How My Dentist Became My Anxiety Ally

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Few professions are as bizarrely intimate as dentistry. If you think about it, who else are you going to let use power tools against you, better yet pay them to do it? Dentists get close — really close. Closer than most of us would really like if we could avoid it. But in the end, there really is no avoiding it, because you know it will just lead to even more problems. So you suck it up and go. Unless you have anxiety — then the whole thing becomes a terrifying tornado of nauseating apprehension. Few people really love their dentist. I’m sorry to say I’m one of the few who does. I know, it just seems wrong somehow. How does anyone love their dentist, especially if you are drowning in anxiety most hours of most days? You have to make your dentist an ally in the fight — and that takes a lot of strength to even think about trying to do.

My dentist, bless his heart, is very very familiar with me. Not only because half a lifetime of horrific experiences caused me to avoid dentists as much as possible, thereby destroying my teeth — but maybe more so because he knows those secrets I hide so well. You know, the ones that involve words like “panic.” He knows all about it. He knows I am a tightly wound ball of hyper-awareness and stress. He knows all the bad experiences and embarrassing breakdowns over the years. Basically, he knows more than a priest but slightly less than God. Slightly less. He has seen me go on and off medications with varying degrees of success, and sometimes the soul-sucking depression and death grip of panic it results in only serve to make his life harder. Of course, he wouldn’t know any of it if not for a long, rambling email I finally sent him one day. I sent it because I realized I was doing myself no favors by not telling him. And I sent it because he is a really good guy who wanted to avoid terrifying me with his instruments of torture but didn’t really know how to go about that.

I am, at the best of times, one of the worst dental patients you could have. I don’t want to be there, I can’t breathe, I can’t think and I don’t care how nice you are — I don’t like you. Everything about it is a trigger for everything about me. It’s a relentless bombardment of sensory overload and terror. The first time my dentist met me, I was shaking so badly he actually stopped mid-sentence, put his hand on my arm and asked if I was OK. I’m pretty sure I said no.

For some unknown reason, he was extremely patient with me. Maybe he thought I would bite his fingers off if he wasn’t. I might have. But he was in no hurry, and that was oddly reassuring. He was mercifully discreet when he read the (extensive) list of medication I was on the first time he met me. But I decided, discretion aside, I was never going to be anything resembling “OK” about going to the dentist, if he didn’t understand where I was coming from. So I sat down at my computer and started writing the longest email he probably ever got from a patient. Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety, depression, anxiety, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, trauma, anxiety, panic, anxiety. I hate dentists. I hate dentistry. I am paralyzed with terror and won’t dare complain no matter what you do because I am more scared to complain than to let you torture me! Oh, and I eat sugar all day, every day, so we are going to get to know each other very well. Lucky him — the patient from hell had arrived.

The next time I saw him I was certain I had made a huge mistake by confessing my all-consuming fear of him. You don’t tell the enemy they terrify you. But then, suddenly, he wasn’t my enemy anymore. He looked right at me and smiled. That gentle, knowing smile of someone who just “gets” it, maybe more than you really wish they did. A smile that said, “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.” I was still shaking just as badly as ever, but this time he knew why. He watched carefully for the slightest flinch because he knew it was the only sign I was going to give if something hurt; my anxiety was definitely not going to let me say anything. Instead of worrying about my verge of panic shaking, he laughed about it. Which made me laugh about it. Which made me stop shaking so much. He didn’t pass judgment about my teeth being in terrible shape, my soda habit, or candy addiction. He didn’t make me feel bad about my condition. He didn’t make a big deal about the fact I kept my eyes closed the whole time and never answer questions so I can disappear into my own world. And when I finally did have to tell him to stop and give me a second one time, he just paused and told me a story about the first girl he went on a date with in high school, while I stopped hyperventilating.

I never have to apologize for anything. Once he knew this was more than just your average dental anxiety, he became my ally. In a sense, we are both fighting on the same side now. He helps me battle my terror because he knows the tough as nails act is nothing more than a brilliant facade to hide my fears and insecurities. He can stop a panic attack in its tracks. He can spot a flashback when I don’t even see what is happening. He knows every moment is agonizingly long, but the worst thing he can do is hurry. He cares. He’s on my side. And it means more than he knows.

If you live with anxiety as a part of your everyday life, then what is a rather simple biannual event for most people can turn in to a nervous meltdown. You don’t have to love the dentist. You don’t even have to like the dentist. But if the thought of the letters “DDS” sends you into a tailspin, just know you are not alone. If you are brave enough, consider asking them for an extra 10 minutes before your next appointment to talk. If you’re more like me, write a letter. You can even wait until after your appointment is over, so that, if you’re lucky, it will be six months before you have to face them again. But no matter what your feelings are about dentistry, it is unavoidable. And even the best dentist can’t help if they don’t know what is wrong.

It will always be a struggle for me. I’m still terrified every time I walk in his office. I still can’t breathe. I still want to run. But he knows it, and it is much easier to battle with him on my side. Sure, I’m embarrassed he knows everything wrong with me — of course I am. But I’m grateful to have him as my ally because anxiety is an enemy you just can’t fight alone.

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Thinkstock photo via SolisImages

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Why a Smile Is the Perfect 'Poker Face' for Hiding My Anxiety

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The signs have always been there.  Though not as eye catching as a neon sign or obvious as a billboard, I suppose there have always been signs.

The signs are usually only noticeable to those who know me well — really well. It may be as innocent as a click, click of my nails as they flick against each other, or the way I hold my hands and slowly wring them — oh so slowly, so as not to be obvious. Internally though, my heart is beating anything but slowly and sometimes, it feels as though it skips a beat and causes me to lose my breath. Internally, I begin sweating so profusely I could and will soak my shirt. I try and take deep breaths because it feels like I have none left.

Outside, I smile and laugh it off. The perfect poker face. As long as I smile, no one knows what is going on inside. Make eye contact, nod reassuringly and everyone believes I am fine.

Behind my smile my mind races down every possible worst scenario in any given situation. I push these thoughts by keeping busy. I never say no. Keeping busy means I won’t be left alone to think.

Outside, others see a perfectionist. An overachiever. A person who seems so put together. I smile again, remembering it’s the the perfect poker face, and their words serve to persuade me, they are in fact, true.

When I’m alone though, it all creeps back in. Like a shadow crawling up my back, I start to feel fear, uncertainty and that’s when I know….

I struggle with anxiety.

I’ve never said those four words before. “I struggle with anxiety.” I don’t like them, and yet I feel relief from writing it down. Maybe those four words will set me free.

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Unsplash photo via Allef Vinicius.

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The Text Message You Sent That Really Helped With My Anxiety

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It was one of those days where the anxiety takes control — the days when I can barely breathe at all; where I feel dizzy and nauseous; where every muscle is tensed to almost breaking point, and I’m fighting all of them to prevent visible shaking. But it’s not just physical. I’m fighting my own mind, simultaneously telling myself I can’t do this, I’m not worthy, nobody likes me, I’m in everybody’s way, and that I have to do this, I have to make it through the day, do my job. I can’t let everyone down.

Ordinarily, I keep these days to myself. I hate the idea of burdening someone with the insignificant struggles in my life. People have more important things going on in their lives, more pressing issues, their own challenges. But this day, I really needed you. I needed to reach out. I needed someone to know what was going on, just in case I couldn’t make it through the day. So, I did something I’d never done before. I sent you a text and told you how I was feeling and where I’d be if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I also asked you not to read the message unless something like that did happen. You ignored that and, honestly, I’m glad you did.

I paced around the room in every class I taught that day. I rocked myself in every meeting and took copious notes as a way of channeling the anxiety. When I wasn’t typing, I fidgeted with the hairband on my wrist or a pen. I could hardly think; hardly breathe; hardly be.

But, you were there and you helped me through it. More than you realize, you got me through this day, and you help me through countless others. You quietly checked in with me, asked if I was OK, and asked again when I said that I was, but you could tell I wasn’t. You looked at me with support and belief, never pity or disdain. Later, you messaged me to check I was OK.

The way you respond to my anxiety simultaneously confuses me and has me in awe. Every time I’m breaking down, you tell me it’s OK — that I don’t need to apologize for being human, for having struggles. You tell me you’re here, that you care, that my anxiety isn’t all that I am — that I’m making a difference for others in the work we do. You call out my anxiety in exactly the right way when I’m giving in to its darkness and mentally attacking myself.

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You’ve said a million things which I try to cling to in my most difficult moments, even though my anxiety tries to tell me you can’t possibly mean them. But this day, in particular, you sent me a message that I really needed to hear.

You told me you think I’m strong.

The constant mental battles, fighting the physical symptoms, the lack of sleep and resultant exhaustion, spending every day scared of everything, the always present and uncomfortably fast heart rate pounding in my ears … It makes me feel weak. And I’ve heard it from other people, too. They think I’m being weak or pathetic or overdramatic, or a million other things I’m not trying to be.

But not you. And, as grateful as I was, I couldn’t understand how you weren’t making me feel that way, too. Then you said you thought I was strong, and I don’t think you’d lie to me. I don’t always feel strong, but it matters to me that you think I am, especially when I’m sharing my weakest moments with you. So, in my darkest moments, I’m learning to cling to your voice, to the things you say to me, to the way you see me. I’m using your messages to try to battle the voice in my mind that tells me I’m weak, that I’m irritating everyone, that nobody cares.

Thank you for helping me find a way to light the darkness in this daily battle.

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When Anxiety Tells Me I'm Not a Good Spouse

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I’ve been anxious my entire life. But I’ve been a wife for almost a year. Even before I got married, I had this feeling of not being enough. Because in my mind, anxiety told me he would only stay by my side if I were more beautiful, smarter and sexier, and that above all, I should be happier or at least pretend to be. Because no one likes sad and insecure people, right? But I recognize my luck, more than before, for still having him loving and caring and supporting me all the time. So why do I still hear what my anxiety says and all the bad things it makes me feel?

The answer is simple but tough to accept. Because deep down I know I am not like my anxiety and the lies it tells me. I know this, mainly, because this anxiety is not mine. All that is mine is this perception, this consciousness of truth. It is important to be able to separate what is mine and what generates from anxiety.

Even when I know what matters, I keep hearing those voices and believing them sometimes. There are several nights when I wake up thinking I am not a good wife and do not have what it takes to keep my marriage stable — also that I am not enough to satisfy my husband. So, I feel weak, nervous and powerless to do anything, thus leaving a void in our relationship. I end up fulfilling all my fears, and in this way, I fail not only as a woman to him but as a person to me. All I do at these times is apologize and cry.

But I am a human being, like everyone. I have many faults, and I am far from perfect. I’m a good wife and friend. I worry about what he needs, what he feels, what he wants, and I try to provide everything necessary for him to feel happy. I hear his fears and longings even when I am distressed and my soul is hurt. I often put him on top of everything when I need to be the priority. If this is not being a good wife, then I do not know what is necessary for me to be one. Everything in relationships needs to remain in reciprocal values. When things are in constant balance we get a taste of perfection.

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At this point, I try to believe in myself, even though it seems impossible sometimes. I pray every day that this mental disorder won’t be my ruin and that I can always try to overcome myself day after day. May the tears disappear, and if it is not so simple, may I may be strong enough to accept my condition and let the tears fall without guilt. That “I’m sorry” won’t be the only thing I can say. My husband accepts me as I am, and he always says it’s OK not to be OK. So, there is no reason for me to think differently and prefer to isolate myself from the world when I have someone who values me and wants to help me. The secret is to look within ourselves, listen to our hearts and know that what is in our mind is not always the absolute truth.

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Why I Believe I Have an Anxiety Disorder

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Growing up, I always thought I was just a shy person. I was afraid to talk to strangers, or any kind of adult figure. Teachers, cashiers, even older relatives who I didn’t see often. But in reality, “shy” truly wasn’t the word for it.

I never really knew what being anxious meant; I didn’t know it was a condition you could have. I just thought it was a feeling and always associated it with being nervous. And being nervous, in my head at least, equated to being shy. The thing is though, I had a lot of friends when I was a kid. Definitely not now, though. I doubt I ever initiated the friendships I did have as a kid, but still.

As I got older and started college in the fall of 2014, I realized my symptoms were more than just shyness. For example, walking to the front of class to turn in a paper? Forget it. I could not be the first person to get up in front of the class; just thinking about it even now makes me feel like my chest is going to explode. Presentations? You’re funny. Never gonna happen, unless my entire GPA depends on it.

Living like that all through school, I looked into it and realized those were all symptoms of anxiety. Add in my nail and skin biting, how easy it is for my face to flush red when talking to anyone, being afraid to ask for anything at a restaurant, my fear of driving in new places, or even just driving at night. I also used to have a couple of compulsive behaviors that took me years to “grow out of.” For instance, if I touched something with my ring finger, I had to make sure I touched it with the same finger of my other hand. I never told anyone about it, and I didn’t realize it could mean something more serious was going on. I just thought it meant I was a bit “weird.”

I’ve also never been able to initiate conversations with anyone I don’t know without feeling like my whole world is spinning, and the entire time I just keep wondering if they’re judging me. Which also confuses me, because I’m usually the person who doesn’t care what people think. I do what I want, and I can be a very blunt person. But when it comes to strangers, I just always feel so insecure.

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Anxiety is not just constant worrying like I grew up believing it to be. It’s feeling like something bad is inevitably going to happen to you without having any reason to think that way. It’s wondering if your best friend didn’t answer your text because they’re mad at you, even though you know she probably is just busy. It’s believing you’re not good enough to chase your dreams, and you’ll never find love because everyone hates you. Or because you’re ugly and no one has the heart to tell you. It’s about feeling a weight on your chest and your shoulders and just being so tired — tired of your mind racing, tired of doubting yourself. Just being so tired.

Anxiety takes so much out of me some weeks that I just go to work, come home and chill on the couch. I won’t even really answer texts or go on social media — nothing. I just lie there, watch tv, maybe try to nap. But napping just makes me more tired, makes my mind race more with what-ifs.

I’ve never been to a doctor to see if I truly have an anxiety disorder, but I’m fairly positive I do. I want to go to a doctor to see what they say, but for some reason, I am so scared to tell my parents. I feel like I’ll just be judged, or they’ll tell me to just “suck it up.” Well, I have just been pushing on my whole life. For once, I just wanna feel OK.

I want to be able to have a conversation with a customer at work (side note: I am a cashier at a grocery store) and not feel like I might throw up at any moment. I’m tired of feeling so drained after having to interact in any kind of social environment. I just want to be me, all the time, in any situation. I want to finally, for once in my life, be free. Who knows if I’ll ever be able to truly live and let go, but hey, I’m gonna try.

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Why It’s So Hard To Trust People When You Have Anxiety

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This piece was written by Ari Eastman, a Thought Catalog contributor.

Anxiety convinces you your safety is always in jeopardy. Be it physical, emotional or mental. Doesn’t matter. You’re always worried. There’s a voice you can’t ever seem to mute.

Anxiety means you’re constantly looking for something to ruin you, to undermine any bit of happiness or stability you’ve achieved. And that makes it so hard to let your guard down. You feel like if you relax, that’ll be the moment it all goes to hell. So relaxation isn’t an option. You have to remain alert, vigilant even. You have to be ready for the inevitable.

Anxiety tells you that you’re not going to be OK. Even if you are. It’s not rational. That’s why it’s so frustrating and so hard to explain to those who don’t experience it. You don’t ever truly feel calm. Even if you’re surrounded by loving, trustworthy people. Even if you’re sitting in the comfort of your home, with four sturdy walls protecting you.

Sometimes, anxiety has nothing to do with other people. It’s your brain. It’s your brain racing through every worst case scenario on an endless loop. It’s your brain looking for problems where they don’t even exist.

See, trust requires believing in something you can’t see. And that can be so, so hard for someone with anxiety.

Trusting someone, anyone, means uncertainty and uncertainty to an anxious mind is terrible. When it’s really bad, it can be debilitating.

You turn down social invitations. Not because you don’t want to go. Not because you dislike the person inviting you. But because there’s that trust issue again. You need a meticulous list of what’s going to happen if you say yes. And no one can promise you that. No one has a crystal ball with a play-by-play of everything that’s going to occur.

It doesn’t mean you can’t get there. It doesn’t mean trust is some mythical feeling you’ll never be able to attain.

But it means work. It means trying and feeling like a failure and trying again. It means patience. It means small acts of bravery whenever you can muster up the strength.

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And if tomorrow your trust still feels shaky, that’s OK.

The people who care will take their time with you. They’ll let you get there whenever you’re ready.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Thinkstock photo via domoyega

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