For a long time, since at least 2015, I’ve known that my face is asymmetrical. I even mentioned it in posts here on fan-b. In a review of oil cleansers, I compared my crooked jaw to Abraham Lincoln’s very asymmetrical face. I later explained that I could never fit the Glossier aesthetic because I’m more asymmetrical than late-life Abe Lincoln in a Milky Jelly Cleanser review. That the halves of my face aren’t perfect mirrors of each other isn’t news to me, and it’s not even particularly traumatic. Lincoln, you know, saved the country, get over yourself, Tracy.
The thing is, I always sort of assumed that I was being too aware of the asymmetry. I chalked even noticing it up to the culture of taking selfies, and moved on with life. I accepted it. I’m not getting paid to be pretty, I told myself. I was always told how fortunate I am to have functional, healthy, pain-free teeth with one small cavity, and I felt like the star student each time I sailed into the dentist for another uneventful cleaning. That something was structurally wrong with my face seemed totally out of the realm of possibility.
It was only when I realized that not only did I not chew on one side, but I could not chew on that side because a whole half of my teeth couldn’t touch that I wondered if something more than just a blip in the division of my cells might be going on. I began paying attention to my teeth when picking out a new insurance plan in February. Finally! A chance to straighten my teeth with the help of an orthodontist, sneak into the ruling class, and overthrow capitalism. I had it all worked out. The line from Invisaligns to the Revolution was clear.
I really believed that the problem was somehow located in the muscles of my face (which I thought maybe I could fix with Botox injections into the muscle on one side, if I wanted to be super drastic about things) until I walked into a consultation with my orthodontist and he asked if I’d been in some traumatic accident. Uhh. Well. No? I mean, I’d been kicked directly in the face when I was a soccer goalie ages ago, but…no? (Again, I was downplaying things too much: a scan of my jaw happened to show just a bit later that the kick probably caused a septal deviation and bone spur in my nose, oops!)
In the month since, I’ve been injected and scanned and studied by experts and the verdict is clear: something happened and it made what’s called the condyle bone grow extra bone. Condylar hyperplasia is the official diagnosis. You can see exactly what’s up in that x-ray above: the far bone on the side labeled “R” for right looks boxy and big. That bone usually plays a role in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), a spot of pain for a lot of people. In my case, the condyle bone isn’t so much playing a role in the TMJ as blowing up to way bigger than it should be, swallowing or dissolving or something a disc, and banging around like an asshole rather than articulating smoothly.
Most critically, the extra bone holds one side of my mouth open so my teeth can’t touch. Apparently even my chin is very off-center due to the extra bone. I couldn’t see it until a surgeon pointed it out to me and then I looked at candid photos from my vow renewal ceremony last year and OMFG MY WHOLE BOTTOM FACE IS TILTED. I literally have extra fucking face on one side, and not the normal, negligible amount.
The whole thing would fall into the “shucks, well that sucks, but also move on” category along with all sorts of other flaws that I’m supposed to feel bad about, but try not to dwell on. But there’s the matter of my future teeth. Experts regarded my trainwreck mouth with wonder in some cases, uncertain how my top teeth and bones could be so even and normal while the bottom is such a mess. Apparently, mouths don’t like to have dead air between teeth, and my top jaw and molars should have started to move down to close the gap so they could snuggle with their friends on the bottom. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. Yet.
Well, the idea that fixing this whole mess could get harder down the line and that my precious teef could fall out in places convinced me. This shit has to get fixed.
The plan of treatment is more or less set now, barring any evidence of further bone growth. I’ll wear braces for two years total and get what’s called a bilateral sagittal split osteotomy (BSSO) surgery one year from now in order to cut the extra bone from my jaw so that my teeth and upper jaw can be saved from future, more invasive treatment.
My main hope for the surgery is that I’ll be able to chew on both sides, avoid future complications, and look more or less like myself. Well, my original self. When correcting a bone deformity like this, it’s impossible to go back completely to what I was before. There can be nerve damage, a loss of feeling, lasting pain, and a lingering off-ness that never quite resolves itself. I’ll need to take off a lot of time from work to recover and drink all of my meals through a straw for weeks. General anesthesia terrifies me. Not to start shit in a post about my ~tragique~ bone deformity, but the idea that influencers are blithely discussing their sponsored kpop-style v-line surgeries that involve shaving down the jaw bone for cosmetic reasons terrifies me. It’s major surgery!
The reason I’m going forward with it is because of Dante, the Medieval/Renaissance poet and statesman. At the start of Inferno, he says that he’s halfway through his life: at the time the poem takes place, he was 35 — my age. The idea that even in 1300, the expectation was that people would only die at 70 gave me a good frame of reference for my own life. Even by Renaissance standards, I have a whole back half of this shit to go. By modern standards, who knows, I could live much much longer than 70. As a result, I NEED MY FUCKING TEETH! I have a lot of things to chew and I might as well correct this shit in hopes of avoiding a vastly more traumatic surgery in the future.
So here’s the part where I pull on my hair and bang on the desk in hopes of doing some good.
We can’t be sure why this bone decided to grow extra stuff when I was already an adult. This is absolutely, 1000% not normal — it’s super weird for facial bones to grow extra once someone has stopped growing. But the best guess so far is that it happened due to a vitamin d deficiency in my 20s or 30s. Even after a year of daily supplementation, my vitamin d levels were just barely ok at my first ever annual exam in 2016. According to my GP, it’s hard for people where I live (NYC) to even get quality D when they skip sunscreen. With crap vitamin d levels, apparently some hormones go nuts and blah and blah and boom there’s more calcium just floating around anxiously, looking to make extra bone, from what I can gather (I am NOT the kind of doctor that does anything with medicine, in case you can’t tell lol.)
To be clear: I noted my asymmetry here on fan-b even before I became a daily sunscreen wearer, so my bone didn’t grow as a result of that.
Anyway, I want to say something in support of annual exams, vitamin d testing, and consulting trained medical pros when there’s an issue. The beauty internet (skinternet) has grown wildly in part thanks to the major holes in healthcare access and dermatological treatment. I’ve heard more than one account of derms prescribing Retin A without mentioning the need for daily sunscreen ffs; blogs and IGs are circulating essential, potentially life-saving skin protection knowledge.
At the same time, the DIY impulse in beauty and wellness can make one believe that there’s a way to fix things — everything — without ever stepping into a medical office. The idea that I grew some extra face possibly due to a vitamin deficiency that could have easily been spotted and corrected had I just used my health insurance and gone to the bloody doctor for an annual exam is a bit maddening. Instead, I need to do something wildly invasive and painful just to get somewhere in the ballpark of what I was before the bone decided to fuck me up. I didn’t go for ages because I didn’t quite understand that I needed an annual exam and I also wasn’t exactly looking forward to getting a lecture on losing weight. urghhhhhhhhghghggh regreeeeeeeeeeeets
On top of all of this, I realized while searching the scholarly literature that vitamin d deficiency can contribute to acne inflammation. And alopecia areata (which I had in 2015). In the course of focusing on my skin, I potentially missed the big picture — which in turn could have helped my skin a lot sooner.
All of this is to say that if you’ve been looking for a nudge to seek professional care, this is it.
The reason I knew to take vitamin d supplements was because a friend of mine wrote an impassioned Facebook post letting us know that most people don’t get enough. At the time, I felt like my brain was melting, so I looked up some symptoms, went O.O, and ordered a bottle. Soon, I felt vastly better and a year later made it into the doctor for my first ever annual exam. The ideal course of action would have been to get my vitamin d level tested to make sure I even needed supplements, get the ok from my GP, and then bathe in the stuff, but as I said, my brain was melting (possibly due to the vitamin d issues). In some cases, doctors can write a prescription for crazy doses of vitamin d and insurance might even cover it. These are the ones I’m currently taking (5,000 IU), but def get tested/get the ok from your doctor first because it’s possible to OD on vitamin d (rare, but possible).
At 35, I have braces for the first time! It’s so strange. So far, they’re only on the top teeth, and not yet even on the backmost molars. Since discovering my bone issue, I’ve been living in the first act of some sort of lite body horror movie. At first, when I was barely sleeping due to stress, I imagined that my teeth on the problematic side had all disappeared and there was a hole in my face that I just couldn’t feel.
The pain of braces was grounding, but now I experience everything with strange fear. I floss my teeth and think I’m yanking out a tooth when the floss catches. I live in constant terror of getting hit in the face and having the wires poke a hole clean through my skin. But it all feels more normal and doable the more I get used to it.
I’ve dealt with disordered skin for ages, but somehow rogue bone seems so much more catastrophic. I suppose because it is; never in the course of my acne treatment did anyone suggest hacking off a chunk of my skin and plating it back together with the help of screws as a fix.
At first, everything felt impossible. The first surgery that was suggested was vastly more expensive and complicated. I had to learn how the American insurance system works pretty much in the course of a few days (I, the person who hadn’t had an annual exam before late 2016 and has done a lot to avoid non-acne prescriptions, had to change). And then, of course, I had to pay for everything and think about the logistics of pretty major surgery.
Some might look at this and call it self-care, but I see it as getting my shit together. As we discussed on the Snailcast earlier this year, the concept of self-care has been co-opted when it originally meant caring for oneself despite major structural obstacles, often relating to things like racism and disability, and relentless signals that one isn’t worthy of care. That’s not my experience; I’ve been able to avoid getting my shit together up until this point precisely because I have major structural advantages — there’s no need for getting one’s shit together if there’s always a solution for problems, even catastrophic self-made problems.
This isn’t really wellness either, with the exception of the last thing I did (floating). My goals of knowing what the fuck is going on with our money, maybe saving some money by doing our own chores, eating some damn veg, going to the doctor for once, and adding some extra walking into my life are the sort of very basic, uncool stuff that lacks the cool, trendy element that could elevate it to ~wellness~ status. For a whole lot of people, including me, attaining “health” isn’t something to sneer at or dismiss as a given.
In the wake of discovering that I had managed to grow a little bit of extra face, there was chaos. And then…it was ok. I made decisions, got a plan together, and executed the plan. This is what I do for a living at the office, it’s not more than I can handle. Here’s what helped me get my shit together.
YNAB: You Need a Budget
In the earliest days, when everything seemed totally impossible, a few people mentioned in reply to my semi-deranged Instagram Stories that maybe I could consider a GoFundMe or something like that to cover the surgery cost. It was such a kind idea to put out there, but knowing that I had people sending me good energy was what I really needed.
Getting a diagnosis like this wasn’t uhh ideal, but I wasn’t in the worst shape financially because I’d started using a budgeting app called YNAB (You Need a Budget) in February of this year. Around then, I realized that as our family made more money, more just flowed right back out — often on stuff like dinner delivery that didn’t give us much joy. I got the thing set up, made a working budget, and managed to sail through paying for stuff like extra taxes and an $800 vet bill without crying. A month of surgical consults (not covered by insurance, isn’t that cool?!), various scans, and tests cost $2K and drained my starter emergency fund like bills were me hoovering down a cocktail in the 2000s, but I managed to cling to debt-free life despite some freelance money not showing up on time. YNAB is fucking magic and I am ALL about emergency funds now, omg.
I don’t actually have a referral link or code for this because I signed up through iTunes, but you can easily find codes for at least a trial month on the YNAB subreddit, usually in a stickied post right at the top. If you’ve been wanting to feel able to sail through financial crises with less anguish or dig out of debt, I can’t recommend it enough.
Laundry at Home
In an effort to make the budget balance and try to incorporate more movement into my day, I decided to no longer use a cleaning service and to try to do most of our laundry at home rather than using a wash-and-fold service for $1/pound. $400ish per month times 12 months equals ehh just about my share of my new face.
I attempted to do laundry at the local laundromat, but it was kind of a nightmare: it’s not actually dead cheap, fighting for machines is a pain, and other patrons were touching the machines with gloves on as if they knew something about a germ situation that I didn’t. HELL NAW.
I decided to finally try something I’d been meaning to do for ages: get a portable washing machine. I went all out and got a model with a pump and tons of wash space (in retrospect, I should have bought the smaller, cheaper model with a pump because I end up washing TOO MUCH and had to buy more drying racks).
To make the experience feel less sad and more ~luxurious~ I got some samples of detergent made by The Laundress. You can get samples on Amazon (you pay $2, but get that back in credit to use on a full-size Laundress product), but I recommend going direct to the source to buy samples of The Laundress x Le Labo detergents. They actually have a Santal 33 laundry detergent that you can sample. (Here’s a referral link for $10 off your first Laundress order.)
The whole thing ends up being kind of meditative due to the work involved in portable laundry (it’s more demanding than traditional washers, but not too wild), the machine gets clothes super clean, and the apartment smells like fresh laundry when I walk in the door, so I’d actually say that this is kind of an upgrade.
Cooking and Health (TW includes discussion of weight loss and tracking)
Looking good in a bikini is just not my thing, it’s never going to motivate me. Giving myself the best odds of making it through surgery with minimal complications? Very motivating!
I’ve been doing Weight Watchers since April 2016, and I’ve managed to lose juuust under 75 pounds. It’s been a really hard journey, up and down, because I find it difficult to stay on track when it looks like world events are going to get everyone killed; why not have the burger if the nuclear arsenal is in play, I fucking love burgers!
75 pounds is a lot now that I think of it, but I’ve tended to focus on the million failures along the way. But I didn’t give up! Another Weight Watchers member on the in-app (member-only) social network called Connect shared her philosophy: “No matter how long it takes, I’m going to see this through.” Healthy eating and exercise…do not come naturally at all, nothing about this is easy for me, there’s never going to be a point where it clicks and feels natural. But seeing people who kept failing and then got back up to carry on has been wildly inspiring. There are grannies losing weight, people getting off meds they no longer need, and a whole lot of people trying to make the scope of their lives as big as possible.
Tracking food and thinking about weight loss isn’t for everyone, and I don’t think it will become something I talk about much on the blog because it’s kind of just a personal, quiet struggle. If you want to try Weight Watchers, you can use the online version (which is what I’ve been using, I don’t do meetings eep) free for a month with this link. I post infrequently on Connect (username: fanserviced), but nothing too exciting. My husband has used a free app (MyFitnessPal, I think) and his phone’s pedometer to lose almost 30 pounds in a few months; there are a million ways to make it work, and not all of them are paid (I use Weight Watchers because I need the newly revamped points system to help me prioritize veg and lean protein, I need all the bumper in the bowling alley lol). I also use a Fitbit to track exercise, in part because I want to get “credit” for workouts so I can keep eating lots of tasty food lol.
A huge reason I’ve been able to turn things around in 2018 is due to a recipe blog called Skinnytaste. As someone who is never going to be skinny and never has been skinny, I was sort of O.O at the name and concerned, but it’s amazing. Most of the recipes are just good food that’s not too hard to cook with plenty of veg and lean protein, but not in a sad way. I even recommend it to people who aren’t trying to lose weight because it makes eating more veg so enjoyable. Today I’m having tacos (with a bunch of black beans, corn, and fresh tomato plus homemade salsa) and later this weekend I’m making this mind-blowingly good crab guacamole. Of the two Skinnytaste cookbooks, I prefer the first one (try the Egg Roll Bowls, hnggg).
I use a service called AnyList to grab recipes from websites, organize them, quickly assemble grocery lists, and sometimes even plot out which meals I’ll make on which days. I went from being pretty haphazard about how I grocery shop and honestly wasting a ton of food to having my shit together.
My splurge for the month was decided when I couldn’t sleep very well and I kept thinking about how monstrous my face had become. Not good.
As someone with (diagnosed, but currently unmedicated) ADHD, meditation is damn near impossible. Even talk therapy is tricky; I’ve been told that it’s pretty pointless for people with ADHD, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. And I didn’t feel like my body issues were of the lasting, damaging kind: I sensed that I just needed to relax, sleep, and settle into my new reality a bit. Once I saw a guy friend from college rave about floating in a sensory deprivation tank, I decided to finally give it a go.
I found a local place called Sacredwaters (5-35 51st Ave in LIC, NY 11101. Use code fanserviced for 10% off your first float.) with a float tank and visited about two weeks ago. It was amazing. The shop smelled so good and everything in the store was really peaceful. Then I got to go into the floating section, take a shower, and actually get into the float tank (the whole floating area is private and you float naked). Sacredwaters’ float tank has a sliding door, so you step into it and then it’s kind of like floating in a dark, but open box. I was able to control the music and lights (I turned both off) and then I just focused on what I felt.
Sensory deprivation floating involves lying in a bunch of super salty water that buoys your body. It doesn’t work for everyone — if you have anxiety or claustrophobia, it could be very unpleasant. I ate a small, protein-dense breakfast before floating and skipped my morning coffee so I’d have the best chance of relaxing/not freaking out. The temperature matches the body’s temperature and some people eventually feel like they’re floating in nothingness. At first, I focused on not touching the sides of the tub. Then I thought through some things that had been bothering me — I actually cried a few times as I made peace with my treatment choices and what had happened to my bones. Toward the end, I was able to just…be, and floated without thinking a whole lot. Toward the end, my neck muscles released; I never even realized they’d been tensed, it had felt so natural for the muscles to be tight.
By the time the reggae music came on to signal that float time was over and I should take a shower to rinse off, I had gone on a whole fucking journey. I felt incredibly free and happy and energized. The Sacredwaters staff member who introduced me to floating had arranged with me to set my tea on the bench in the yard behind the float tank. I stumbled back, barefoot, and sat in kind of a daze while I listened to the sounds of the neighborhood and put on my skincare.
I left Sacredwaters super energized. I actually went and got a cold brew (I can only take so much relaxation lol), went home, and make a whole lasagna from scratch including the noodles. I felt totally recharged and just super good; I can’t wait to go back, floating for me seems like essential mental hygiene.
Not sure. I’ve been fixated on work for ages, and really put my health aside in hopes of paying the bills and then in hopes of gaining immortal fame by reporting on things like how to use acids as deodorant lol — and I don’t want to go back to running from one job to another. True story: I was once diagnosed with workaholism by a therapist…but I wasn’t there to hear it because I was…working. lol I’ve started doing radical things like seeing my family, going out to dinner with my husband, and enjoying the city. I’m actually scared of going back to what was normal for so long.
At the same time, writing is really helpful for me as I work through this mess, and I’ve received so much love and support from readers on IG Stories that I kept going forward with seeking medical care even when I wanted to stop and implode.
I’m in a good place with my beauty stash: I have pretty much what I need for a very very long time, so I might just review stuff I’m using here on fan-b and eventually write a long post in about a year about what it’s like to get a giantass jaw surgery.
When I think back to how I’ve spent my time and money until now (including the $6,000 I dropped on beauty products in 2016), I don’t feel regrets. Everything has a season, and I find that life is best when powered by lots of enthusiasm and energy.
But anyway, make sure to get your daily dose of vitamin d.
Disclosure: I bought everything mentioned in this post (including the x-ray! I bought that wholeass thing, insurance didn’t even help!). This post contains affiliate and referral links. Clicking those links before you shop means that fan-b receives a small commission or store credit, which helps to support the blog. Please see my full disclosure for more information.