Dental phobia: My story

Today,  I went in search of online anxiety support groups. Skimming Psych Central, I noticed one that hit home for me: Dental Phobia Support.

I always knew I had dental phobia, but it never occurred to me to find a support group for that, because for adults, fear of the dentist and doctor is heavily stigmatized. We expect children to be scared or nervous experiencing the dentist for the first time, but society rarely expects adults to fear the dentist.

I registered for the forum and thought about how far back my fear started. I thought back to my first filling. My parents brought me to their dentist, Dr. Arbuckle, to get my cavity filled. I was 7-10-ish, and I was nervous because ahead of time, my mom and step dad educated me on the procedure.

They told me about the needle and the drill. They told me the needle was necessary so I wouldn’t feel the drill. But my anxiety built up from there throughout the entire appointment. I remember being called in from the waiting room; My grandma and mom came in with me. I sat in the chair. Dr. Arbuckle (a name I will always dread in the sphere of dentistry) snapped on his rubber gloves and prepared the needle.

Panic. Panic. Panic. I started to shake uncontrollably and cry before he even got it in my mouth. When he got close enough to my mouth, I pulled away.

Seeing how scared I was, the good dentist suggested I watch him administer novocaine to the mouth of another patient waiting in another exam room. He wanted to show me how painless it was.

So I watched. Yes, I watched and I died standing up. Or that’s what my mother and grandmother said. They described my face as turning a shade of ghostly white and my lips a shade of ice blue. I remember feeling cold, standing in that spot watching the dentist stick the needle into the patient’s gums.

Mad Scientist Arbuckle failed to notice how squeamish I was. It was obvious from the start that he had little to now training with children.  Either way, I think I died standing up. But I came back to life. Barely. I suddenly needed to use the bathroom.

Against the protests of the adults, I ran to the bathroom and locked  the door behind me. How long could I pull off this farce until the adults decided to take me home without incident?

The adults coaxed me out of the bathroom and into The Chair of Death again.

Another failed attempt at administering the injection led me to the bathroom once again.

When they coaxed me out more forcefully the second time, Step Monster Alan was in the Mad Scientist’s room waiting for me at The Chair. Mad Dentist Arbuckle made threats about wrapping me in a straight jacket while Alan held me down,  his arm pressed against my chest so I couldn’t breath.

I begged Step Monster Alan to stop. Like a desperate aniimall, I saw only one other option as the Mad Dentist Arbuckle lowered the injection to my mouth.

I bit his rubbery gloved fingers hard, making sure it hurt.

He pulled his hand back with a stream of curses that remain a blur in my memory.  He didn’t want to work on me anymore. My parents could take me to a children’s dentist, because he didn’t want anything more to do with me.

A short time after that, my mom and step dad told me Mad Scientist Arbuckle quit. I assume that was true, because I never saw him in that office when I accompanied the parental units to their dental appointments.

That was just the beginning of my dental phobia. I use not having dental insurance as an excuse to not go to the dentist. I know that there are student dentists in my city that work on low-income patients for free, but my biggest fear about that is they are students. What if they can’t handle an extremely anxious, out of control patient?

The major problem for me now is the pain. I fear the pain the dentist brings me, and my heart races at the sound of a dental drill and the smell of a dental office.

Cleanings are extremely painful on my teeth because dentists rinse with cold water.

When I was in high school, my mom figured it was time for me to start seeing her dentist. I had thought nothing of this transition at the time, because I was no longer a child. It made perfect sense to me.  But my phobia only worsened my visits to this new dentist.

My worse memory at this new dentist is of this gruff, stern Russian hygienist spraying my teeth with painfully cold water. I was crying and whimpering, and she told me she couldn’t work on me if I kept doing that. I stopped for a minute, but the water hit my two front teeth with such force, that my body jerked and sprayed her in the face with water.

Boy, was she pissed. I apologized profusely and explained that my teeth are very sensitive. She told me it wouldn’t hurt that much if I flossed more.  What made my phobia worse (if it could get worse) is that, despite having a novocaine injection, drills still hurt my top teeth when I get fillings. The dentist’s lack of bedside manner  didn’t make it any easier on me. His response was, “It’s all in your head,” or “It’s just the sound of the drill that scares you.”

Well, at that stage in my life, I think I could tell the difference between physical pain and being afraid of the sound the drill makes.

I don’t know how to overcome this fear, and I am considering asking my doctor to prescribe me a Xanax for the  time I get up the courage to see a student dentist for a cleaning.  I really want my teeth to be healthy, but this desire for healthy teeth isn’t  helping me to overcome my fear.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Would anyone like to share their experiences? I invite you all to share your stories and recommendations in the comments.





Difficult Day

Well, it has been a difficult day, and by far a difficult month. I don’t like to self-indulge too much in this kind of rambling, but this is an anxiety blog.

So right now my boyfriend is a courier and the major financial support in our home right now. I’ve been earning very little while freelance writing for neighborhood papers. I get paid $50/article. The most I’ve made in a week is $100. It sounds sad, but there are weeks where I can’t even find stories to cover. I’m still working on story-finding techniques, but with very little guidance from anyone.

Well, today, my boyfriend got into an accident that made it so he can’t drive his car. He’s completely uninjured, and I am grateful for that. There was a light post in his blind spot, and he backed into it enough so it caused some structural damage on one of the wheels.

He called me today to tell me all of this. Given our fender bender experiences in the past, I knew this would be costly. Before the insurance covers anything, we have to come up with $1,000. As soon as he told me this, I knew I would have to do the one thing I dread: begging family. I feel terribly guilty asking my family for money because they always do so much for us and everyone else, plus they aren’t rich folks, either.

At that point I am having a panic attack about having to call my beloved grandparents who are by no means wealthy and ask them if they have $1,000 to give. I popped two klonopin to take the edge off.

I wasn’t upset when my grandma said they weren’t able to lend any money because they don’t have much themselves right now. I was just happy to have her on the phone to talk to. She talked me into a calm state of mind.

She told me that my mother might have some of my savings bonds that my aunt used to give us when we were babies. They wouldn’t be worth much ($25-$50 at most), but that is a start. Next, I would have to very nervously and timidly ask my mother and her husband if they happen to have $1000 they can spare.

In the mean time, I want to say that I am dealing with my anxiety a little better now in this financial chaos. That’s more than I can usually say about myself when dealing with money issues (which come up a lot, by the way). It seems that one of my major stress triggers is financial problems when they arise.

I have a difficult time stepping away from the issue and thinking clearly about it. People always tell me not to be stressed because money issues are a part of life and happen to everyone.

But I have to find it within myself to say, “OK. There is nothing that can be done immediately, so I need to go about my routine to let my head clear.”

That’s difficult for me to do, because I was not taught how to handle financial problems. Growing up, adults told me not to worry! They have it under control. So, naturally I tried not to worry.

But that didn’t help me at this point in my life.

However, I am grateful that I am not dealing with this alone. My boyfriend and I are here for each other and in this together. I don’t want him to feel alone in it, either.

Currently, he’s been waiting for a tow-truck since 1 p.m., and it’s 7 p.m. now. I hope it comes soon.

I hope I’m not alone in the way that I panic over financial problems. Does anyone else out there have intense anxiety about finances? Please share.

Why it’s important to keep an anxiety journal

Every time I go to a therapist, I draw a blank on specific topics to talk about. I always have broad topics such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks and so on. But there is always something bugging me that I forget about once I start talking to a therapist. That’s why I just started keeping a journal to record my panic attacks, anxiety, depression and when I have to take klonopin.

The process of keeping a journal challenges me to have a dialogue with myself. I pose these basic questions: What’s causing my intense fear/depression? Is it worth worrying about? If not, let’s acknowledge the anxiety and let it go. What’s bringing me down? What can I do to overcome depression on a daily basis?

But it’s not that easy to “let it go.” Often, the anxiety builds up no matter how much I assure myself that there is nothing to be anxious about. Even if there is nothing to be anxious about,that doesn’t stop my mind from worrying. 

The more stressors in my life, the harder it is for me to function. I just become an emotional rollercoaster going from one extreme emotion to another. It’s important to understand the cause of those emotions in order to come closer to healing.

These are all things to write in a therapy journal because these feelings, thoughts, and episodes are all pieces of the puzzle of your mind. Piecing these fragments together will give you and your therapist a better idea about what coping strategies will or will not work.

That’s another thing to record: coping strategies. Whether they work or not, write them in your journal. Record whether they work or not they work. That will help the puzzle come together easier.

Anxiety quote of the day

I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” 
― Steve MaraboliUnapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

I poisoned myself into stress, anxiety and fear for years while living with Mom. Family conflicts always stressed me into sickness. I had headaches, stomach pains, panic attacks and nightmares

When I noticed Mom and my brother fighting, I knew something was terribly wrong. The venom spat back and forth about one trying to poison or hurt the other was too much for me to handle. My brother moved away to live with our grandparents in Michigan while I stayed with Mom in New York. Mom became paranoid about the conversations I had with my grandparents and brother. I stopped answering my grandma’s phone calls every Sunday. I dreaded the phone calls because I dreaded the way Mom would react to my grandma calling me. Sometimes she pretended to be completely OK with me talking with my grandparents and brother, but if I was on the phone with them for “too long,” she would tell me it was time to hang up the phone.

Doesn’t make sense, right? What mother gets angry and jealous about the relationship her kids have with the rest of their family? The question plagued me for years, and it still does.

When I entered my junior year of high school, Mom decided it would be a perfect opportunity for me to stay home to work over the summer instead of visiting my family in Michigan. I saw this for the ploy it was. She meant to prevent me from seeing family out of pure jealousy of the closeness I had with them.

If that’s not enough to drive me sick with anxiety, on the Christmas of my senior year in high school, Mom threw a fit about our Michigan family members sending us a box full of Christmas presents. She was angry that they sent us stuff because they didn’t tell us to send them anything. She screamed at the top of her lungs in the shrill way she always did and said, “I hope they rot in Hell!” I began to cry from the horrible venomous words Mom spat.

Of course, she automatically thought I was also upset for the same reason she was. I told her she was upsetting me, and I hope she didn’t get rid of the gifts my family sent me. She said she would never do that, and I could keep them if I wanted to.

Looking back on all these instances,  I can’t agree with the above quote. When you’re a kid living with an emotionally volatile mother and her emotionally unavailable lover, and have no one to turn to to talk about these feelings,  I had no choice but to poison myself with anxiety.

Where do you stand on Steve Marboli’s quote? Feel free to respond in the comments.

College students share their anxiety and depression experiences with the ADAA

Does your anxiety and depression make you feel isolated?  The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has an anxiety disorders page with anxiety resources and videos of young people talking about their depression and anxiety.

Jasmin Terrany, LMHC speaks in the intro video for  “Anxiety and Depression Stories.” She uses body image as an example of how we, especially women, are severely affected by anxiety and depression. For example, the nagging, programmed voice in our heads telling us we need to lose five pounds never goes away even when you lose the five pounds. That negative voice has less to do with the five pounds and more to do with how we focus on the negative things about ourselves as the whole  reality and not the bigger picture.

Following the intro, college students speak about their anxiety and depression experiences. It’s amazing to see how everyone’s experiences and coping mechanisms are similar, yet different.  What’s more empowering is for people in their twenties to see their peers discuss their experiences. Often times, we are told we’re “too young” to experience anxiety and depression. As a result, we begin to feel like weirdos because young sufferers think it’s not normal for young people to have mood disorders. Yet, the reality is that anxiety and depression are just like any physical disease, because they do not discriminate between age, sex, or ethnicity.

Videos of college-aged students discussing their mood disorders opens a dialogue that we should be having as a society. When we have conversations about mental illness, we need to teach others to eliminate stigmatizing language including phrases such as, “You’re too young for that,” “Are you sick in the head?” or “Take some pills.” No one is ever too young to have anxiety or depression. We need to destroy this idea that anxiety and depression only hurts older people.

Maybe we should all start making videos of ourselves describing our own  mental illnesses. Wouldn’t that be an enlightening experience for the world?

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Power of Names

Names contain power to make us feel happy, sad, angry, anxious, foolish or any number of feelings. One of the most frustrating thing about names is constant mispronunciations.

For most of my life, my name has made me feel anxious and foolish because people often mispronounce it.  I always needed to repeat my name two or three times for teachers, strangers or interviewees.

Funny thing is, my name isn’t even that difficult: Ruthann. My first name is simply “Ruth” and “ann,” but often times, teachers and strangers pronounce it “Root-hann,” “Rozanne,” or “Suzanne.” For instance, most of my high school teachers would read my name off the roster as “Root-hann,” but when I pronounced it correctly, they would think I said, “Rozanne” or “Ruzanne.” “Root-hann” was the most embarrassing by far. It sounded nothing like my name, and it was weird. “Rozanne” and “Suzanne” were what people thought I was saying when I spoke my name. It was just weird to me. I believed that this problem was unique only to me.

These constant mispronunciations made me nervous at the beginning of every semester. The fact that I have social anxiety to begin with never helped. I would sweat, my heart raced and my face flushed while my classmates turned looked at  me, straining to hear my timid voice. My voice probably made it all the more difficult to hear because it doesn’t carry across a room. So, all this nervousness about talking in front of people plus repeating my name was overwhelming. Thinking back, I think the teacher was just as embarrassed as I was.

College professors usually pronounced my name right the first time. I don’t know if it’s because their reading skills were better or what. While writing for the campus paper and taking journalism classes, I got used to saying my name for interviewees over the phone and in person. With age and practice, I became less nervous in general, so repeating my name is no big deal anymore.