Mental Wellness Challenge
2023, May 11
I hope the last few weeks have been very good to you.
I experienced something over the past few days that I hadn’t/haven’t had to walk through for a long, long time. The past week I experienced a full blown, 100%, ‘no way in hell…’ anxiety/panic attack.
This was precipitated by my irrational fear or phobia of dentists. I had an angry tooth and my regular dentist wanted to just pull the tooth. Yes, the tooth is very filled, but I didn’t want to lose the tooth. I went back to my past dentist for a second opinion and it was determined that we would have to do some exploratory work to see if the tooth could be crowned, crowned and root canalled, or if it would have be pulled. Right now, the tooth is kinda half way fixed and unfixed in my mouth and its looking like there will be no problem with just crowning the tooth – unless – in the next while – the thing starts giving me more pain.
Anyway. I have been waiting, stewing, ruminating about the need to do this dentist trip for over a month. Lots of different stimulus got me to a place where, while trying to do my best in the dentist chair, I had a full on anxiety attack. Feels like fear, comes out like anger, is neither… The dentist knew that, the assistant knew it, even I knew it – but that didn’t make navigating it any easier.
I had even anticipated the anxiety and had taken some anti-anxiety meds, as directed, prior to the appointment. Well, I felt NADA – nothing from those meds when sat down in the chair.
I’ll say that it was an embarrassing few moments for me.. I dug in a hard as I could, dug as deep as I was able to and pulled myself through to the other side of the event. Not what I would want to show anyone for sure – but I’ll share it with you folks because it was super unsettling to me and maybe I’ll be able to help someone else know they aren’t alone.
FEAR = THERE’S A BEAR ON TRAIL AND ITS RIGHT INFRONT OF ME.
ANXIETY = THE LAST TIME I WAS ON THIS TRAIL, I ENCOUNTERED BEAR. IS THERE A BEAR ON THE TRAIL? WHAT IF THERE’S A BEAR ON THE TRAIL AND I JUST DON’T SEE IT. I’M ALL ALONE ON THIS TRAIL AND THERE COULD BE A BEAR ON THE TRAIL… I’M SURE I SENSE A BEAR ON THE TRAIL… OH YES, THERE’S DEFINITELY A BEAR ON THE TRAIL – POSSIBLY…
Fear is a response to some factual truth – Anxiety is a response to some perceived possibility. Problem is – my amygdala produces the same cortisol for both…
That’s kinda the difference between FEAR and ANXIETY for ME. That’s the way I understand it.
Fear is a very useful, protective emotion. Anxiety is feeling a similar fear – but its not tied to something factual. My brain responds with the same brain chemicals to fear and to anxiety. I can normally breath my way down from a panic attack, or ground myself, or distract myself, or rationalize myself to a more regulated experience.
Not that day. I don’t know if I was too tired, too worked up, too focused on the situation… I don’t know – but the attack got away on me. While I did end up being very, very emotional – I was able to grab hold of the churning of my emotions and focus on one little thing in the room – and to keep bringing my thoughts back to that one little thing… it was a purple dot on a picture in the dentist’s surgery.
I have to say a big thankyou to the dentist and his assistant… pretty sure they weren’t expecting that.
I’ve been thinking long and hard – since it happened – what I missed, what I didn’t see, what I wasn’t prepared for… do a “post mortem” on the event. The piece that I noted the most after the event was the total exhaustion that I feel. Mentally, emotionally, physically.
My arms, back, neck, shoulders feel like I’ve been splitting a rail car full of firewood. Emotionally – I feel like my emotions tank is empty (maybe that’s a good thing?), I do not feel like hurting myself or like what I feel is focused on any other person and there never was any feeling like that. I AM embarrassed. I am going to have to work on getting past the embarrassment before my next appointment…
This anxiety attack lasted for a LONG TIME. The ramp up to the attack lasted for days. I tried doing things like distracting myself, staying busy, working, writing. I knew I wasn’t super strong going into the appointment – but I didn’t know how over full my emotions stuff was. It was like a tornado started and as it went along – it fed off the heat of my emotions and I got to a point where I couldn’t control it.
Not something I would wish on anyone. Period.
I’m going to try to be more aware. I’m going to practice more ‘gentle firmness’ with myself. I know there are things about going to the dentist that are unpleasant. The unpleasantness is transient and I know I can and will get through to the other side of whatever the treatment it.
The anxiety attack was more detrimental to my wellness than the dental surgery was… FOR SURE.
Once I did get settled and found a way to focus – I was able to manage myself through to the end of that part of the procedure.
I know I have two or three more appointments to go to, to get to the other side of this issue… I know that I am going to have to practice awareness and acceptance along with the rest of my wellness model to hopefully not let a tornado build again.
I used to have anxiety attacks on a far more regular basis… so – having been years since my last one… I was taken by surprise – and I was reminded again – just how debilitating my anxiety can be.
My last challenge for us was to try to check in with our inner kids…
My anxiety attack is a reminder for me, back to when I was a smaller kid, that I used to deal with this level of anxiety weekly, if not every day. Different external stressors for sure, but the anxiety attacks were pretty much the same. So – while this isn’t a piece that I expected from my challenge – it fits.
I have a little kid inside that very often needs to be shown a bit of compassion or understanding. When I find myself being short or abrupt with someone who isn’t on track – I think back to a younger me that struggled in that way – and hope I have a little more patience for others… tolerance.
We can all us a hug once in a while.
This week I’d like to challenge you to smile a little more. Find things in your experience to smile about. Think about things in your experience that bring joy – and a smile.