Taking a Time Out

What does genuine self-care look like?

A friend recently told me that she had started TMJ therapy once a week for her neck and jaw pain. Here’s how she described it:

I lie, face down, on a massage table. They apply stim electrodes to my neck and jaw, and drape a hot compress across my neck and shoulders. Then they turn off the lights, making the room perfectly dark, and I listen to relaxing sounds for an hour.

Stim aside, doesn’t that sound heavenly?

I know very little about TMJ so I cannot comment on the efficacy of this treatment medically. Her insurance does not cover it; so, it’s possible that it’s not accepted by mainstream medical opinion. (Or that her insurance just sucks.)

But it is working for her.

She said that she’d do it daily if she could because she feels so much relief afterwards.

This from a woman who can’t find time for meditation. Who is too busy to find a therapist. Who rejected suggestions that she take one hour per week to sit in a café and write – something she complains no one gives her time to do – because cafes are expensive and she can’t write when she’s around people. Who wouldn’t do things like go for a long walk, in nature, by herself. Who gave up her jigsaw puzzle table so her husband and son could build a Lego project on it. Who gave up exercise because she has no time and a gym membership is expensive and gyms are no fun.

Whose stress levels have been concerning those of us who love her, for years, because they cause migraines and exacerbate the symptoms of her rheumatoid arthritis. And make her, frankly, irritating to be around, complaining about everything, refusing to accept the kindness of strangers.

But, with this physical therapy, she has finally found something that helps her find a quiet place within herself. And it is paying off. Her chronic pain is less and her migraines less frequent, despite a number of unusual stressors. She seems calmer and more open to suggestions.

Unfortunately, the cost is such that she will not be able to continue doing it weekly and is already talking about switching to every other week.

Being the problem-solver that I am, I began to wonder if, stim aside, she could recreate this at home. Could she rest, for one hour, with a hot compress on her neck and shoulders, listening to relaxing sounds in a perfectly dark room?

It sounds simple.

But the answer I came up with was No.

No, she does not have a room where perfect darkness exists. So few of us do!

No, she lives with four cats and two teenagers, so finding an hour of time at home, without intentional or unintentional interruptions, is unrealistic. They live in a tiny house with little privacy. Cats and teenagers do what they do. If you choose to be interrupted by your need to respond to the sound of something breaking or spilling, that is your problem, not theirs. If you choose to be interrupted when they play or fight or slam doors or watch TV or make sounds at birds or scratch in the litter box, that is your problem, not theirs. And they have needs, too, for food or entertainment that only you can provide. For logging onto the computer (teenagers, not cats), or just cuddling (cats, not teenagers).

But No, most of all, because she would not give herself permission to take this time at home. She would not give herself permission to ignore the impulse to clean up the clutter, finish that project, get dinner ready, deal with the financial stuff, answer that text from her boss or her husband or her kids. She could continue to tell herself that watching TV was “relaxing” when, really, it’s just “distracting.”

Framing the TMJ treatment as physical therapy gives her permission to turn off her phone and allow herself to tune-out and recharge, for one hour a week. It’s giving her the space that she can’t give herself at home.

How are you giving yourself time for genuine self-care?

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