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I'm sitting at a stoplight and notice a dull ache on both sides of my face. I realize it's been quietly pulsating in the background for awhile, but just now became strong enough for me to take notice, since it's blossoming into a headache. The cause is easy to pinpoint: once again I've been absentmindedly clenching my jaw, for who knows how long. Since I woke up? Since last night? Since the birth of my first child?
I force myself to unclench and do the jaw exercises my PT mom taught me to stretch out the muscles and ease the headache. Then I start clicking through the things in my mind that might be the source of my tension. Usually it's as simple as there is too much on my to-do list, not enough time to do it, and I feel I'm doing a mediocre job on my many roles—artist, mom, wife, cook, cleaner, household inventory manager, etc.
And then suddenly my mind shouts ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! THIS IS THE SOURCE OF YOUR ANXIETY? Suffering, true suffering, is EVERYWHERE. Five minutes watching the news and I'm shocked and devastated about horrendous current events and problems. Meanwhile I'm stressed out because I forgot to add egg noodles to my online grocery order and now I'm going to have to take all three kids INSIDE THE STORE (gasp) and we'll be late to karate? Oh terrible universe, why do you pick on me so? Honestly, sometimes I sicken myself that I can actually give myself tension headaches when I have a beautiful, healthy family, a job I love, good friends and a good life.
I can tell you that this large dose of guilt does not help assuage tension and anxiety. It just adds to it. But whining and complaining is not the solution, either. What does help is objective acknowledgement. This involves realizing and accepting something without getting pushed around by strong feelings. For me this requires some full breaths and calmly stating the fact in my head.
I acknowledge two important factors. First, that I am in fact stressed, which is okay, for it's unrealistic to think we can be all happy and calm all the time, and frustration and anxiousness are real and valid feelings. But they do pass and they shouldn't control my life. (For more on this, reference any number of Pete the Cat books.) And then I acknowledge that these really are very small problems. This is not to engender guilt, but instead to generate important feelings of gratitude for what I have. A few more deep breaths, a smile, and I am better equipped to face my small-potatoes problems, with minimal self-pity or self-recrimination.
All this brings me to my mandible painting. While I was painting it I was constantly thinking about the tension I hold in my body, especially my face. This is why I very purposely painted the mandible lying on its side. In addition to providing a fantastic view of the mandible's more important features (hey there beautiful lingula and mylohyoid groove!) it also, to me, shouts GIVE IT A REST. Give tension a rest, give guilt a rest, give stress a rest. Instead, acknowledge your feelings, recognize your problems, and move on.
And then smile! Life is good.
People have been asking for more in-process photos, and I am happy to oblige: