#4 – The Dentist

November 16, 2008

The dentist is on my mind because I have tooth decay. I can actually see it as a brown spot on one of my back molars, and feel a tiny pit with my tongue. This is too bad because historically I have had great teeth. My parents drug me to the dentist twice a year my whole life and got me into braces in high school. In my 20’s I continued to see the dentist and took great care of my teeth. Then around 27 I started to experience general medical-facility triggered anxiety, and also went off of COBRA around that time. When I got back on insurance with another job, making the appointment to see the dentist again was always somewhere in the back of my mind but I never pulled through and got it done. The dentist’s fate was sealed.

But now, after about 3 and a half years, the party is over and I need to go back. In fact, this coming Monday I will call. First will be the cleaning and exam, which won’t be bad really, but then they’ll schedule me for the filling, and I will have a couple of days or weeks to really think about it. Of course I could wait, and what should be solely a filling will probably turn into a root-canal.

My wife has said she would come with me if I want but it sucks feeling like such a wuss and I really don’t want to put her through the hassle. I also have no intention on taking “the gas” either. I hate drugs (well, except caffeine and alcohol, of course). The worst part is the novocain (i.e. needles) and that comes first and it is all downhill from there.

On a side note though, I need to mention what a marvel modern American denistry is these days. Between the bi-annual cleanings, which are generally still covered by insurance, white-plastic/polymer fillings, teeth straightening orthodonistry, and full on screw-new-teeth-into-your-head for hockey players and accident victims, all easily performed in simple, painless, out-patient procedures, is pretty awesome. Also, the Sonicare toothbrush is fairly awesome, and not too expensive at Costco. Hopefully this upcoming dentist visit will be my last for awhile that ends with “bad news.”

Anxiety Rating (out of 10): 8

Update – I’ve been flying around for work a little more. That rating is lowered to a 5.


Drawing Blood

May 19, 2008

This is really a subset of a larger and forthcoming post about anxiety from the medical/dental profession in general, however, drawing blood is more significant for me for two reasons. The first is a matter of personal history – when I was in my early 20’s I was giving blood for a routine physical and abruptly fainted. This was the first time I experienced this and it was a horrifically unsettling. Up until this point in my life I had not identified at all with having anxiety or it’s symptoms. For example at this point in my life I had no anxiety from flying. This was the point when I began to realize I may not always be able to control something that I fear, though it stayed relatively specific to only giving blood for some time afterwards (i.e. it didn’t “crossover” to flying or dentists for some time).

Secondly, giving blood produces the most intense physical symptoms of anxiety than any other triggers. Despite the fact the procedure is relatively short, less than a minute even, I can easily go from a resting heart rate and no symptoms to full fainting. Flying, for example, usually produces a low-grade anxiety symptom chain that lasts longer but is more manageable. The importance of my reaction to drawing blood is important because it drives the oother triggers by being the worst case scenario possible (which it is, anxirty related symptoms are harmless for one’s health). For example, with flying, I think ultimately the fear I have is the symptoms will progress to the stage they have giving blood, and that feeling of being out of control is the primary driver in the first place. It’s the Catch-22 all over again.

This trigger also differs because it doesn’t seem to be eased by being “hidden,” or when strangers to see me. Although I have given blood a number of times since I have not fainted (I got pretty light headed once), I still have anxiety symptoms beforehand thinking about it, and can feel a blood rush during the procedure.

One aspect of this blog for me was to start coming to terms with my anxieties. For instance, I take some comfort in knowing that the symptoms from drawing blood are really about ‘as bad as it gets.’ Anxiety symptoms, though certainly uncomfortable, are very manageable and not dangerous in any physical way. And if anxiety is a “run-a-way” train, in terms of cascading symptoms, so too is the eventual, and inevitable, recovery.

Anxiety Rating (out of 10): 10

#2 – Vomiting

May 1, 2008

This an odd and key anxiety trigger for me because it goes back the furthest into my childhood that I can really remember. When I was in 3rd grade I got the stomach flu like every kid does now and again. In the middle of the night I woke up and puked everywhere and then went back to bed like every kid does. However for some reason the experience haunted me for years. Maybe it was the details around the experience: waking up confused, still half dreaming, feeling nauseous obviously and unable to control what was happening. I don’t really know. But I do know I was deathly afraid of vomiting after that.

At that age in my life I didn’t identify with ‘anxiety’ per se, but I definitely experienced the symptoms I now identify with anxiety. I would avoid situations where I was scared I may become ill. It helped me to withdraw and that sometimes triggered social anxiety as well, something I hadn’t really experienced much of at that age in my life. If I slept over at a friends house I would be scared of going to bed wondering if I might wake up and need to puke in a strange unfamiliar house’s toilet. I became fearful of strange diseases, like appendicitis if I read somewhere that the one of the symptoms was vomiting.

This line of thinking went pretty far – for example it was absolutely incomprehensible to me that someone could be bulimic and vomit on purpose. I would always avoid roller coasters as a kid because I was scared it might trigger the feeling. My brothers called me a wuss and I felt like an outcast because of it. I now know it was the fear of the fear that I was avoiding, but it was debilitating in some regard, which is the point of addressing my feelings about it now.

Though I have come a long way in managing this trigger, it still lingers for me in combination situations such as flying (i.e. the thought of throwing up due to already being ill or bad turbulence heightens the anxiety of flying). This is in addition to the fact that I rarely puke. I have never gotten sick from food poisoning or after the experience above I have only thrown up on two occasions, a few times one day when I had the flu in 7th grade and once when I was super hungover when I was 25, some 6 years ago. Despite this, I still experience anxiety if I have indigestion from time to time and wonder if I am getting sick (and one of the physical symptoms of anxiety is to remove blood from the stomach creating more indigestion, which is one example of many of anxiety’s ‘self-fulfilling prophecies.’)

Anxiety Rating (out of 10): 7

#1 – Flying

April 29, 2008

This is the most obvious one. For most folks flying sucks in general due to its long list of irritating and uncomfortable logistics, but for me it’s a little harder thanks to anxiety. More specifically, flying by myself gives me anxiety. In general when I fly with my wife or a friend I do not experience symptoms, though I can sometimes feel like I am starting to get symptoms.

The underlying ‘fear of flying’ doesn’t have much to do with actually flying in itself. Rather, in a ‘Catch-22,’ the fear comes from being unable to ‘escape’ out of a situation where I am starting to experience anxiety related physical symptoms.

Anxiety for me is generally not a rational response to a situation.  Consider the fact that airline fatalities are exceptionally rare. There are some 30,000 domestic commercial flights everyday in the US and the last major accident was in 2001. Despite this, once they close the door I can begin to feel trapped and that starts the “anxiety symptom chain.”

Note that this does not actually stop me from flying. I just deal with it — sometimes alcohol helps.

Anxiety Rating (out of 10): 8