Yesterday, I had a dentist appointment. This is hardly earth-shaking business for most people. In fact most people, it’s a semi-annual, rather routine event. I am not most people. I am what you call a ‘dental freak’ — phobic to the extreme. I think my dentist is a wonderful, compassionate, kind person. I want to faint in her chair. The thought of having a dental appointment makes me nauseous. You get the drift…
My dentist, God bless her, deals with this minor personality quirk of mine by regularly prescribing batches of Ativan for my dental crazies. The night before my appointment, I take 3 tablets and an hour before my appointment, I take another 3. I am, in the words of Pink Floyd, comfortably numb. It’s really, really hard to mount a full-blown anxiety attack when you’ve got that much chemical “chill” in your system.
This has been a regular practice for the last decade. My dental freakiness has improved. I can now go and get my teeth checked and cleaned without being stoned but for anything that’s going to involve needles, drilling or other dental like practices… pass the Ativan. It’s all I can do to resist washing it down with a good single-malt whiskey.
Being a complete and total dental freak, I made sure I had my handy-dandy prescription for the magic pills in my hand on the Thursday before my appointment. I was busy so I put off going to the pharmacy. I’d get it filled on the weekend. Guess what? I forgot.
Forgot? How the hell did I manage to forget? And what did I forget? The prescription? Or the appointment itself? Yeah, I know, technically, it’s called repression. Whatever you’d call it in psychology class, the upshot was the same. It’s 9 pm on Sunday night, I’m getting ready for bed and I have NO FRICKIN’ DRUGS. Not only is my drugstore closed, every drugstore within 5 hours drive is closed because it’s Sunday. There will be no procurement of same tonight. I am on my own.
So what to do, what to do? First, my inner yogini whispers, BREATHE. And it dawns on me, slow learner that I am, that this is why the hell I’ve been practicing yoga forever and six minutes. I’ve been doing it so I can learn to control my inner freak-outs. This, dammit all, is the purpose of all that practice, practice, practice… well, that and enlightenment but right now, I’ll settle for being able to breathe at the thought of a drug-free dental experience.
So I ran through a few Moon Salutations and went to bed. I can’t say I slept like a baby because I was restless and I awoke several times but when I was awake, I wasn’t fixated on how many nanoseconds remained before my appointment. I got up at the usual time and ran through my morning routine in a completely mindless state. I was so ‘out of it’, I overshot my insulin by a factor of 3 and then had to calculate how much sugar I’d need to compensate. I got caught in traffic long enough to make me 15 minutes late. Traditionally, being tardy turns me into an emotional basket case. But I was approaching this morning with a yogic attitude – what do I have control over and what do I have no control over. An accident on the only functioning bridge in town was decidedly out of my control – so I called the dentist office, left a message that I hadn’t forgotten my appointment and I let go of it.
Was I nervous in the chair? Yes, I was. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I was the portrait of relaxed. I can tell you that I wasn’t a basket case. My body wasn’t rigid. I wasn’t holding my breath. I wasn’t in a state of panic. What I was in was a state of slight unease. When I felt myself tightening up, either in breath or body, I consciously relaxed those muscles. I let my body release into the support of the chair. I reminded myself to stay in the present moment and not add to my anxiety by projecting my fear into the future. I continuously brought myself back and back and back again to my breath. Present moment; wonderful moment. After the appointment, my dentist remarked that I did a great job. “You were positively Zen”, she said. You have no idea how Zen, I thought, as I filled out the cheque.
Since I am not writing this column from the afterlife, it’s obvious that I survived, but more than that, I helped unwind a little of my dental freakiness. My dental phobia is learned behaviour and all learned behaviours can be unlearned. We can replace unskilful habits with skilful ones. There is no permanence to the things that live in our mind unless we work at making them ‘permanent’.
According to my dentist, I’m going to need a root canal and crown on the teeth that’s been repaired. In the years when I ground my teeth in my sleep, I literally cracked and shattered the enamel on every one of my molars and this tooth in particular, has very little structural stability left in it. I can’t say that I’ll be able to do that procedure Ativan-free but it’s a possibility. I can actually visualize this happening by resting on my breath, in the present moment.
Present moment; wonderful moment. And that’s why I practice yoga.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,