The Devils I Don't Know
"It's not time to worry yet." --Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
I often joke that I'm a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, which is an anxiety disorder where a person worries excessively that he/she/they are seriously ill or will become ill. I know that I don't actually have hypochondria, of course, however there may be a few kernels of truth in my joking about it. If not a hypochondriac, then I'm definitely a chronic worrier. Plus, I'm already seriously ill (with RA), which might actually be part of my health anxiety issues.
Being struck out of the blue by a painful, serious disease that has no cure is a traumatizing thing to deal with, and it's no surprise that living with such a thing would make a person worry about becoming afflicted with other, similar illnesses. Those of us with RA often do, actually. Developing comorbidities isn't rare, and once you have one autoimmune disease the risk of getting another one increases. Well that's just great, right? It's no wonder that one of my first instincts whenever some new or strange health symptom pops up is to immediately think the worst.
A new symptom? An RA complication?
Hmm, my mouth has been feeling dry lately...I have Sjögren's Syndrome! What's with this new cough? It's life-threatening pneumonia! That odd stomach pain I had yesterday? I'm sure it's kidney disease! Wait, where are my kidneys again? Wow, I'm feeling really winded and out of breath after exercising today...it's a heart attack! That suspicious spot on my hand? Skin cancer, I just know it! Oh wait, it's a pen mark. I could go on, sadly, and even though this is a bit of an exaggeration, it's not too far off-base.
So, when a new pain began to constantly shoot and throb in my lower left jaw a couple of weeks ago, of course I began to worry. Although, I did manage to control myself from thinking that I have Rare Left-Sided Jaw Cancer, I'm still anxious about it. Why? It's new and I don't have any answers yet. These two things can be terrifying when you already live with a chronic illness and you have an active imagination. New symptoms scare me--especially when they don't go away, which is the case with my jaw right now.
When in doubt, see your doctor
Will this jaw pain ever get better or go away? Is it RA-related? Is it a new condition or disease? Is it serious? Is my jaw permanently damaged? Will I need surgery? As the days go by with little to no relief, questions keep swirling round in my head. And so do worst case scenarios. Luckily there is something that I can do to help calm me down a little: go to the doctor.
Actually, I've already had an appointment at the dentist because I originally thought I had cracked or broken a tooth. No such luck. I don't want a broken tooth, of course, but it would have been somewhat of a relief to know what was causing the pain. My X-rays looked fine and the dentist tapped and poked and tested my teeth for cracks and other things and couldn't find anything wrong.
What my dentist did tell me was to go see an orofacial pain specialist. Coincidentally, I've just started going to this type of specialist at the University of Minnesota's Dental School for my teeth clenching and TMJ pain, which has gotten worse lately. My second appointment is tomorrow, actually. So if I can just hold on a little bit longer without convincing myself that I'm dying from face cancer, I think I might be OK.
No, I'm sure things will turn out fine. They usually do. I just really hate weird new health symptoms, especially painful ones, when I don't know what's causing them or if/when they'll go away. I'd much rather deal with the "devils" I know, such as my RA, rather than the devils I don't know.
Have you gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet?