Have Heart, Will Travel

On fear: Lessons from the dentist chair

Life lessonsNancyComment

I wrote recently about fear.  Fear can be a useful tool, keeping us alert to things that could be extremely detrimental to our very lives, but I think it's much more common that fear holds us back from living our lives. Some of my favorite experiences ever came from things that scared me a little at first. Other things aren't my favorite, but still need to be done.  Take, for example, a visit to your dentist.

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Because of some traumatic earlier experiences with an orthodontist as a child, it has always been difficult for me to visit a dentist. (Side note: Sorry, dentists, that you have to share blame for that, but it's all the same to my subconscious.)  Due to the fear I had built up around lying vulnerably while other people got to put metal tools in my mouth, I had let the following happen in between my last dentist visit and the one I finally just had this month:

  • gave birth to a child
  • sold a house and moved cross country
  • started a new career
  • flew to Africa and back half a dozen times and
  • celebrated a decade...yes, a decade, of birthdays


The point is, I knew it way beyond time to go to the dentist. Hello, Captain Obvious.  But I'm not good at scheduling any medical appointments for myself, much less this one.  Mark, who has a vested interest in my long-term health, brought up the subject a month ago as his own scheduled check up was approaching.  We'd had the conversation before. I should go, too. I knew it all along, and yet this time it was different.  How can I keep encouraging others--especially Petunia--to be brave if I wouldn't do this one simple thing?


I made a deal with Mark.  I asked him if he would make my appointment for me when he went, to which he said yes. Then I upped the stakes and made him promise to arrange that I could have the drowsy gas so I wouldn't feel things or the deal was off.  After verifying that I was, in fact, serious about that, he accepted the job.  And my fate was sealed.  And my appointment was made.

Being brave does not mean that you had no fear. Being brave means that you had fear and acted anyway.

I went to my appointment, and everyone was so nice. They were expecting me at reception and, because they knew of my concerns, gave me extra time at my appointment. I got to speak to someone in an office first, then had plenty of time with a very nice hygienist who validated my fears and explained everything to me. Even the dentist was patient and kind. And the results of my check up?  Amazingly good considering the gap of years, according to everyone. There are a couple areas to follow up on, but luckily my love of brushing my teeth had served me well.


So, why do I think you may care about any of this?  As I was laying back, finally in the chair and waiting for the gas to kick in, it occurred to me that there were some lessons from the dentist chair that I would do well to remember.  I thought I would share them in case any of you needed to hear them too.

1. When facing fear, it's okay to enlist a friend for help.  If Mark wasn't willing to make the appointment for me, even sharing my insistence upon nitrous gas, we might have been here watching more years go by. Do you need a friend to hold you accountable? Go somewhere with you? Pray you through a difficult meeting or conversation?  Physically hold your hand or sit with you while you do something?  It's ok.  Having received help from a friend doesn't take anything away from the fact that YOU had to go through with the action.

2. When facing fear, it's acceptable to use aids as available. In my case, it was gas to take the edge off what I would feel. This could be virtually anything for you, depending on what it is you're facing. Do you have to listen to a certain song to motivate you to face something tough? Promise yourself a reward of a pedicure, dessert or a movie after you climb your obstacle?  Whatever works for you to get done what is most important should be considered fair play.

3. When facing fear, it's a good thing to be honest about your concerns with others. Yes, I could have walked into the office like I wasn't scared and put on a pretty good show.  But I wanted people to understand why I may jerk their hand out of my mouth and I wanted to have time for re-dos.  Because my vulnerability was shared, they made allowances for that and it served all of us well.

4. When facing fear, it's key to remember that other people want you to succeed. My husband and everyone I came in contact with on that dental staff were rooting for me.  Rooting!  Ha!  Ahem...anyway.  No one was laughing that I was scared. They wanted to make it as pleasant as possible so that I could get through the appointment and so that I would continue to come in.  Sometimes we are ashamed of our fears, but the truth is that the people around you in life generally want you to win. If they don't, that's another problem. Most people will be your cheerleaders!  If you need another one, contact me. I love encouraging others to face their fears and win!

5. Finally, when facing fear, realize that the anticipation of what we fear is always worse than the event itself. Why is this? As we pre-live things in our head, we act out every scenario where all the bad things can gang up and magically happen all at once and life is not like that.  The event you have to hunker through may not be pleasant or even easy--I know there are many legitimately difficult things we all face in life--but let's just live them the one time.  Do not let a dozen worrisome scenarios rent space in your head.


Keeping all this in mind, I plan to get back into the dentist to start my follow ups this summer. Anyone willing to call for me, though?