On the anticipation of pain

Posted on March 12th, 2021 @ 13:12 in Uncategorized

I am terrified of dentists. I know many people are, so this is not unusual. But most dentists I’ve had in my life were pretty gentle and respected my wishes. Except the first two. The first guy was a total brute who gave nowhere near enough anaesthetic and the whole procedure was an ordeal. The second one was only a little better.

Now I’m middle aged, I absolutely know to advocate for my needs – give me that fucking injection and give me ALL OF IT – and yet I spend almost the entirety of every dentist appointment in abject terror, because I still, decades later, associate the drilling sound with imminent pain. I’m lying there prone, helpless, mouth wide open, while they’re digging around in this tender, vulnerable part of my body.

It is much the same with my emotions. I freak out at the slightest sign that someone might be hurting (abandoning, forgetting, not caring about) me. My reaction is completely out of proportion with the “offence” (which, most of the time, is nothing at all), because I am not reacting to what just happened, but what I picture is about to happen, based on what my ridiculously inventive anxious mind has made of this non-event.

Just as I’m lying with clenched fists in the dentist chair because it’s gonna hurt any minute now, my entire being is coursing with the terror of the hurt I am so vividly imagining. And just like decades of gentle dentists have not cured me of my fear, I am losing hope that this will ever get better, either.

Anxiety is a motherfucker. The monster that makes me tense up against the impending blow, anxious to lash out just so it can get in there first, inflict pain commensurate with the pain I’m experiencing, that monster isn’t going anywhere. The only way I can put it to sleep is to tamp down all emotions, which means keeping other humans far away from me. It worked pretty well for over a decade. 😶

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