This morning I dragged myself into the dentist’s office so she could diagnose the source of the aching pain that has plagued one of my molars for the last few days.
Of course, being high as a kite on lorazepam–quite the niftiest pharmaceutical solution to anxiety imaginable–did facilitate our interaction. I’ve written before that we get no extra credit for suffering, and that needless suffering at the dentist (or elsewhere) should be avoided without shame.
So I was shame-free in my kind dentist’s chair, and as relaxed as possible, when I received a diagnosis and treatment plan. The good news is that the problem is treatable gum inflammation.
The bad news is that if I want to cure the inflammation and prevent it from returning, I need to two things. First, use a prescription mouth rinse and take ibuprofen for 10 days, which is simple enough. Second, I have to commit to using a water flosser after I brush my teeth every night.
Upon receiving this second mandate, which had been cheerfully suggested and just as cheerfully ignored on many previous visits as my gums gradually deteriorated, I felt my back stiffen and my lips press together tightly.
Resentment coursed through my body. Hot on its heels was something far worse–fear, anxiety, and certainty that I will fail. I don’t even want to try, I thought.
This is not due to laziness, of which I freely admit I have plenty. And it does not indicate lack of faith in my dentist’s expertise. Rather, the problem is learned helplessness. If I had a dollar for every time I have replied, “Yes, I’ve tried that already” to well meaning people who tell me about the product or treatment they saw in the news, I could buy a lifetime supply of stool softeners!
I’m well experienced at trying things. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right?
I have tried many different skin care products for the skin breakdown on the remaining part of my right thigh, which gets irritated by my prosthetic leg socket. And I’ve tried a zillion approaches–medical, alternative medicine, and “woo woo” or spiritual–to controlling phantom limb pain and to coping with break-through pain. I’ve tried a dozen remedies for the constipation that results from my continual reliance on pain meds.
I’ve tried different styles of crutches to help the tendonitis in my arms, different systems for attaching my prosthetic socket, different types of shoes, insoles, and shots for the Morton’s neuroma in my biological foot. I’ve tried them all–one right after another.
And you know what the take-away lesson from all of this “trying” is? That most of things I try do not help at all, and the ones that do help somewhat come with side effects that range from unpleasant to intolerable.
It’s enough to make me not want to try, try again. Trying is so… well, to use a bad pun, trying.
Experimenting with this new remedy and that one, over and over again with high failure rates may be exciting or at least intriguing to scientists in laboratories and inventors in startups, but it’s a hell of a way to live. It’s expensive and tedious and demoralizing. It erodes my spirit.
Does this mean I’m giving up? No. I’ve persisted through far worse and I’ll persist through gum inflammation, too. Siting in the dentist parking lot, sipping Diet Coke and sobering up from the lorazepam, I ordered the damn water flosser from Amazon.
I promise, I’ll give it a good try.