By Erin Newton, LCPC, PMH-C
I’m coming to you now, oh internet, with less wisdom than I have ever blogged with before. Five days ago, after living for twenty plus years with them functional in my mouth, I had all my nightmares come true and all four of my wisdom teeth removed. And I decided last week that if I survived (which clearly I did) I would write a blog about it.
Let me just say that I HATE anything having to do with my teeth. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have far less anxiety and fear over giving birth than I do having a filling. There is a good reason for this. I’ve had several fillings done where the novocaine didn’t take, and I laid with sweat dripping down my back, clinging to the chair, tears streaming out the corner of my eyes, silently repeating to myself that I’ve given birth without drugs (TWICE!). I had a root canal ten years ago where in order to get me numb the dentist had to put the needle DIRECTLY INTO MY TOOTH (luckily, after a moment of white, blinding pain, I was completely numb for the rest of the procedure). Within the last year I had another root canal, which started with the worst pain I’ve ever had in my whole life, and THREE crowns. To top it all off, one of my fillings fell out this summer when we were in Yellowstone National Park, 90 minutes from the closest town. So, three months ago when my dentist sat me down and told me that it was probably time to take my wisdom teeth out, I just about sobbed in the chair. I then went home, talked it over with my husband, decided to schedule it, and proceeded to cry while filling out the paperwork.
I tried to put it out of my mind after I scheduled it. I told myself to get through Christmas and then my anniversary and my birthday and finally my marathon (which I will update you on later…a lot of you know about the last time I tried to run a marathon)…but suddenly it was February, and I was staring down a less than three week countdown.
Some of you I know follow our posts on the Enneagram. I am a type 6, which the Enneagram Institute describes as the “committed, security-oriented type.” That means that I’m often seeking security and I have a strong need to feel supported by others, to have reassurance, and to fight against anxiety and insecurity at all costs. It also means that I struggle, not only with doubting myself, but also with being suspicious of other people. That suspicion, by the way, extends to medical providers. I have a strong need to know what should be happening before it happens, to understand all procedures, and to make sure that what is happening is “right.” I do tons of research before any medical procedure and often feel that I have to know what’s wrong with me before I even go to the doctor, something that is exhausting because I am not a doctor. I could tell you that I’ve had lots of bad experiences with medical providers over the years that have not made this part of my personality easy to ignore, and that would be true, but I also understand that a lot of how I feel is a part of my tendency towards projection and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t trust doctors and thus when they’re human and do something human, I consider it a fatal flaw, proof that they really don’t know what they’re doing, proof that I’m really not safe, that I am not secure.
I wasn’t afraid of recovery or afraid of pain. I have a decent pain tolerance. I was afraid of the lack of control of being put under and not knowing what I was doing or what was being done to me. But I was equally afraid of being awake while my teeth were ripped out of my face. There was no solution that didn’t leave me feeling terrified besides ignoring the problem altogether, which was something I knew I couldn’t do for long.
The Enneagram tells us that when we’re stressed, we operate out of type structure first, even if we don’t mean to or want to. And man, was I in type structure the week before Friday. I researched everything – the procedure itself, what drugs they might give me, how those drugs might be administered, what conscious sedation felt like, is conscious sedation what most people have for this surgery, will I be aware in the moment but not remember it later, how often people wake up in the middle of surgery, are people sometimes so anxious they can’t be sedated, what people look like after surgery, what people remember from surgery (spoiler alert: not much!), what tools dentists use to get your teeth out, the differences between surgery when teeth are impacted versus not – anything and everything that would give me CERTAINTY. Certainty gives me safety and safety gives me peace without fear. I stopped short of looking up YouTube videos of the procedure, only because I feared if I did that I would never actually show up. I feared that would paralyze me entirely.
….It didn’t work. The morning of surgery, I felt calm. Waiting in the office to be called, I did not. Waiting in the chair with the blood pressure cuff on, watching the numbers every 5 minutes (175/90, 165/95, 169/101), I was DEFINITELY not. After the dentist gave all his instructions, (mostly to my husband, since I would be out of it for a while), they told me he had to leave so I could take the sedative. It was then that all the calm I thought I had went right out the window. I asked if he could stay until I was asleep, they said that he could not. I cried like a baby in the chair. He told me I’ve had three babies and ran two marathons and I could do this too. I told him I would rather have a baby and run a marathon on the same day than do this. He kissed me, I took the drugs and sat in the chair crying, trying to breathe, and starting to float out of consciousness. The last time I saw on the monitor in front of me was 2:25 pm.
This is not a post about how sometimes we work things up in our heads and they aren’t as bad as we thought they were going to be. I think that’s what I wanted to be able to say after my surgery, but that just isn’t true. Did any of my fears about being aware of what was happening in the moment actually manifest? No, they didn’t. Was I so anxious that the meds couldn’t cut through my anxiety? Nope. The meds worked great. But, was it as terrible as I thought waiting by myself for them to kick in? Sure was. Was it as bad as I imagined, the idea that I responded to people and followed directions but have no memory of doing so? Yep. That idea is still completely terrifying to me and I try really hard not to imagine what that looked like. I hate that there’s a part of my life I participated in but have no working memory of.
So what is my wisdom (haha) here? Why did I decide that writing a blog about my wisdom teeth surgery might be worth writing and worth your reading? I want you to know that you don’t always have to come to terms with things to do them. I want you to know that if you are going through something hard, it’s ok to pull out all your tricks to get through it, even if in the end those tricks don’t do much. I want you to know that it’s ok for things to suck and be hard and be bad. There is not always a moral to the story, there is not always a silver lining. We do not always resolve our fear. It’s ok to be a grown-ass adult crying in the dentist’s chair as your partner leaves the room. That’s who we are some days and it doesn’t mean that we are not amazing independent humans on other days. I delivered two babies without so much as a tear. I was strong those days and fearless and amazing, but last Friday? Last Friday I felt like a terrified child and that is ok.
Most of all, I want you to know that it’s ok to say, “Fuck it. I’m going to do it afraid.”
Did you find Erin’s story inspiring and want to learn how to embody your innate courage and meet yourself (and your anxiety) with compassion and understanding? Schedule a free 15-minute consult with her here.
Erin Newton has been working with individuals and families for almost nine years now. She specializes in perinatal mental health, birth trauma, and anxiety related issues. She strives to help her clients feel seen, heard, understood and to give them the tools they need to start their own journey of healing.
connect with us on instagram