A note about being brave
This morning I went to the dentist for a check up. Not a big deal for most people but this time three years ago I suffered from major dental anxiety and hadn’t been to the dentist for about 16 years. The more I thought about going, the more I talked myself out of it; fretting about the state my teeth must be in, the fillings I would need, the withering disapproval of whichever dentist I saw, judging me for leaving it so long. But the thought of not wanting my kids to be scared of the dentist, and the knowledge that they needed to understand the importance of looking after their teeth, was the wake-up call I needed. I researched local dental practices to find out which ones specialised in seeing anxious patients and plucked up the courage to register myself alongside the boys.
I was still on maternity leave with Jake when I went along to that first appointment with my new dentist. I sat in the unfamiliar waiting room of my chosen practice – one of those that is like the front room of someone’s house, just with a reception desk and a cabinet full of brightly coloured interdental brushes – and filled in the new patient forms with shaking hands. I was going to have to lie back on that huge chair, with the giant spotlight shining on my face, while a stranger poked and prodded round my mouth and told me off for not coming sooner and I would cry and it would be terrible.
And I did cry – but only because my angel of a dentist let me sit and talk to her before she even asked me to lie back on that chair. She asked me to explain to her what I was worried about and what my previous bad experiences of the dentist had been, and what had made me decide to come along that day. Then she let me ramble for about five minutes as the tears flowed and I felt a bit stupid but her kind face looked like it was listening and she didn’t think I was mad or irresponsible or irrational. When I sniffed and apologised she told me not to, and said how common my feelings were and she patiently explained what she would like to do to help me. I began to trust that she would respect my fear of not being in control and wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t happy with and we would start with her just having a look.
So I let her, and she stopped what she was doing with every flinch of my body and asked if I was ok, and my stomach did knots as I feared the treatment that would surely follow. And I did need some treatment – of course I did after 16 years – but I knew it would be ok now. I had made that first step and I didn’t feel judged, just understood and supported, and I kicked myself for leaving it so long when it wasn’t as bad as I was fearing after all. “But you’re here now”, she said.
Fast forward to tomorrow, and I will have my initial assessment with the local Talking Therapies service about my growing struggle with anxiety (over the phone – hello, way to make me feel more anxious!). I know I am a natural born worrier, but the last 11 months since unexpectedly losing my brother-in-law to suicide has pushed my rational life concerns into full-blown, stomach-churning anxiety which I know is not a healthy way to live. It’s exhausting, mentally and physically, and whilst it’s not the “crippling” anxiety that can affect sufferers’ ability to function day-to-day, I don’t want to ignore it and have it become something much more difficult to deal with. It’s taking so much of my emotional energy as it is.
So I’ve made that first step. I overcame my fear of the dentist by being brave enough to ask for help, and I know I need help again now. And I know my general anxiety stems from more complex issues than a bad experience at the dentist as a child, but I’m hoping I can talk through them with someone who won’t judge and will understand. I’ve done as much as I can by myself, but I’m here now.