[Warning: possible triggers – dental treatment.]
A little over 5 months ago, when the year was young and fresh, and trembling with new-born promise
…sorry…don’t know why I came over all cod-poetical just then…
Back on the first of January, I set out (in typically long-winded fashion) a list of four things I hoped to achieve in 2012. I set out a timescale, too, which called for me to get cracking more-or-less immediately. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened.
Far from getting a new pair of glasses sorted out within a couple of weeks, here I am five months later still peering out through the same scratched old ones with the frames held together with sellotape (but only behind the ear, where it doesn’t really show – or, at least, that’s what I kid myself).
Far from signing up for a new Open University course in maths (the start of a long trek towards a possible – if unlikely – degree in the subject) beginning in March, here I am within a few days of missing the cut-off point for registrations for the second offering of the course, starting in June.
Far from buying a new computer and getting to grips with running an all-new software environment (Linux), here I am still shackled to my old machine and kvetching away about how it takes forever to boot, and keeps falling over (because of overheating problems), and runs ever more slowly (because of …well, because that’s what happens unless you format and reinstall Windows every few months, for reasons I’ve never entirely understood).
And yet, I have better news on the fourth: my teeth. Not in terms of the timescale, I hasten to add. Back in January I blithely set myself the goal of ‘having at least the important work done before the spring is out’, which (assuming we run with the meteorological definition of the seasons) would mean before the end of May. I’m clearly going to miss that target by miles, but I have at least started.
My dentist has always been very insistent that I shouldn’t draw a distinction between the work that was necessary to tackle the phobia that had stopped me getting treatment for 19 years and the physical work on my teeth themselves – he always maintained that I should think of both of them as different phases in the same treatment plan. By that definition, I started my treatment back in the autumn, but if I’m honest, I never really saw it like that. For me, all the psychological stuff was strictly preliminary, with the real treatment consisting in the actual tooth-work.
So when I say that I’ve started, what I mean is that the process of restoring one of the six teeth that need urgent attention has begun. Ultimately, the tooth in question is going to be crowned, so the process of restoring it is going to be a multi-stage one: this first stage just involved clearing out the decay and putting in place a temporary filling that should stabilise the tooth, both in terms of making it stronger and stopping it getting any worse. It was also quite a good starting place, because having this work done has involved most of the techniques/ sensations that I’m going to experience through the treatment as whole – getting the anaesthetic, the various types of equipment, and just the general experience of being in the chair with people leaning over me, bright lights shining in my eyes, etc.
I don’t want to brag, but I am incredibly chuffed with myself for getting this started. Obviously, this is only the beginning, and there’s a lot of work still to come, but just getting this far is really a pretty big deal. As I say, I hadn’t been to the dentist for 19 years (basically ever since my mum stopped ordering me to go…) and the phobia had been gradually building up over that time, which means that it had become pretty intense. Interestingly, I found that it’s the things I experienced as a child/ teenager that freak me out the most, with the new experiences much easier – I’m far more likely to panic when I see the mirror-on-a-stick hove into view than any of the things that are ostensibly more scary. Which is not to say I find any of it easy – I don’t, and curbing the phobia really just means managing the fear down to acceptable levels rather than getting rid of it altogether – but just the fact I can cope at all is pretty extraordinary.
Although I say I’m chuffed with myself, most of the credit has to go to my dentist who is, in a word, lovely. I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to find someone who specialises in tackling dental phobias (rather than just managing anxious patients, which is a bit different). I’ve mentioned before that he uses hypnosis (which I found way more effective than I expected to, especially for managing the anxiety), but it’s actually much more basic techniques that have made the biggest difference. Things like a desensitisation approach (so I got to look at and hold the equipment he was going to use beforehand), and dividing things up into very brief bursts of treatment – so no more than 10 seconds at a time – and letting me get up out of the chair whenever I felt I needed to. He tends to book me in as his last appointment of the day, and lets things over-run without charging me extra – this last appointment where I had the filling done overran by a full 45 minutes – and that sense of not being hurried is a huge help, too.
Well, I could burble about this indefinitely, but I won’t. I’ll just note that I’ve started on the process of achieving one of my goals for 2012, and in the process have started to chip away at one of the major sources of anxiety in my life, which might – you never know – help with the process of achieving some of the other goals. Even if not, I’ll just enjoy it for what it is.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, how you don’t realise how dominated your life has been by fear of something until the fear starts to melt away? I put in the trigger warning at the start of this post because I still remember when just reading about stuff like this was enough to put me into a blind panic, and I guess there must be other people the same – I understand from my dentist that dental phobias (albeit not all as bad as mine) are pretty common. But it’s a little weird to realise that I am remembering the blind panic, because I don’t experience it any more, not in circumstances like this, anyway. That has to count as progress.