
Beginning in the spring of 2018, acute pain stung my stomach, near my right kidney. I didn’t know what caused it. I had stomach sensitivities throughout my life, so I wasn’t concerned. However, as the pain sharpened and lasted for weeks, I asked colleagues about it, wondering if it could be my appendix.
I ignored the pain and traveled back and forth from Raleigh to Cincinnati to work military duty. The pain never disappeared. Rather, it ebbed and flowed in varying degrees of spasms. When a new pain whipped my stomach, I worried. When flares attacked randomly across my stomach, I imagined a sharp knife slashing thinly across the outer walls. At other times, the pain pricked like hundreds of needles.
While at work, the pain became so intense in my lower right stomach, I went to Urgent Care, then to the Emergency Room for additional tests. The tests showed nothing wrong with my stomach, so I scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor.
My doctor referred me to a gastrointestinal specialist who recommended I flush out my system with magnesium citrate to alleviate periodic constipation. This helped in the short-term, but the pain returned. During the second visit a month later, the GI doctor advised taking a magnesium supplement, a probiotic, and changing my diet to a FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and are prone to absorb water and ferment in the colon. For me, this meant limiting dairy, wheat, apples, broccoli, and cauliflower. I also stopped drinking carbonated water and kombucha.
Limiting these foods lessened the pain, but it never completely vanished. Knowing my appendix wasn’t going to burst, I worried less about my stomach pain as it throbbed in subtle beats during a vacation with my brother and his girlfriend in Europe. However, when I returned to Raleigh, another pain attacked my body.
Throughout the summer and into fall, my jaw hurt when I opened my mouth. When I yawned, the jawbones near my cheeks ached as they separated slightly. A throbbing pain centered on my cheekbones and carried up to my temples. A chiropractor temporarily eased the pain, and he recommended a technique to massage the cheek muscles. With two fingers, he told me to massage the muscle near the cheekbone in a tight circle, then push against and down the muscle to my jaw. This technique relieved the jaw pain temporarily, and I applied the same approach to my temples when they ached in acute bursts. However, this pain flared with such intense frequency that massaging wasn’t enough. I had to close my eyes for long periods of time and wait until the pain subsided on its own.
Maybe I had headaches because I stared at a computer for ten hours a day. I bought glasses that blocked blue light and limited glare, but this remedy lessened the symptoms slightly. Maybe I had jaw pain because I clenched my teeth at night. I bought a standard nightguard and tried to sleep with it, but it was too bulky.
I felt like I had survived a fight with repeated punches to my stomach and jaw. Days after buying the nightguard, my mind came under assault too. Next week, I’ll share more details about the nightmare.