I grind my teeth. Even when I’m not thinking about very difficult things – such as what present to give my mother for her birthday – I scrape the teeth of my lower jaw with my upper teeth. The dentist kindly but urgently advised me to stop grinding my teeth, because the teeth on my lower jaw have already been worn down to miniature versions of their upper comrades. But that’s easier said than done – because I’m spastic.

My left bodyhalf is spastic due to a braintumour. This means that I have little control over the muscles in the left half of my body. As a result I often (subconsciously) try to avoid using my left hand. For example, I always brush my teeth with my right hand, and use a special keyboard layout which makes it easier to use the keyboard with a right-hand only (the keyboard layout is called dvorak; in both Windows and Apple operating systems there is a standardised possibility to switch to dvorak).

But there are many situations in which a half-functioning hand is better than no hand at all. Try doing the dishes with only one hand; it can be done, but it’s quite a hassle (kudos to those who manage with one hand). When doing the dishes I use my left hand to fixate dirty-dish items in the kitchen sink, while I rinse them off with my right hand (using a brush, of course). If I focus too much on my right hand then I will lose control over my left hand, so the dish-item slips into the dish water. As long as I maintain a proper balance between the attention that goes to my left and right hands the dishes will be done. It took some practice (and a lot of broken tableware) but in this way I can use my left hand.

But then there’s the advice of the dentist. I should stop grinding my teeth. But if I start focussing on my jaws then… You can probably picture it: the dishes would not survive.

Dishwashing and typing are not the only activities during which I grind my teeth. When I’m climbing – even very easy routes – it’s nearly impossible for me to keep my jaws apart from each other. I tried to explain to my kind dentist that his advice was somewhat pointless (although I doubt whether pointlessness comes in degrees) and I came up with the idea to start wearing a mouthguard during climbing.


The moral of this story is this: if you ever see someone typing, climbing, or doing the dishes with a mouthguard in his mouth, don’t be surprised; you might be dealing with somebody who is spastic.

About fbenedictus

Philosopher of physics at Amsterdam University College and Utrecht University, managing editor for Foundations of Physics and international paraclimbing athlete
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