I bit my cheek the other day. It was a rather ordinary moment, by any measure. I was eating my afternoon apple and, in my genuine enthusiasm for the fine fruit, accidentally bit the inside of my cheek. It hurt, of course. It always does, no matter how frequently you bite yourself. But it didn’t bleed very much. After doing my best to examine the injury, I was able to determine it was quite deep, given the way I’d bitten it, even if there wasn’t much blood. Since there was nothing I could do about it, I rinsed my mouth out and returned to my apple. It was painful, but I was able to avoid worsening the injury by chewing carefully and finished my apple. Eventually, I also ate dinner and managed to avoid worsening the injury through another great deal of careful chewing. It required ignoring a decent amount of pain, of course, but I’m fairly used to ignoring pain so I was able to cope well enough. I couldn’t just avoid eating, after all. That would only make things worse in the end.
I had hoped that it would clear up over night, but I awoke the next day to continued pain and additional soreness. As the healing process tightened the skin of my cheek and changed it from pinpoint pain to general soreness, it became impossible to even drink anything without some amount of pain. My careful chewing and attempts to find a comfortable resting position started putting stress on my jaw, which left me unable to find a comfortable position to leave my mouth at rest. Unless, of course, I was biting my tongue. After two days of that, though, my tongue has begun to feel sore and my cheek still hasn’t properly healed. I bit the part of my cheek that keeps food in place for my teeth to grind up, after all. Even if I chew with only the other side of my mouth, that part of my cheek is always brushing against my teeth. Which means I’ve yet to find a way I can safely chew without irritating the injury. This is the unfortunate result of deeper wounds to the inside of your cheeks. You can’t do much to help and you have to focus a good deal of effort on merely not making it worse.
I didn’t tell anyone that it had happened. After all, what business is it of theirs? This effects me and me alone, directly speaking. One friend noticed that my mood was progressively worsening through the week, though, and so I briefly told her what had happened. She expressed sympathy and remorse for my frustrating situation, along with a mix of mild incredulity and awe. It must have been deep if it is still bothering me this long after the incident, she said, frown emoji expressing her empathy. I confirmed that was the case and enjoyed a moment of warmth as I basked in the connection her understanding fostered. Even if my mouth didn’t feel any better, it was nice to have someone validate my experience.
After that, I returned to my life and did my best to avoid irritating my mouth any more than I already had, a task that took no small amount of attention and effort on my part. During a meeting a couple hours later, one of my coworkers asked why I’d been so quiet that day. Usually, I was cracking jokes and lightening the mood during the quick moments of socialization as our manager pivoted between topics and arranged his notes. I did not feel like telling the entire story of my mouth or dealing with skepticism given that it had been multiple days since the incident, so I put in a little extra effort to crack a couple jokes before saying I was just feeling tired. It was a Friday, after all, the end of the week. We’re all a little more quiet than usual on a Friday. It may have taken effort I didn’t want to spend and it may have caused me some pain (as all talking does with this wound on my cheek, especially while wearing a mask), but it was still easier than explaining the actual issue and needing to deal with skeptics and a raft of useless past experiences with small bites that cleared up within hours.
So I lied, I smiled even though it hurt me to do so, and I did my best to pretend everything was fine. I am still doing so, even though it is probably slowing down my recovery. Still, past experience has left absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is better than dealing with skeptics who took days to notice something was off and who can’t see or properly understand the true nature of the problem I’m dealing with. Telling them the truth of things is never as simple as saying “I bit my cheek badly.” Most aren’t even happy with “I bit my cheek badly and the stress of dealing with it is having a negative impact on my day-to-day life” or “I bit my cheek badly and the stress of dealing with it, while also trying to properly care for the wound and my general needs as an Adult Human, is leaving me with little capacity for joy or energy with which to engage my coworkers in meaningless conversation.” Hopefully things will clean up once I’ve had a weekend by myself to rest, but only time will tell. A deep wound that is difficult to examine means I’m not sure how long it will take to heal, even if I’ve dealt with similar problems in the past.
If you think this post is just about biting the inside of your cheek, I suggest you read the whole thing again while considering any invisible illness or disability you maybe have been asking people about a whole bunch or expressing skepticism about. Even good intentions can be harmful.