Thursday, September 3, 2009

Loss Part 2: Initmacy

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I can’t think of anything that affects intimacy as profoundly as face pain, especially when it affects the mouth. If someone can't practice good oral hygiene, romance or being close to someone may be one of the first things that go out the window.

So many times I have covered my mouth when someone has entered my home to speak with me. I try to be prepared, but surprise visits can make the Boy Scout's guide impractical. To get myself ready for planned encounters with others, I’ve used plenty of Biotene mouth wash. It’s made without alcohol, and it never bothered me to use it. Recently I tried Crest's alcohol-free mouthwash, and I was impressed. It costs much less than Biotene. The pain, though, was not nearly as acute when I tried the Listerine, so it’s not actually comparing oranges to oranges. There’s nothing, though, that compares to the old-fashioned practice of tooth-brushing and flossing. I have had months on end that my mouth never ever felt clean. I thank God that I am able once again to brush my teeth and floss.

The pain caused by jaw problems, trigeminal neuralgia, and neuropathic facial pain can stop physical intimacy dead in its tracks. In my opinion, there is nothing more romantic than a kiss from my husband.

How do you kiss someone who has trigeminal neuralgia? Very gently. If the pain is on one side of the face, approach from the other side. Talk about it if you are uneasy. If the person you loved has winced when you attempted a kiss, don’t take it personally. Your love interest may have looked as though he or she is a deer caught in the headlights. The thought of kissing can be downright scary for a person with facial pain. With conversation and tenderness, a way to share yourself with someone else is possible.

Nighttime caresses can also be challenging. I remember using a separate sheet and blanket. When my husband tugged on a sheet that we shared, it would sometimes brush up against my face. That’s all it took, brushing lightly against my face to cause the electrocution-type pains. The sensitivity to the pain and its intensity is almost impossible for others to understand, and that is a threat to intimacy of any kind: the loss of trust.

If someone doesn’t accept the plight of a person with facial pain, trust can diminish or even dissolve very quickly. I’ve never talked at length to anyone with trigeminal neuralgia who has not experienced fear of the pain. It’s important to talk about the fear and to be someone who can be trusted.

Sometimes people with trigeminal neuralgia have eye pain. It’s terrible. I remember feeling as though my eye would pop out. I didn’t want anyone or anything near my face. I didn’t want a hug, but I wanted to be close. My husband’s arm around my waist meant everything. A friend who put her hand on my back or shoulder instead of hugging me was cherished.

What do you do if there have been misunderstandings about trying to get close? One way to rebuild trust and intimacy is to practice touching with your friend, family member, or spouse. Another way is to communicate in writing if the person has difficulty talking. Send an email, write a note, use text messaging. No one wants to feel alone. Don’t let the pain win. Be close in spite of it.

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