The Closet of Anxieties
Updated again, Dec 17 – Scroll to end for update
In Bloom County, one of my favorite comic strips of all time, a character named Binkley (portrayed mostly as a child) has a “closet of anxieties” with various monsters hiding inside waiting to pounce at certain inopportune times. We all know about that closet and the triggers that hide inside and that is why that particular part of the comic strip was so popular. We can all relate to that experience. I do not imagine that anyone alive doesn’t have some fear that drives them, usually in directions they do not wish to go. Fear is a primal motivator and is part of our “fight or flight” survival instinct. People who have mental disorders that cause them to feel no fear tend to be more maladapted than most people would imagine. Just like the inability to perceive pain, one would think the inability to feel fear would turn a person into a superhero of sorts. Instead, what should be (in theory) a tremendous strength leaves them incredibly vulnerable.
From that perspective, it would seem that our anxieties and fears could be our friends and as a professional life coach, I can tell you that most of what my clients struggle to manage in our sessions and in between are their fears and insecurities. Fear keeps us from moving when we should and makes us keep moving when we should sit still.
My closet of anxieties has gotten such a work out this year. It has been a year of tremendous blessings and beautiful, sacred moments, but wow… I think every trigger I ever had has been thrust into stark focus and exploited to the fullest extent. If my insecurities are a bell, then Uncle Hector has been hammering on it in a frenzy.
It has been quite a struggle to stay positive and centered in the place of love, safety, and magic. Fear keeps trying to call me out and Insecurity keeps trying to knock the tiara off my head. Of course, we will have none of that.
I could go through the list, but it would be boring because it is very similar to what many of you experience. All are things we should, for any number of reasons, not bother about. Will I ever lose this weight? Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Why can’t I do more to help my kids who are in trouble? What should I have done differently in the past to make things easier for them now? When should I step up and when should I shut up? Is this spot basal cell carcinoma? Am I ever going to stop bleeding? Will I never fit in? What if we cannot work through this impasse? Of course, the answers to those questions are very simple: It doesn’t matter. Yes. Yes. It’s not your job anymore, it’s theirs. It doesn’t matter now. When you listen to your spirit and not your fears, you will know. Probably not. Yes, eventually. It doesn’t matter. Then you will survive and move on to a new normal.
Like the grand finale of a fireworks display, the closet of anxieties sent out its big guns to close off the end of the year and being brave with this is not my strong suit.
“Good teeth” are not a blessing in my family as is evidenced by the fact that my mother had full dentures when she was in her mid-twenties. When I was around five or six, I needed several fillings and my mother took me to a dentist. I do not remember his name, but I believe I still have a red string that contains the little metal charms that he would give to his child patients after their appointment time was done. It is likely packed in one of the many boxes of memories in the way back shed that I desperately need to sort and purge (the shed, not the memories). There were five charms on the red string, so five visits.
To jump to the punch line, the dentist was inappropriate with me. I told my mother and this was before the “stranger danger” time when you learn in school or anywhere else what to do if you are touched inappropriately. Sadly, my mother thought I was only trying to get out of the dental work, which was extensive. She told me I had to be brave and repeatedly marched me back into the office over and over again. After the second time, I stopped telling. Nothing happened that was extreme enough to leave physical signs of abuse. Until the day she died, she still did not believe me when I told her what happened and said I must have dreamed it. Normally, a person would surmise that such a thing was not something a child would just invent to get out of dental care. Unfortunately, several months before, a family friend of my grandfathers also molested me, so she thought I was drawing from the immediate response I got from that revelation to avoid the trips to the dentist. The family friend was merely banished from the home and as testimony to their diligence, I never did see him again. In both cases, the abuse was only touching. There was no reciprocation involved or demanded and nothing below the waist of either man ever touched me. In the case of the dentist, I believe it was still too early in the acknowledgement and identification of child abuse for most people to believe that a professional would take advantage of their position to do such a thing. Doctors were still seen as gods in those days and family friends often already had a reputation of skeevy behavior.
In the case of the dentist, I did not develop resistance to being touched below the waist, but instead I connected the experience with having fingers in my mouth. Since that time, whenever someone has their fingers in their mouth or especially if they come in contact with my teeth, I have a bit of a psychotic break. When I would nurse my beautiful, sweet babies and they would instinctively reach up to touch my face and slip their tiny fingers between my lips, I would feel the anxiety come up and have to pull their hands away and kiss their tiny fists instead. It was like a razor blade down my spine. In a dental experience, the anxiety involves sobbing, shaking, and everything up to a full on bean-sidhe scream. No amount of therapy has been able to shake this anxiety. Needless to say, I have not received the care I should have gotten, but a lot of that is also due to the fact that dental insurance is a relatively new experience for me. My last actual treatment was an extraction eight years ago and I spent approximately thirty minutes afterward huddled in the corner of the treatment room, crying and shaking, before I could drive home again.
Last month, I managed to white knuckle my way through an initial exam. It was a very long thirty minutes for all of us and I kept having to get them to stop what they were doing and let me breathe. The staff kept trying to admonish me with tsk tsking remarks about how “This could all have been avoided if…” I gently redirected them with, “Well you know, I am here now and you have no idea what an act of will it took for me to be here, so can we please move forward and not backward?” The talked about the possibility of eventual bone reconstruction. (That will not happen) They talked about eventual crowns. (That will not happen) Instead, tomorrow I will have two extractions (back teeth), four large fillings (back teeth), and all four quarters of deep root planing. The fillings are all in teeth that previously had fillings that were lost over time. I was pleased that I had no new cavities. For the procedure, I am paying a ridiculous sum (not covered by insurance) to have what is called “conscious oral sedation.” I am not complete sure what it does while the procedure is happening, but supposedly, it will have an amnesiac effect. The only time I ever had what I would call a successful dental experience (even though the objective tasks were performed each time) is when I had all four of my wisdom teeth extracted while sedated with IV valium. That is not happening this time. Instead, as I understand it, I will receive a narcotic cocktail and then will get a ton of nitrous. What happens after that, I do not know. I do know that it is a sedation this office rarely uses on anyone except children.
The dentist who examined me is a sweetheart. I was her mail carrier back when she was still in medical school. Unfortunately, she cannot perform the procedure because she is pregnant and cannot be around the nitrous. This passes me off to her partner, who was Eric’s dentist when they were both in the military. He is not known for his bedside manner, but is known for being a good dentist.
I have been a wreck since this appointment was first scheduled a month ago. It is hard for anyone around me to identify with what I feel because it is so silly. They know me to be a practical, fairly logical person and it makes them uncomfortable that something that happened almost fifty years ago has such a profound effect on me. They aren’t used to me showing so much weakness and panic, so I work to keep it away from them. It wakes me up in the night and I try to sit with it and work through it as best as I can. It catches me unaware in the day, but usually, I can push it back until there is a comfortable time to talk myself through it. In many ways, of course, I will be grateful when it is over. I almost postponed because Dylan has a final tomorrow night in his Drama class and will be performing at the high school. I do not expect to be recovered enough to go and Eric has a chat for class, so neither of us can be there to see him, which is heartbreaking. I know, however, that if I do not do this now, I will constantly find ways to talk myself out of it.
Eric will drop me off and go to work while I have the surgery, then pick me up and take me home again after I’m done at the dentist office , then will drive back to work, so I will be alone afterward to process whatever I am feeling. My recovery will be less about the emotions, which will quickly run their course afterward, and more about the lingering effects of the sedation. I will go through this alone and I will recover alone, which is likely best. Fortunately, I have to be there by 7:00am, so I do not have to focus on it through the day.
I know intellectually that I will be fine. I know it will be good to have this problem fixed. I know all of the common sense wisdom about this. In the meantime, I am working constantly to stay calm and centered and not allow the anxiety to carry me away. I received two precious gifts from loved ones today and I wrap myself up in their acceptance and support. I let myself cry it out when I need to, which is fairly often. I am gentle with myself for not being 100% during this time, even though it is a busy time as our Solstice ceremony nears this weekend. I asses my anxiety level and give it an appropriate countdown number (3, 10, 15) and tell myself that when I get to 1, I will be calm and relaxed and most of the time, it works. I hit a 20 recently, but was fine when I got to 1.
So that is what I am doing this week – coping and cleansing. I hope very much to be up and around and normal by tomorrow night. Since Dylan’s performance is not until 7:00pm, I may ask Eric to leave the car in case I am feeling well enough to drive down the mountain and see him.
In forty-eight hours, with any luck, this will be behind me for the time being.
Update, Dec 17, 8:20pm
There wasn’t much sleep going on, so I was very tired going in this morning. Eric offered to stay while I got signed in, but I knew having him there would make me more anxious, so I encouraged him off to work. The dental staff frowned at me because they like to have someone there when the patient is sedated.
It took almost an hour for the process to get started. Luckily, I had a book on tape. When the doctor arrived, he gave me a double shot of something that was supposed to taste like chocolate, but was more like a chocolate gin or something. It started to work in around 20 minutes and it did a nice job of taking the edge off the anxiety and making me a little loopy. The procedures took around 3 hours or so. He only did one extraction instead of two, four huge fillings on teeth that kept cracking as he worked on them, and four quadrants worth of deep root planing. He was very respectful and kind and I appreciated that tremendously. Everyone there, in fact, was wonderful. Cheers to Pleasant Valley Dental.
By the time I was finished, which just like in the stories you hear happened before I thought they could possibly be done, Eric had arrived. They were going to phone him when I was done, but he had a feeling I needed him and I looked up and there he was just as they were getting me up from the chair. I had to stop them around 90% of the way through and ask them to find a pause spot because I had to pee with unbelievable ferocity, even though I’d gone moments before I got into the chair. They were cool about it though and pretty soon, I was done and sleeping my way home.
When I first got home, each tooth hurt from the planing, but I took some Motrin and went to sleep and when I woke up, there was no more pain. In fact, there is no pain anywhere, for which I am truly grateful. As hard this was, I am tremendously grateful that I did it. Now, with any luck, once the healing is over, I will have the healthiest mouth I have had in around 15 years. The support of the amazing people I know got me through and I don’t know what I would have done without you folks. Although it doesn’t sound like nearly enough: thank you.