A few years ago I broke off the cusp of a molar. Apparently teeth that were filled when we were kids tend to crack when we hit midlife. I’m not gonna lie, when the old filling was ground out and replaced with the newer white type, it hurt. A lot. It involved a nerve that was none too happy to be toyed with after being cocooned in there, undisturbed, for 40 years. So this week, when I bit into a carrot and felt that familiar sudden, sharp pain, I knew I had cracked off the repair work. I was far from looking forward to a replay of the nerve pain.
Sitting in my dentist’s chair, waiting for him to enter the room and begin the repair work, I felt a wave of anxiety. Having given birth to both of my children without the aid of any medication, and having had an upper endoscopy sans sedation, I’m not a total wimp when it comes to pain. But the thought of that drill, that high-pitched drill, and the hot smell of burred molar that comes with it was sending me toward panic. My foot began tapping and I was having some pretty strong heart palpitations. Too late for an emergency Xanax, I was starting to feel overwhelming claustrophobia. Time to try a technique that I was sure was NOT going to work. But at that point, my only other option was to get up and walk out. I didn’t want to be there, so I went somewhere else.
Step one is to take oneself out of the room mentally. Conjure up an image of the single most relaxing, non-threatening place you’ve ever been. I closed my eyes and transported myself to 9 S. Pennsylvania Avenue, Bethany Beach, Delaware. A summer rental cottage with the best out door shower ever. I imagined walking out the back screen door, the feel of the wooden floor under my feet. Down the steps and across the corner of the gravel driveway. The sun shining, humidity low, a cloudless, azure sky. There’s the sound of a lifeguard’s whistle from the beach, the obnoxious cry of a gull. Across the grass back yard, the soil turns spongy beneath my feet as I near the shower stall. I can hear the sound of one of the small planes that fly up the coast, dragging a banner that advertises crab balls and $2.00 beer on tap. I can hear the rustle of the ornamental grass in the neighboring yard as a warm breeze blows by, and the sound of someone peddling by on their bike. The shower door makes that familiar sound of a rusty spring groaning open and it slams when I let go of the thin metal handle. I can smell the milk and honey body wash in the closed-in space. I feel sand in my hair, and can taste salt on my lips from the ocean. The faucet and knobs are metal and rusty, and they feel rough. They screech on and the water comes out in a sputter, the sun shining through into the roofless stall makes it sparkle. The skin on my shoulders feels tight from the hours in the sun and salt water.
When my dentist walked into the room, not only was I calm, I was about 30 seconds away from actually dozing off in the chair. While the procedure that followed wasn’t my idea of a fun way to spend my time, it was much easier and less involved than the time before. My tooth is now repaired, and I can say for certain that mind over matter really can and does work! In the wake of an especially stressful day, you don’t have to be someone who suffers from a full-blown anxiety disorder to reap the benefits of a mental vacation.