I hate going to the dentist; the dizzying, lemony, antiseptic smell in the waiting room, the surgical masks, bright lights, the faint buzz behind closed doors of equipment which does unspeakable things.
But unfortunately, a few months ago, with a heart-stopping lurch of anxiety, I came to the conclusion that I could ignore a niggling pain in my jaw no longer. I’d known for a while there was a little chip in my tooth – I remember chomping on a popcorn kernel and feeling something tooth-like ominously give way.
At the time, I promptly locked myself into denial, deciding I would reverse the damage (and laws of science) by simply brushing my teeth obsessively…yes, proven cure for fixing tooth decay.
Not surprisingly, excellent dental hygiene was not quite enough and the niggling pain continued. I took over-the-counter drugs and they worked…but then the pain got worse. Sooner or later (preferably later) I knew I was going to have to take the plunge.
After several weeks of pain (and me, being incredibly irritable) I finally plucked up the courage to register with the local surgery. I first did a drive-by to check the place looked modern and clean (important that it wasn’t in an old shabby house, with bloodied, rusty instruments everywhere…you know…like dentists always are??).
All looked satisfactory, so I walked in, registered and to my horror, the receptionist suggested I make an appointment. Like, right then. I half-heartedly set a date, just to humour her, figuring I could cancel it later. But, as I left the surgery, I felt this surge of stubbornness rise up;
This is idiotic…stop being SO ridiculous. You cannot let fear control you like this.
Nice sentiment…but of course, controlling irrational fear, which has no basis in reality, is easier said than done.
Despite the surge of stubborn resolve, I still couldn’t quite eliminate the fear; what if I needed a root canal? What if it was way, way worse than I thought? What if it hurt?
So, amateur dramatics aside, fast forward to yesterday; the Day of Doom.
I hardly slept a wink the night before, I was genuinely quite worried about it. I actually half wondered if I could reschedule the appointment, but knew (deep down) that doing so would take my childishness to a whole new level.
So, when I woke up to grey skies, I clamoured out of bed, heart pounding and spent a bit of time praying about it.
Lord, this is SO STUPID…please let it be ok, please calm me down, please help me to stop being such an utter idiot about a dentist appointment.
And before I’d even opened my eyes, the anxiousness just stopped. No reason, no explanation, just like that: gone.
I got up, showered, dressed, got in the car…nothing, no heart pounding, no mental images of blood soaked bandages. Just calm.
Pulled up, parked car…nothing. Walked in, lemony, antiseptic smell (slight tremor), grinning receptionist, dental nurse calling my name…lying back in the chair, big light being turned on…face in mask looming over my head.
I was actually, unbelievably FINE.
Ok, my shoulders were hunched up and I wasn’t exactly in my happy place, but neither was I dying a slow death of pain and anxiety.
I was right, I needed a filling but turns out, my teeth were otherwise in really good nick; no yawning craters or extensive (bloody, pain-filled) surgery required. Just one filling.
The injection didn’t hurt, the drill could hardly be heard. I was vaguely aware of some prodding and then, just as I’d settled myself into thinking this would take hours, she said ‘Right, you’re done’.
What?? It was OVER? Months of avoidance, pain niggles, stresses, worries, two sleepless nights and then in 20 minutes, that was it? I was actually disappointed. Considering all the fuss and drama I’d created, part of me wanted to feel justified in having behaved like a silly baby.
I over-dramatise the above account slightly, just to illustrate the point about fear; the dark foreboding which can grip any of us…basically the feeling that something awful may happen….or that we’ll fail or look stupid…or end up in a mess.
Franklin D Roosevelt once said, ‘there’s nothing to fear, but fear itself’. And he was right, because on reflection, it wasn’t going to the dentist I was actually afraid of. It was the fear of the fear of going to the dentist. I was scared of how it might make me feel.
Fear can literally paralyse us – it can stop us from leaving the house, from flying, climbing heights…and in more serious, life-altering ways, it can stop us from really loving someone (fear of rejection) cause us to stay in unhealthy situations (fear of being on our own), prevent us from moving forward (fear of the unknown), push us into addictions….and in my case, prevent me from going to the dentist. It doesn’t matter how it manifests itself, it’s all the same thing.
But in the end, the reality was so incredibly, dramatically different to the crazy scenario in my head, that I ended up looking a bit daft.
What are you afraid of? Is it time to face it?