So far this year, I tell Liam, we have spent $2,304.16 on my health. That’s about $536 per month, I say, incredulously, and it doesn’t even include things that contribute to good health like gym membership, yoga or nutritious food.
You’re worth every penny darling, he says kindly, looking far less horrified than he is entitled to be.
Coming from the UK, I’m not used to spending much on my health at all, much less a significant chunk of my income and more than a week’s rent each month. (I’ll say it now and forever: I love the NHS). Liam and I have a mantra that our health is our most important priority, which is why we have creatively prodded and squished our budget to enable us to get all the treatments we need for our various ailments.
What was interesting to me, when I analysed my pie chart of health spending (of course I have a pie chart) was how stress is stealthily costing us. Sure, over the years I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, on counselling for my mental health. But it’s all the knock-on results of stress that are really hurting our bank balance.
Take, for example, my mouth. For years I have clenched my jaw and ground my teeth in response to stress. Back in the UK my dentist custom-made me a £250 ($485) mouthguard, which did its job fine, but didn’t take away the stress-response of clenching and grinding. In the meantime, my clenching has been getting worse. By April this year I had clamped down on my mouthguard so hard overnight that my front teeth had become loose.
If you’ve never heard of ‘sprained teeth ligaments’, neither had I, until last month. After wobbling my incisors with her finger, my dentist Kirsty took one look at my cheeks ($145), lined with bands of enlarged muscles, and sent me off to a face physiotherapist, with instructions to come back in a week to check on those teeth ($70).
Essentially, my jaw has been tightening and winding up for so long now that it no longer works properly. At my first physio consultation ($160), my therapist looks aghast when I show her the ‘resting’ position of my mouth, a firm clench. She takes out a ruler to measure how far I can move my jaw up, down, and side to side. She half-jokes, looking serious, that before she can confirm the distance on the ruler, my mouth has already locked back to its vice-like clench.
At my second session ($90), after massaging my jaw and temples with a clove-scented thick jelly, it was time to up the ante. Jean brought out the needles to produce twitches at carefully selected trigger points in my temples and cheeks. My face felt as though I’d been punched, sore and puffy, with the ice pack pressed against my skin for the full effect. If I’d thought that was as far as it would go, I was wrong.
As if dry needling in the tensest cheeks ever seen wasn’t enough, Jean pulled out the final weapon in her arsenal. ‘Have you thought about hypnotherapy?’ she asked, in her beautiful, deceptively calming, Irish accent.
No, Jean. No, I can honestly say I hadn’t ever thought about it.
But I have now.
To be continued…
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