Bad Teeth, Good Friends, This is My Life
Updated: May 3
In counseling there is a term called catastrophizing. It's when someone automatically assumes the worst or describes something as worse that it really is. Additionally, when someone uses language like "always" or "never" it's called overgeneralizing, and in session this would be challenged with something like, "Does it really always happen, every single time?"
Having explained that, I'll admit I just spent most of my morning catastrophizing and overgeneralizing. And crying. Yep, cried for about 45 minutes straight as I catastrophized and overgeneralized. Threw in a little 'predicting the future' too, but I'll get to that.
Here's some back story. 2 1/2 years ago I noticed a little blister on the gum over one of my front teeth - tooth #8 to be exact. This, as it turned out, was evidence of an abscess resulting from a process called Resorption. I'm not a dentist so the best way I can explain resorption is that the tooth effectively eats itself from the inside out. There's no treatment, and no way to stop or reverse the damage, so eventually that tooth will be lost. Not it-needs-a-filling-or-root-canal lost, but pull-the-entire-tooth-and-now-it's-gone, lost. The condition itself is fairly uncommon, and as I am told in attempts to both reassure and sooth me, it's even more rare to affect more than one tooth.
Flash forward to now. Without going into all the boring details, I currently sport 3 impressively beautiful implants due to my resorption, and am awaiting a 4th. While we monitor a 5th and 6th. Yep. What is relatively rare to happen in just one tooth has turned into an exclusive but growing party in my mouth. I keep hearing words like "unheard of" and "I've never seen this" from both my oral surgeon and my dentist, both of whom now feel like family due to the amount of time we've spent together. Well, really more like in-laws I've grown to accept but never actually wanted.
So back to the catastrophizing. In the beginning it was just that one tooth. Maybe it was the braces, the inflammation from the infections or surgeries, or maybe just dumb luck, but over the last 2 years every time I had a routine "let's-just-check-to-see-how-things-are X-ray, they found more bad news. And it was never just bad news, it was always really bad news.
Now, if you've been paying attention, perhaps you caught the "every time" and "always" in my language? But in my case it has been true. Every single time. No overgeneralizing, I promise. I believe I had a total of 8 x-rays, and every one of them heralded a new problem.
Now that you have the basic history I want to say that emotionally, I'm done. I've had over 50 appointments, and 3 oral surgeries with a few extra procedures thrown in. I've spent hours in a chair with my mouth open so wide my jaw ached, my lips pulled and stretched until I thought they would tear, received painful injections in places a needle should never go, and learned to make due with fake teeth I had to remove when I ate. Even in public, for everyone to see. I've paid too much money and spent too many nights fearing what the next damn x-ray would show, and I'm telling you I'm over it, I'm done.
Today I was to have an easy appointment that didn't have anything to do with all that - just a quick appointment to fill a small cavity. "Simple", he said, "just a filling, no big deal". Child's play after all I've been through, right? Yet upon waking this morning all I could do was cry. I didn't want to go because I just knew he would find something horrible in addition to this simple cavity. (By the way, "knowing" something without evidence to support it is that predicting the future I mentioned, and often accompanies catastrophizing.) I'm usually a trooper, but this whole process has really chipped away at my resiliency, leaving my reserves frightfully low. All of this was weighing on me to that point that all I could do this morning was cry, and I hadn't even sat down yet in the chair!
But the thing was I was right. I sat hopefully in the chair only to learn that simple cavity isn't as simple as he thought, and now I need a root canal. Sigh. And then cry, again.
But I love my friends. After the appointment, mouth swollen and numb, I sent out a couple texts searching almost desperately for some support. One brought up self-care. She validated the shittiness of this experience then reminded me of just how important it is that I take care of myself, giving me permission to let go of my frustration and pamper myself instead. This has been a really rough road, and I do deserve something a little extra special because of it. (And no, going to Starbuck's to write final case notes for school is NOT self-care. Thanks girl, you're right.)
The other friend was harder. She offered what I hated hearing, but needed anyway. She reminded me that I have a choice. This morning I was feeling a victim to all this, falling into how unfair it is. "I don't want to go" is all I kept thinking, "I'm tired of being the brave little soldier, " and she reminded me that I don't have to. I didn't actually have to go to the dentist. I could have chosen to cancel. I could have chosen to ignore it all and not deal with it - honestly I could! We are never without choice. Of course there are consequences to every choice, but saying "I choose to go to the dentist, despite what they might find" feels so much more empowering that believing I have to go, as if someone is making me.
She also reminded me that it's ok to cry, to cry my eyes out in fact, if that's what I need to do. It's ok to be angry. It's ok to be frightened and sad and frustrated. That I don't have to be the brave little soldier anymore, unless I want to be - that's a choice I make too.
Damn her! And here I was so enjoying my victimization. But she was right. I am not a victim. I do get to choose how I feel about all this. I don't have to like it, and have no control over the devastation enveloping my mouth (ok, that might be catastrophizing just a bit again) but I do get to choose how I respond to it. I get to choose what I think and ultimately how I feel about it.
And then she made me laugh, and that felt good.
Sitting here at the table 3 hours later, I can just feel the pins and needles starting in my cheek, signaling the return of feeling to my face and mouth. I'm not happy but I'm not crying anymore. My girls helped me with that. After they helped straighten out my rather crooked thinking I am in a much better place to feel the support my husband is offering as he keeps telling me it's ok and that we'll get through it together.
I'ts going to be ok. I'm going to be ok. I'm choosing to believe that, and that's the only real control I have.
Originally published August 17, 2016.