Friday, 16 November 2007

The Start of the Journey...

Hi all,

So I guess this is where it all begins. I'm currently just over 4 months into my orthognathic treatment in the UK.. For those not in the know that's orthodontic treatment that will ultimately end up in jaw surgery to correct my jaw malformation! This will be a long one I'm afraid, but once you're up to speed I'll keep them nice and short.. :)

I've decided to start posting, as when I first had to make the decision about what to do about my surgery, I found looking at pictures and reading other people's stories simulataneously frightened me as well as helped me come to a decision.. But I found that there weren't so many cases of my type (a Class III crossbite - or quite as extreme!!), or much help on some of the psychology behind it all; no-one I could find seemed to be going through quite the same as me. So I thought if I document some of the thoughts and ups and downs of my journey, it might help others to come to their own conclusions..

So where to start. Well, firstly I guess the main point to address is why now? I had my braces put in place on my 24th birthday, despite knowing it was an option when I was 17/18 or so. So let's start with a bit of background... You might want to make a cuppa at this point if you're still with me! :)

I first got seen by an orthodontist at about the age of 12 when my jaw started becoming pronounced and I first noticed it was getting worse. I wasn't bullied thankfully (I guess going to a girl's school helped) but just started being more aware and unhappy. If a cute boy got on the bus I would make sure I sat with my mouth covering my bottom jaw so that he couldn't see it. The rest of my face wasn't perfect, but my jaw became an issue - but then growing up is awkward for anyone no matter what you look like.

The thing was that on average, day-to-day, it wasn't a problem. Generally, you never get a full view of yourself in profile. I was always a very bubbly kind of girl and I wouldn't think about it most of the time, it just felt normal eating that way etc. But on those down, hormonal days I'd catch sight of myself in the mirror, or when a photo would inadvertantly be taken from the side it was absolutely soul-destroying. I thought 'God is this what I look like?? People must see me all the time and think what a freak I am but too polite/scared to say anything..' If you're a fellow sufferer I bet that you don't have photos in profile either. They just weren't allowed! Luckily, unlike some people it didn't stop me smiling and laughing; after all it wasn't so bad from the front and if I put on a happy front then maybe I'd actually feel that way.

For the most part this worked. I then went to a boys' school, where the 6th form was co-ed. After escaping any problems at school, they all hit me at once. I'd walk down the corridors and some of the boys would call out names like 'Witch' or 'Jimmy'.. I'd know this was a reference to Jimmy Hill the ex-footballer and my chin. Instead of brushing them off as I pretended to do, I realised that this was people's first impressions (despite the fact they were only adolescent boys - seems silly now!). It was when they'd call out when I was with a guy I liked that it became upsetting - how dare they draw attention to the one feature I despised; I didn't want them to see it, I felt it'd ruin my chances of getting with them!

So why did I not get my braces put on then? Well, I was in my rebellious teenage phase.. I wasn't going to let some silly boys make me change how I looked.. I was a nice person after all, and had plenty of friends. Why should I conform to what a society thinks is an acceptable way of looking? I thought, if I got my chin sorted out, I'll be perfect, and probably turn into some kind of bitch! I think my confidence started building a little and started thinking I was lucky; I could have had something a lot worse. My mum was taken ill too, and I think I just put it to the back of my mind as there were more important things to worry about.

At 18 I went away to uni. I couldn't believe it but for the first time I found that I could take my new-found confidence somewhere people didn't know me and find boys that were *actually* interested in me! It had been hard, watching all my friends get paired off, feeling like I was going to be 'left on the shelf'. Naturally this had nothing to do with me; it was all about my chin. It made me look so hideous and manly, or that's how I felt.

Generally I managed to get by quite happily; but then every so often when I was feeling vulnerable (usually - how typical) I'd go to the shopping centre during the holidays and hear someone calling out 'Jimmy' - knowing that obviously the boys were still around to taunt me, but never seeing who they were made me really feel under attack. Then once on a night out at uni (150 miles away from home) I politely asked a couple of guys if some chairs were free and heard one of them mutter something involving Jimmy - I couldn't believe it! I was horrified one of my friends may have heard them, and didn't want them to pick up on it.

In my final year I had a routine check up at the dentist; she'd taken some x-rays and while examining them mentioned that it seemed there was some trauma to my ligaments, probably due to my crossbite and it got me thinking.. I'd been having a little pain in my jaw for a while too, although it wasn't unbearable I started to worry a bit about what would happen if I *didn't* get it treated.. Would I be in terrible pain by the time I was 40? It suddenly didn't seem worth all my principles anymore, and I started doing some research into TMJ pain..

Anyway, the next couple of years were hectic and busy and I travelled somewhat, so it was never an option. However, I went for a check-up with another dentist and quizzed him about the ligament problems; I think I was desperate to have a consultation based on a non-aesthetic reason in all honesty. I then brought up the subject with my mum. She wasn't aware I'd actually thought about it again after seeming to have rejected the idea a while back. In fact, I'd hit a low point of self-confidence (a long story) but again it was 'only the chin to blame'. I think I realised then that no matter how much I built up my own confidence (which I'd learnt could only come from within; that's why I don't regret not having it done earlier as I'd learnt some valuable lessons!), I realised that there would always be this one thing coming back to haunt me; I couldn't shake it off no matter how hard I tried, it was so deep-seated in my psychology.

So I went back to the orthodontist that I'd seen when I was 11. Both my parents wanted to come with me but I told them I needed to do it on my own - the truth is I was terrified and had hidden how much it made me depressed for so many years I didn't want them to finally find out. It was like my guilty little secret.

I got to the orthodontist and was seen by one of the post-graduates that was supposed to be doing my treatment. I can't stress how important it is to have the right person; she was the loveliest girl ever and finally opened up.

I sobbed my way all the way through my story. There were years of depressed angst to spill out.

I've never really spoken about it to anyone since either. I never wanted to sound like a whiny, self-obsessed person; I had built up a great facade as full of confidence and didn't want that to get ruined. We had a consultation, she took some casts of my teeth and gave me a rough idea of what she thought would happen, but was going to analyse the casts to be sure. I was booked in to come and see the consultant orthodontist and maxfax surgeon, and would then make a decision - there was no pressure but I would have the facts by then.

I'd read so many scary things about wiring jaws etc and was still not even sure I wanted it done. I mean, jaw surgery??? It's pretty extreme. My whole face would change. Even though I didn't like it, I'd gotten used to the way I looked. How would it feel looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself looking back at you? Questions started buzzing round my head, and I started researching lots so that I'd be able to ask the consultants anything I needed to know. I was more bothered about the braces, surgery seemed too far off to worry about it! I was starting back at uni, how could I get braces again? What would I tell all my friends? Right down to silly things, like would it mean that I couldn't have an MRI if I needed one in the future if there were metal plates in my jaw and would I have problems kissing and being intimate (if I even found anyone that would dare date a girl with a brace??) Was I being completely vain in actually *wanting* it done??

It became ridiculous, and I lost a lot of sleep, but the day came round. The consultants were lovely and really thoroughly explained what they would do - I wanted to know to the letter. They told me that actually it wouldn't be just my mandible (bottom jaw) that would be broken and re-set, but that I'd also need my top (maxilla) brought forward. That came as a shock, and suddenly it seemed very scary indeed. More tears. If there's one thing that'll get me crying it's the subject of my chin! I was also told that my teeth would look worse before they got better.

Anyway I took the plunge and said yes. The first few weeks were a nightmare, but I've gotten completely used to it and even smile in photos now - or have got round it by pouting or sticking my tongue out! It even looks kind of cute, but getting to the stage where the crossbite is becoming exaggerated - it's hard taking the one thing you hate about yourself and drawing attention to it/making it worse..

I've learnt a lot though and my confidence is much higher again. I'd tell my friends that I was having it done and was met with a whole barrage of 'Why's??' - no-one ever realised the extent that it was a problem (to actually resort to have jaw surgery!). Many asked me what I was having done, as my teeth were straight! I still maintain they were just being polite but some people seemed to generally actually not realise that my bottom teeth were way in front of the top! It just goes to show that it's never quite as obvious as you think it is - I've seen pictures of people on the net that have had surgery that don't seem half as bad as me! But it's all relative - I'll notice it on others if there's a rare time I'll spot a big chin and know why..

Still, there's no turning back now. Surgery is a long way off and still feels scary, but there's a guy on my course looking into becoming a maxfax (maxillo-facial) surgeon and has seen lots of these ops done, and that's allayed my fears a bit. I'm still nervous about how I'm going to look - what if I hate my new face? But more than anything I'm fed up of the cut mouth and bleeding gums and food stuck in my brace and just want to be nearer the end! It's a long way off yet though and I hope some of you post-surgery/with braces/thinking about it will be coming along at least part-way with me :)

Here's to a life where I don't feel chained in by my chin!


Lars said...

Hello there,

I am having jaw surgery in a month and have a Class III as well. I am really nervous but I know in the end it will be worth it. :) I had a hard time finding ppl with class III as well. Its relieving to know someone has the same issue as me!

V said...

Wow, a month eh.. how long have you had your brace on for? Yeah it's great having the support there, especially as other people never *quite* know what you're going through! You'll have to post some piccies so we can see the results!

allison said...

Welcome to the club!

A lot of what you wrote is quite familiar, especially the part about the pictures in profile!

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm also a class IIIer in London, 26 years old and 5 months into the orthodontic work. Stumbled across your blog and the posts really do ring true!

Interesting to find someone else in the UK - there's too little info this side of the Atlantic. Good luck.

V said...

Lovely to meet you Chris! Sounds like you're just a little way along behind me - do keep in touch, hopefully you'll find it helpful - you should check out Allison's blog too, she's just had surgery and it's a great read in preparation - though I think they're a bit less keen to wire jaws shut this side of the pond!

Mylene said...


I've just found your blog and I'm going to catch up quickly. I'm also in London and I'm also a Class III.
Many of the things you talk about in this post - your first- resonate. Looking forward to reading more of your adventure, and hoping that the surgery - and the results- are soon.

Anonymous said...

I am a profoundly deaf guy in Portugal and I've a prognatism like you.
I am very happy that to discover so many people with the same problem.
At the beginning I was very nervous about the orthognathic surgery but little by little I am more calmer and more informed now thanks to the blogs of other people in the net.
Next month I'll go to my first appointment with an orthodontist.

I wish you a very smooth recovery!