Hello Anxiety, My Partner in Bed! A Note on My Teeth Grinding

It started innocuously. Like a tarantula that sneaks up on you in the middle of the night. (Alright, so maybe innocuous isn’t the right word.) Let’s call it like it is – it started like the devil hissing hellfire or, more accurately – as my boyfriend so benevolently chose to put it – like Terminator grinding someone to dust.

I was found one night grinding my teeth.

It wasn’t a big deal, I thought, as I simultaneously tried to push it out of my head and prise my teeth apart. My jaw felt like the literal rock in a game of rock-paper-scissors. I thought nothing else of it.

Until it happened again. And again. And again. On nights I slept alone, I would wake up with a humming, grinding noise that I was sure was a predator. “Baba will say ‘I told you so. Didn’t I ask you not to live alone’,” I would think miserably as I looked about this way and that, wildly. Pretty soon I realised it was just me once the teeth started hurting like a b*tch.

Also Read: 6 Myths About Anxiety Disorder That Need to Be Debunked

On other nights, when sleeping next to a peaceful partner or a friend, I would be woken up with a terrible urgency. The way I was woken up determined the intimacy of the relationship. “Hey, did you know you’re making an awful noise in your sleep?” a concerned acquaintance might ask. “You’re doing it again!” the disgruntled but concerned boyfriend would mutter, each time physically wresting my jaw apart. “It’s time to get help!”

My boyfriend woke up most nights to find me gnashing my teeth to glory.

So I did.

Anxiety, an Old and Familiar Foe

But it took me a while to get around to it. You see, I already knew what was wrong. I knew the teeth grinding – or bruxism, as WebMD/Mayo Clinic told me it was officially called – could be spurred by a variety of factors: sleep apnea or some other nature of sleep disorder, lack of magnesium, crooked teeth or an abnormal bite.

Bruxism can also be spurred by the one thing I knew had spurred my case. Anxiety.

I have anxiety. I’ve had it since I was a child and I peered across a table at a strange but kind child psychologist asking me to open up about why I found it hard to let worries go. I didn’t grind teeth back then, but I did straighten random twigs and bushes in my path to resemble a semblance of order in my life. (Can you imagine what it did to surprised companions?)

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I also lost sleep, stalled important days/decisions/activities because I couldn’t get over the panic of actually doing them, and spent hours obsessing over something – then reassuring myself – then obsessing all over again – then… You get the point.

Point is, I knew why I was grinding my teeth but I was too afraid to do anything about it.

At 28, and after having discovered you’re anxious for half of your life, you kinda begin to look for signs away from that verdict. Anything that tells you that you’re not tottering backwards.

Hope at the End of My Jawline?

I decided not to do anything about it for several weeks, until the grinding got louder. I found myself unconsciously gritting and grinding in the middle of a morning meeting. I also woke up more often than not, to a stiff jaw that made breakfast a little difficult.

I finally took myself to the dentist first. She didn’t sound any different from a hundred Google searches – “Find a way to relax?” she suggested, while also suggesting a ‘mouth guard’ and showing me what it looked like. (For anyone interested, it looks like teeth-shaped slime.)

I don’t mind the mouth guard – and I did promise her last Tuesday that I’d buy myself one. (For anyone interested, the ones available at dentists’ clinics can be horribly expensive and you can just buy one off the market.)

So I will. The hauling myself to the dentist and acknowledging this was a problem was ONE step. Writing this piece – and constantly editing and re-editing some bits of childhood anxieties – was another. Dragging my ass to a therapist again will be the third.

We can get there.

Also Read: Explained: Do We Really Understand Stress and Anxiety?

You could be grinding your teeth right now. You could also be doing nothing that obvious – but instead suppressing signs of a long battle with anxiety and hoping someone helped. Either which way, do reach out.

I think there’s hope at the end of my jawline. You could get there too.

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