Sometimes I’m Just Wrong

As people with a history like mine often do, i’ve had severe dental phobia most of my life. To have to hang my mouth open and have someone poking around in there, sometimes causing me pain, can be a brutal trigger. As a child, my mother stopped caring about my dental health around the time she was committed; i was in grade one. The only time she’d bring me in was for an emergency, which happened occasionally. I wasn’t much for brushing, which resulted in a few abscesses and a couple of pulled teeth.

Once on my own i just dodged the dentist. I finally paid attention when i found an excellent family physician during my pregnancy with my second child. She urged me to attend to my teeth, which were becoming problematic.
I required many appointments to get my teeth cleaned and a number of fillings followed. Neither the hygienist nor the dentist seemed to realise or care about my severe anxiety, and i was shamed and lectured every visit, guaranteeing more avoidant behaviour. It wasn’t until i was well into therapy with my current counsellor that i finally dealt with my fear head-on.

I found a nice lady dentist who’d been doing it for decades, and i went to talk to her. No cleaning, just x-rays, and a chat about what i was looking at to get my teeth shipshape. I told her of my phobia. (No, really? Like my huge, watering eyes and clenched fists didn’t already announce it.) I indicated as delicately as i could that it was trauma-based. She was immediately receptive, kind and gentle in her response, and assured me that i wasn’t her only patient with these issues. She said she’d work with me, to help me overcome my anxiety as much as possible (at my pace), and to attain and maintain healthy teeth and gums.

I know a fair number of people who use sedation dentistry to handle this issue, but i wanted to at least try to do it without drugs of any kind. I prepared as best i could; going over what was going to happen in my head, looking at pictures i’d taken of the dentist’s office, and the chair that i’d be sitting in, the ceiling that i’d be looking at (they have tellies up there – how smart is that?), i thought of how i feel in a dentist’s chair, and went over the different methods i could use to cope:

– focused breathing,
– body mindfulness,
– reminding myself that the intensity of the feelings are a response to trauma that’s no longer happening,
– stopping the hygienist and asking for a break,
– stopping the hygienist and talking briefly about the feelings,
– stopping the hygienist and rescheduling,
– using an anti-anxiety med beforehand,
– sedation dentistry,
– maintain dental health as best i can on my own, do more therapy around the issue, and try again at a later date.

I was stiff as a board the first time i sat for a cleaning; eyes as big as saucers, hands and feet clenched hard enough to cramp. The hygienist had a soft, soothing voice, and she calmed my jangled nerves with banter about her children, a recent move, a holiday. Her demeanor was quiet and kind, and i knew she wasn’t going to hurt me. Cleaning my teeth properly would take a few visits, they’d already told me, but i never sensed any disapproval from her, and there was never the slightest hint of a tsk or a tut-tut in her voice.

Then it’s time for my dentist to do some fillings, some caps, and even a root canal, to preserve my teeth for as long as possible. Her voice is also soft (i think dentists may cultivate this voice – also smart) but her vibe is jovial, even goofy. Her assistant is sarcastic, with a deadpan delivery, and between the 2 of them, they provide a great service and a show besides, which distracted and delighted me so much that i came to look forward to seeing them. Not even kidding.

I settled in to regular maintenance, and then the recession hit. We had to let go of our dental insurance, and i didn’t want to stress our already squeaky budget, when i knew my teeth were in good shape, and i was now diligent and conscientious with care. We still had a son at home who required extensive orthodontic work, and so i stopped going for a couple of years. When our financial situation improved,  i went back, thinking there’d be no problem.

Oh, but there was.

I missed a number of appointments, for which i provided lame excuses, and i’d call after and reschedule with a self-deprecating chuckle. Six months later i did the same thing, i missed my first appointment and called, saying it had totally slipped my mind and i’d be there for sure next time. The receptionist fixed another time with me, but i noted something in her voice before we hung up – a hesitancy. I felt uneasy.

She called me mid-morning the next day.
She told me that they wanted very much to continue providing me with dental care, but in order for that to happen they were going to require the cost of the appointment up front. She explained that my dentist couldn’t continue losing money when i didn’t show up, that it wasn’t fair for her or anyone.
I bristled. Feelings flooded my body, and i reacted with offense.

“This feels like i’m being punished for being mentally ill,” i said.
“I’m going to have to discuss this with my husband and i’ll get back to you,” i said.

To my credit, before the end of the phone call, i knew she had me dead to rights. But shame is a massive trigger, and i was dissociated and edgy for the rest of the day. It took me a while to bring it up with my husband, but not too long, and he understood right away. I called the receptionist back within a day or 2, and told her i knew they had to do what they were doing. And then i paid them.

I was anxious about the cleaning. I thought about why. It wasn’t just being embarrassed – it was a few things. There’d been a break in my association with them, one where i wasn’t in therapy, and i hadn’t had to deal with some of the triggers that dentistry touches on. I was now back in therapy, and learning to stay in my body during times when i feel emotions and/or physical sensations that i don’t want to feel. I understood why i was dodging. I knew i was setting myself up to miss my dates with my dentist.
I was trying to avoid all the feelings.

I showed up on time, and prepared. I knew i was going to feel awkward and embarrassed, which was normal and appropriate to feel, because i’d done them wrong. I hadn’t meant to, and i knew that. I knew they would all be gracious and kind, as they had always been, and they were. When the cleaning was done, my dentist was there at reception, and she gently asked me, “Do you understand that we had to do what we did?”

I told her that i did, and i told them all that i was sorry. I told them that it hadn’t occurred to me that i was costing her money, or inconveniencing anyone – but it should have, and i was ashamed about it.

She said, “You know, we just wouldn’t have had you back if we didn’t like you so much, eh?” And i could see that that was true.

I could also see that, while i’d fucked up, i’d also done some things right.

I’d been honest about my mental illness and my fears and anxieties from the jump.
I’d carefully built relationship with them, so much so that when i started behaving poorly, they tolerated that behaviour for as long as they could – perhaps longer than they should have done, and only for my benefit.
And when they finally called me out, i accepted responsibility for my actions.
Yes, for the briefest of moments -the space of a phone call- i reacted badly, but i knew almost immediately that i was in the wrong, and why, and that i could and would put it right and it was going to be okay.

I got caught doing something shitty, and i reacted by trying to avoid taking the blame. To assuage my chagrin by haughtily providing an excuse.

I’m not bad – i’m sick!

While that is true in a way, it’s neither appropriate nor is it helpful to apply that in this instance. After i hung up the phone i felt it right away – i was convicted in my heart by a jury of me. I’ve identified myself to these people as someone who lives with serious, multiple diagnosis mental illness. I’ve done so first for my benefit, but also for others like me. I want to bring awareness and exposure to those around us, in service to us and apart from that, who have little or no experience with us (or knowledge that they’re having such – because they certainly are, am i right?), and by so doing, help pave a way for fellow neuroatypicals and those living with mental illness to do the same. To see that it can be done, and perhaps they might do it, too.

I feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s a good weight, one i’ve willingly and purposefully shouldered, and it’s a right thing and a steadying force in my life. It gives meaning and provides balance and even serendipity. I would not so inadequately, so boorishly represent a community that has my love so easily, and needs help and understanding so desperately.

The love and life that i’ve found there made my path clear, and set my shoulders squarely towards it.
Yes, part of the reason why i behaved the way i did was the way i was raised and the way my brain responded to try and save me, to help me cope and to perhaps spare me some of the worst of it, that i might survive. And survive i did – and in these last years, even more and better.
Yes, there are reasons -childhood causations- for my behaviour, but in the end, today, right now, at this moment, i am as free and autonomous and aware as i can possibly be, and i am happy and grateful and relieved indeed, to be solely responsible for my choices and actions.

And sometimes i’m just wrong. And i was.
I accepted the consequences, which were fair, and no one abused me and i didn’t die.

I can hardly wait to screw up again.
Heh.

X-Rays and Asian Supermarkets

There are opportunities even in the most difficult moments.
~ Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

Yesterday was an adventure, and since i’m trying to write through this tough period rather than after, i’mma tell you about it.

I have myriad health concerns, mental and physical. There’s both nature and nurture involved in them, which i suspect is true for many of us. For me, the primary physical issue has quickly become my back. I was morbidly obese for many years, which i’d guess is a large part of the problem, if not all, but at this point, i don’t know. What i do know is that after i lost most of the excess, i could hear my back making some noise, but i thought it was normal for someone of a more average weight. Over the last, say 6mos or so, the cracking and popping has become much more frequent, and in the last 6wks, downright painful. I saw my doctor, who ordered a series of x-rays. I went to my local hospital for them yesterday.

The preamble to my adventure is significant. I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to be around people as i delve into this deeper level of therapy. Listening to my body, learning to read its signals, does not come naturally to me. I survived the abuse i suffered in childhood by turning off physical sensations and hiding in my brain. As an adult i’ve continued this practise, mostly due to a combination of not being fully conscious that i’ve been living this way, and being regularly triggered by the sorts of events and occurrences that happen to us all.

Attempting to stay present, and by that i mean not dissociate, and check in to my body’s reactions to what is going on around me is scary AF, and takes a great deal of energy. Even going through the checkout at a grocery store can be difficult. I’m known at every store i frequent (there’s one where i’m not, but it’s too bloody expensive, and i probably know people who work there too, anyway), and so i’m going to have to make some kind of small talk.

NOTE: Look, i know i don’t technically have to say anything, but beyond that, yeah, i kinda do. These are decent, hardworking people, who have their own lives going on at home, too. They may be in the weeds as well, but i don’t know about it because they’re in customer service, and so they put on a nice smile and ask how i’m doing. They may not actually give a crap, but i wouldn’t know that either because they’re damn good at their job. I don’t want to pass through that till without a single word. Even if i just tell them the truth and say that life stinks right now, i’m going to have some kind of verbal interaction with them. They see me every week. They perform a service for me very well. They’ve been unfailingly nice to me, and so that’s that – conversation is gonna happen.

Now comes the case where it’s not necessary. Heh.

My favourite grocery store is in the city, which is some distance from where i live. It’s my favourite because it’s an Asian supermarket, and because i’m not required to act the same way as i am in my small town offerings. Many of the customers speak broken English at best, and i am Amazon-sized and don’t speak their language at all, so small talk simply doesn’t happen very often. The cashiers don’t speak to me except to say Thank you! when they hand me my receipt. It’s fucking glorious.

I had an opportunity to go on Sunday, and it had been a couple of months, so there were things i needed that i can only get there, like the seaweed snacks we like for a reasonable price, and roasted soybean flour, and yellow rock sugar, and 2X spicy chicken volcano ramen. My husband and son had business in the city, so they dropped me off first, that i might take my time there, as is my wont. I love looking at all the different food choices, and i love trying new things, and i lovelovelove that i don’t have to talk to anyone – they don’t even expect me to say Excuse me, or Sorry! (although i still do – i’m Canadian, okay?)
I thought it would be the perfect venue for peopling and being present in my body, because it’s the least stressful.
But i have never been there on a weekend. On the weekend i am not the only non-Asian in the store. With my friendly face (it’sacursejustkiddingimostlylikeit) and my cart full of items that say i can cook more than ramen and pre-made bao buns, i’m getting approached. A lot. When a woman actually taps. me. on. my. shoulder. i’m done.

My wa is shattered, i’m dissociating. I can feel my face going numb and the edges of my vision blurring. I help her, and then my shopping is over. I can’t even walk down any more aisles, i just hit the checkout line, pay and get out. It’s when i walk out of the store and into the general mall area that my numbness breaks enough to tell me that i can’t carry my purchases much further. My back is making grinding noises and i’ve got to go sit down. I find the food court area and sit with my back to a makeshift wall, behind which an Asian man is selling mobile subscriptions, and a crotchety old white dude is pontificating on how he gets his for 30 bucks cheaper and would prove it if he could find his Blasted bill that’s in here somewhere, dang it! I don’t think the salesman understands him very well, and the old man leaves, exasperated. It’s enough of a distraction that i’m able to chuckle to myself, which grounds me and i’m able to fill out my body a little better. I flow back into the empty spaces and i can feel my feet on the floor. I’m still feeling sketchy though – i can see other people glancing sideways at me, which lets me know i’m probably ticcing a fair bit. I text the hubs to come get me.

Once i’m home and ensconced for the night, i start worrying about how in the actual frickety-frack i’m gonna go get these x-rays at my local hospital where i know the receptionist and i’m bound to run into others as i go through the intake that’s stationed right at Emerg. I barely sleep.

<insertBLARGHhere>

In the morning, the plan is for my husband to drive me to the gas station where he gets fuel for himself (COFFEE!) and his vehicle, and i’ll walk the rest of the way to the hospital. It’s a fair distance, but i love to walk, and have been itching to get back at it since i broke my ankle last November. My back should be fine, as it only starts making crunchy noises when i bend over or swivel my hips a lot.

I’ve barely gone 100yds before sciatic nerve pain starts shooting down both legs. My tenuous hold on my brain breaks immediately. I love walking, and so do my Bits N’ Pieces. I’ve used it as the foundation of my physical fitness, and a healthy way to cope with depression. It’s taken some work, because as a child i was programmed to return “home” at the first sign of trouble, and when i switch, the first thing i’m likely to do is hit the road walkin’, but i’ve found a way to make it fun and therapeutic for my whole system. To lose the walking when i’ve been waiting and hoping for months is crushing, and i start to cry…

I open my eyes and i’m no longer outside. I’m sitting in my girlfriend’s living room, and i’m still crying. Well, how about that, eh? I’m an old hand at pretending i’m fine. I’ve come back to the face many times when no one has had any idea that i was even gone. I mean, most people don’t know i’m a multiple, so for them, they may notice i’m behaving a bit strangely, but probably not even that. People are incredibly self-focused (no judgment here) and have no idea what i’m doing or going through, and don’t much care. And the healthier i get, the more i appreciate the ignorance of others. I’ve gone from this incredibly broken and dysfunctional person, who desperately wanted someone to notice and HELP ME! to a relatively normally functioning woman who’s grateful to be unnoticed. That being said, this girlfriend is my closest girlfriend, and she knows me and has seen me both in and out of the face. She’s chased me across the city, around the town we live in, saved me from frostbite, and pulled me from ditches. She’s seen me when it’s been very clear that i am not myself.

And so i tell her it’s me, and she smiles and reassures me that everything’s okay; that i’m okay and she’s okay and fills me in on what i’ve missed. (She picked me up for x-rays and then brought me to her house afterwards.) I cry a little more and then breathe into it, i breathe myself back into those pockets that are empty when i’m not there. The places no one can feel but me – my existential guts and girl parts. I settle in and the ache of fibromyalgia fills my neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and the pain radiating from my lumbar region floods down my buttocks and legs, the kind of back pain that makes a woman feel like she’s menstruating. Ah yes, this is the body i live in, it is home, and i know this place. It’s a fixer-upper, but it’s got hella potential and the renovations are coming along nicely.

My friend takes me home after gently caring for me and making sure i’m all right. Once there i think over the events of the last couple of days and take stock: what happened, how i felt, how i reacted, what did i do right, what could have been done better. I can see that things went fairly well overall, but they could have gone more smoothly had i had clearer communication with my partner, so i text him at work and schedule a talk session. I used to just pounce on the poor man when he came home. I’d be thinking about things for hours and just vomit all my thoughts and feelings about whatever all over him as he’s barely in the door. Heh. I’m far more able to consider him and his thoughts and feelings now, so i give him a heads up.

He picks me up and we go for a short drive, to a place where we have a lovely private view and can talk without interruption. I shared and he responded and shared things too, and i felt heard and understood. Then we went out for a spicy chicken sandwich. Home was quiet and uneventful, and i was able to fall asleep relatively easily.

I woke up though, and it brings me to something i’ve been wanting to explore a little deeper. If all goes well, i’ll post again tomorrow. I know this is long, and a bit plodding, with not much in the way of grand observations and stunning conclusions. However, i think it’s some of the most important stuff i can post, in that it relates the day-to-days of a regular life, lived by a regular person. I have a brain that works in a non-typical fashion, as so many of us do. Life happens, and i try to figure out how to have the best outcomes and get the most enjoyment and happiness that i can, all while also trying to be as useful and good a human as i can manage. This is slogging through the trenches stuff, and i’m doing it. Although your brain may work differently and you may require different coping skills and tweaks, i believe you have a chance to figure your shit out and enjoy a better quality of life, too. I want that for you, very much.

Love and Peace to All,
~H~