If I made a list of 1,000 ways I’d like to spend my day, having a root canal wouldn’t make the cut. I’m nervous during even routine visits to the dentist, where the only thing they remove from my teeth is a little bit of unwanted tartar. Major procedures where they actually drill into my teeth to remove nerves or advanced decay usually terrify me, and make me wish I had a nice big bottle of Valium handy. Or morphine. Or enough anesthetic to knock out a hippo.
So I’d been feeling pretty darned proud of myself lately, what with getting through two root canals in less than a week and managing to handle myself with a certain amount of grace and dignity during both of them. I did not curse at the dentist, try to exit the chair before the procedure was over, or threaten anyone with grievous bodily harm if they hurt me at all. I was polite and cooperative, if a bit tense, and even thanked both the dentist and her assistant for their good work before I left the office.
All of which is to say that I had convinced myself that I was finally okay with major dental procedures, and no longer the sort of person who had a hard time sleeping the night before even a minor filling was scheduled. I won’t go as far as saying that I was looking forward to the three crowns I have to get next week, but I wasn’t overly nervous about them either. So it came as a complete shock to me just how strongly I reacted last night when I discovered that there was a chance I might actually need a third root canal before the week was up.
If you’ve ever seen a two-year old throw a temper tantrum, you can probably picture the hissy fit I threw last night. I stomped around the house, said all the curse words that I had held back during the previous root canals, snapped at my husband when he tried to reason with me, and even cried just a little bit. Eventually, not unlike a two-year old, I took to my bed and slept it off. Apparently, I wasn’t handling things quite as well as I had thought.
What I had assumed was a major change in my feelings about dental procedures was actually just a case of my sucking it up and doing what needed to be done. Two of my teeth needed a root canal, and so I had two root canals, and behaved like an adult during the process. But underneath that calm demeanor was a person who is very anxious whenever she sits down in the dental chair, and that person was counting on the fact that there were no more root canals in her near future. The possibility that I might have to endure another one was more than I could handle last night, and so I had just a bit of a melt-down.
Of course, once I woke up this morning, I had calmed down and realized that I could, in fact, handle whatever procedures, dental or otherwise, I am still facing. And even though I was just a little embarrassed by my behavior last night, I also realized that it really isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. No matter how much we try to be strong and cope with whatever life throws at us, there are times when it is just going to feel like too much. And those are the times when we “hit the wall,” emotionally speaking. We vent, we cry, we withdraw a bit, and stop pretending to be stronger than we really are. It’s just part of being human.
And eventually, we find the courage to pick ourselves up and keep right on going, which is all that really matters anyway.