Inspired by the incredible C. Jane Kendrick, I’m doing some writing prompts by Ann Dee Ellis. Eight minutes, unrehearsed or edited (though it was more like fifteen minutes this time). Here’s today:
I don’t remember what a typical TN attack (as opposed to the atypical ones) feels like, until I’m in the middle of one. You know how you can recall emotions or sensations years after the fact, and even will yourself to feel it just from memory? I can’t do that for TN, and that scares me. It’s terrifying that it is so extreme that my memory can’t even process that level of pain. I can recall moments of intense grief or heartbreak or disappointment with as much clarity and tangibility that it feels like they are happening all over again, or even things like the pain of spraining my ankle, but trying to remember a TN attack is suddenly a theoretical exercise – I can remember on an intellectual level what happens, where it hurts, how it starts, but I can’t remember how it feels.
Maybe it’s some kind of subconscious self-protective measure, or maybe it’s just that the worst pain that you could ever experience really is more than your memory can handle.
I wish I could express to others how it feels. To anybody who ever thinks it’s no big deal, that it couldn’t possibly hurt that much, that I’m faking it or being melodramatic about it. It would certainly be an illuminating experience for them to spend one second in my body during the worst of an attack. But I couldn’t wish that anybody.
But I can try to describe what happens – I can describe the details, but not the magnitude. It’s a hot and cold and stinging and bruising and pressing feeling, beginning with a bang, or sometimes ramping up over hours or days or what feels like somebody punched me repeatedly on the right side of my face and tried to rip my teeth out. It feels like three wires run through my face and they have suddenly become electrified. These wires branch off around my eye socket, through my cheek down into my teeth, and along the edge of my jaw. One tooth in particular always feels like it’s going to explode and leave a giant crater where my face was; when you’re in the midst of it, that possibility actually seems preferable to having to bear the full attack. The pain knocks you off your feet and makes you curl into a little ball, clawing at the furniture like an animal. Sometimes you cry – which makes it worse – but other times you can’t even make a sound. You have no thoughts, there is no room in your entire self for anything but the pain. Your lizard brain kicks in, but even that can’t manage to regulate your breathing. It’s shocking, it sucks all the air of out of your lungs, it makes you want to vomit and scream but both are impossible. You will grab at your face, wishing you could rip it off; you will bash your head against any hard object, trying to make it stop. And then it’s over.
Dramatic? Yes. I still feel terrible for Nathan and Mum for having watched, helplessly, as I went through those worst ones. I must have looked possessed.
Something else that I haven’t been able to remember until recently is how long the atypical side of this has been going on for. Facebook memories are proving to be very useful for tracking things over a historical perspective, as are old diaries and blogs. It has shocked me to find so many records of myself complaining of facial pain. Most of these mentions worry that it’s my wisdom teeth, or wonder if I’m about to get sinusitis. Always on the same side of my face.
It seems like I have been dealing with this since I was a teenager, without a clue, without an answer or any recognition that it was an ongoing narrative of pain in my life. At least now that I know what it is, there are things I can do about it.
When I first found out that this thing had a name and wasn’t a tooth or an infection or my imagination, it was a relief. Then google told me horror stories about a woman who had it so bad that every day was torture, and when she finally had the nerve severed, the pain came back and there was no further treatment. Wikipedia told me that it was historically referred to as “the suicide disease” because the pain would drive people literally to death. Not exactly encouraging stuff. My case is sporadic and a mix of typical/atypical, no cause has been identified yet. I haven’t had an extended typical attack since the first one, apart from some random attacks here and there, but the possibility – no, the certainty – that it will happen again, sometime in the future without any warning, haunts me.