I woke up at the beginning of this week and felt a hole.
No, not some metaphorical emptiness in my soul, but a literal hole. In my tooth. After a day of dwelling over what my tongue had found, I confirmed it with the weirdest selfie I’ve ever taken. There it was, at the back of my mouth, my tooth – with a hole in it.
If you are new to my blog, you may not understand the dread and panic this sparks in my mind. To sum up shortly, dental work is one of my most hated experiences. The claustrophobia I experience turns on a mighty strong panic response before I even sit in the chair.
So a few days of tormenting myself by periodically checking the hole with my tongue and lamenting the fact that it wasn’t going away, I called to make a dental appointment like a “responsible adult”.
By the time I got to the appointment my heart was beating so rapidly I could hear it, my feet were sweating, and my stomach aching. I took a few moments in my car to breathe, and then faced the fact that these sensations weren’t going anywhere and reluctantly made my way into the office.
Now, my old self would have been convinced this was going to be a disaster. She believed that in order to be courageous you had to get rid of the fear. She figured that in order to do well you had to feel well. And that if I still felt panicky, there was no way I’d be able to be calm. She would have stayed in the car. Correction, she wouldn’t have even made the appointment.
So I took my dragon self into the appointment, full on owning the fact that “this is hard for me but I am doing it anyway”… not even hiding it with the receptionist who was simply asking the usual platitude of ‘how are you’ before checking me in. When I’m nervous I tend to talk.. A lot. You could probably even call it rambling 🙂
Throughout the procedure today I was shaking; sometimes more than others, but pretty consistently shaking. This may sound like a failure in the whole goal of calmness, but I don’t see it that way. Despite my body’s reaction to the situation, I was able to calm my mind. Not for the whole appointment, but on quite a few occasions. Stress may have put me in the chair (the hole most likely caused by stress-induced jaw clenching apparently), but it was in that chair that I could practice calm.
I’ve been a very dedicated yogi over the last month and have also been sitting in meditation daily (sometimes more than once). I have noticed it overflowing into my everyday mindset and how I approach situations – but this was the first time I could really see it make a huge difference.
I found myself in the chair, closing my eyes, and focusing on all the sounds I could hear. I practiced leaning into the different sensations of my body (from the shaking legs, to the feel of the drill). I became aware of all the different places I was tensing up and took time to breathe into every part, relaxing wherever possible. When I noticed my thoughts racing, I brought my attention back to the sounds, my breath, or the different sensations.
It was a deliberate intention to use mindfulness to help myself through the appointment, but the practice itself felt natural, unforced, and deliciously familiar.
And I thought to myself, “this is why it’s so important to train”. The more familiar I become with meditation and approaching life and my experiences in a mindful way, the easier it is to draw on it when things are really challenging. The easier it is to access my ‘new brain’ even when I’m teetering on the edge of ‘old brain’. I am able to calm my body and calm my mind, even if only temporarily or to a certain degree, with mindfulness…. AT THE DENTIST!
I feel like I have superpowers.
Now my strength, courage, and mindfulness practice can take most of the credit for doing so awesome in the dental chair; however, I attribute a lot of my comfort and feeling of safety to my dentist as well.
I have had many dentists over the years; most have been impatient with me (like the one who rage quit and threw the bite block across the room), unwilling to make adjustments to help ease my panic (like not using the rubber dam when it’s not needed, or having the head of my chair a bit more tilted up, etc), all in all some downright added to my anxiety levels instead of easing them. The dentist I had right before the amazing Dr. Hakimi actually refused to make any adjustments and responded to my fears by telling me I was too anxious to do procedures without being sedated (which I actually tried with her, and ended up still panicking through the whole thing, and was sick to my stomach from the drugs..which, again, if you know me.. that’s phobia #1).
Instead of helping me when I felt weak, she insisted on making me feel weaker. She didn’t let me be heard, she didn’t support the adjustments I knew would help me be successful, and overall I felt unsafe and weak.
On the other hand, Dr. Hakimi listens to me, was more than happy to make adjustments, is caring and supportive throughout the procedures, and is extremely encouraging. I never feel my strongest in the dental chair, but he helps me see my strength. He empowers me, by helping me stay connected to that strong and healthy part of me – the part that knows that I can do this despite the fear – the part that can help me through those challenging situations. Having his support and staying connected to that dragon part of me is what made it possible for me get through procedures (even a root canal) without any drugs at all. I am truly grateful for his kindness and patience, and mostly for his ongoing support and ability to connect with the dragon while it’s shaking in his chair.
And like any good dragon does after kicking some serious ass, they celebrate. And what better way to celebrate than with a delicious pumpkin spice treat?