Motherhood Hurts My Face

"Why are you doing that?"

"What do you mean?"

[Wrinkles face up and blinks several times in a row] "Why do you do that?"

I laugh. "My eyes itch sometimes, that's why."

An itch wasn't exactly true, but was as close to an explanation that I could give the five year old little girl who was asking, and it took me back to when I was little...

For as long as I can remember, I have had annoying "bad habits". Or at least, that's what I called them. The earliest one I can remember was pushing the lower part of my jaw out (think Bubba, from Forrest Gump). I did it constantly, and my family made fun of me sometimes, but it didn't really bother me, and eventually it went away. Any time one faded, though, another sprang up in its place. And then there is the one that has always been there, the incessant over blinking.

It wasn't until I was older that I recognized them as motor tics, "short lasting spasm-like movements of particular muscles". It is very common, especially in children, and they usually go away as one gets older. Mine stuck around, but they still didn't really bother me, except when they would flare up during stress.

Then I gave birth to my son.

Many new parents will attest to the fact that the craziness of bringing a human being into the world, and then having to figure out how to keep it alive, healthy, and happy can do a number on the nerves. Emotions go on hyper-drive, especially while the postpartum hormones are swirling. I found that the tiniest little things, like certain commercials, would pull at my heart strings like they wouldn't have before, because when your heart is raw and you're too tired for protective walls, everything hits the tender surface.

It was around this time that my tics started really getting on my nerves. I have never been officially diagnosed, but due to my age when they first started, the fact that they never went away, and that it runs in my immediate family pointed me to Chronic Motor Tic Disorder. Off the top of my head, I have the following tics, at least one per second:

  • Excessive eye blinking

  • Nose twitching

  • Mouth twitching

  • Raising of the eyebrows

  • Toe twitching

  • Fingers and hand twitching

  • Contraction of the muscles including but not limited to: muscles in my forearms, neck, legs, feet, chest, belly, and back

What is so weird about this disorder, is that the tics are considered "unvoluntary", which basically means that if I concentrate really hard I can control them, but it's like not scratching an itch, and eventually I have to give in. The brain is a funny thing; it sends signals of some kind that I don't understand, telling any of my anxious energy to manifest itself physically through body movements. The best way that I can explain the feeling it gives me, is a "pressure"in my lower core that sits there until I relieve it.

So why does motherhood hurt my face? Because where I used to have flare ups, fits of tics are now my constant reality. I didn't understand at first, until I realized that any time I am with Declan, my intense emotions stimulate my brain, which in turn sets them off. I almost decided to give up on contact lenses before I figured this out, convinced that the brand of lenses I was using were simply irritating my eyeballs into blinking so hard and often. Here are some examples of moments where the tics are harder to control:

  • Reading with Declan, especially when he plays with his hair or turns the pages

  • Holding his hand on our daily walks

  • Hearing him say "mommy"

  • Playing soccer

  • Playing in the bath

  • Playing with blocks

  • Playing anything

  • Dancing to Elmo songs

  • When Brian makes Declan laugh

The list goes on. Some days, especially if I'm also tired or have had too much caffeine, it can affect my ability to fall asleep, and I find myself having to take Tylenol to relieve the muscles in my face and jaw.

Recently, I have begun trying to divert the tics from my face into other movements that don't bother me as much, like in my hands and feet. Eventually, I will take the time to working on diverting to actual movements such as writing things down. In the meantime, I have learned something really valuable. All of my life I been a reserved person, especially with emotions. My personality type (INTJ, Enneagram 5) is very logical and has a deep mistrust of emotions, especially making decisions based on them. However, with the birth of my son, I have been given a second chance to get to know and learn from my emotions, because the protective walls I kept up to keep them at bay are much thinner now. 

Think about it. I have a direct signal, a physical signal, through my motor tics that tell me out loud: "your brain is stimulated right now because of the intense joyful emotions you are currently experiencing". They still flare up when I'm tired or stressed, but they are much more apparent when I just can't believe how blessed I am to be a mom to my little boy. And for that reason, I'm incredibly thankful they stuck around.