The only thing to fear
Last month, I wrote about an upcoming dentist appointment to repair some damage to my teeth. That appointment turned into another appointment, which was postponed because of the crazy winter storm mid-February. Finally, I found myself sitting in the dentist chair last Wednesday.
I was excited to get my teeth fixed ó so excited that I forgot to be afraid for a second there. Then I got the results of my X-rays. I would need a root canal on the left side of my mouth, the dentist said. Iím sure my first thought registered on my face.
Oh crap ó thatís going to hurt.
I took a deep breath and tried to stay strong. So Iíd need a root canal. It couldnít get any worse, right? (Editorís note: Never say it canít get worse, because it will.) Then the dentist looked at the X-ray of the other side of my mouth and said Iíd need a root canal there, too. Thatís right. Two root canals. Can you think of anything worse? (Surely you can, but please donít try!)
Admittedly, I havenít always had the best dental hygiene. I didnít use mouthwash regularly until my teeth started giving me trouble last year, but by then it was too late. I knew I waited too long to go to the dentist and beat myself up over it for months. For some reason, I was afraid the dentist would judge me the same way I was judging myself. Thatís the main reason I put off going to the dentist for so long ó fear, plain and simple. I suspect many folks donít get the medical care they need because they are afraid.
But there was no judgment at the dentistís office. Instead, I was met with care and understanding. The dentist said he could fit in the first root canal that same day if my schedule was flexible. For a moment there, I considered saying I was too busy. Thatís not exactly a lie ó I am pretty busy most days of the week. Itís not exactly the truth, either. I had put aside at least five hours for the appointment that day.
ďLetís do it today,Ē I said, even though every part of me was fighting against those words.
There are parts of any dental procedure that everyone dreads. For many, the numbing part is the worst. I prepared for the sting, but it wasnít nearly as bad as I expected. Then came the shot to the roof of my mouth, which was by far the most painful part of the procedure. And it still wasnít that bad. As the procedure went on, I became more and more amazed at how easy it felt. Itís never fun to feel all that drilling and pressure in your mouth, but it didnít hurt.
Waiting for my temporary crown fitting, I realized that I had created this horrific dentistís office experience in my head. Past experience should have taught me that decisions based on fear are rarely good for oneís well-being, but our brains do pretty wacky things. Even the most logical people fall prey to internal fear every once in a while. Itís a very human experience to feel afraid and act accordingly.
Once the procedure was complete, I couldnít thank the dentist and his staff enough. They were so kind and supportive every step of the way, surely knowing I was freaked out beyond reason. There was no judgment, only help. I left the appointment with a bit of gum soreness but no nagging tooth pain. That night, I slept soundly for the first time in months.
I realized that I dreaded waking up every morning, because being awake meant being in pain. All it took to change that was pushing past the fear and trusting the professionals to take care of me. This week, Iím wondering why that was so hard for me. Why did it take almost a year to even make a dentist appointment? More importantly, is it possible to identify fear-making decisions before they happen?
One thing is sure ó the one sure thing we all have in common. I am a work in progress. I am learning more about myself every day. I am making decisions based on trial and error, or what most folks call the hard way. If you identify with any of this, I encourage you to push past the fear thatís been holding you back.
Life is literally painful when you live in fear, something I know all too well. Where there is fear, there are excuses. My new goal is to never excuse myself from learning and improving. Iím sure Iíll still learn many lessons through trial and error, but I hope to feel a little less scared and a lot more motivated to be the best version of myself.
If youíre in the same boat, I hope youíll join me on this scary journey. Go to the dentist. Make that career change to achieve your dreams. Confess to a loved one how you feel about them. Be fearless, and I bet youíll enjoy what comes next.