So I had a startling realization yesterday, an off-shoot of one a few years ago, and I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about it, so here goes. (Haven’t been able to talk about it because I had two back teeth taken out yesterday).
A few years ago things in my life were very very bad. I was in the depths of a depression, one grown child was nuts with no diagnosis and making our lives a living hell. Our money situation was ghastly (still is), our other child was a mess, everything felt horrible. I’d been down to visit Crusie, and I was driving back, weeping. Everything felt terrible, with no hope or joy in sight (remember, I was depressed) and I felt so empty, driving back to nothingness. And then I remembered the current story I was writing. And I thought of other things I wanted to write, and the book I was reading, and that was the one, undeniable hope I could hold on to and stop myself from crying . It always struck me that when I had nothing I still had the stories, wonderful books to read and write.
Of course, things got better, but I’ll never forget that when things were at their lowest, story saved me (as it’s been doing all my life – I would’t have survived my childhood without my incessant reading, and I know some of you are the same).
Fast forward to yesterday. I’ve been lucky enough never to have to have teeth removed as an adult. But on one side I had a root canal that had taken five or six visits and they’d never been able to finish it (shit-load of money thrown away on that). That was still bothering me. Then a few months ago I ended up with a huge abscess on the other side, in a tooth that was mostly filling and there was no chance of saving, and that had to go too. Fortunately both of them are at the back , I’ve had some difficulty chewing, so I was on board (though not happy). I got to the oral surgeon yesterday, a little edgy, but assuming I was going to have some kind of anesthesia. Uh, nope. Just novacaine. They could do other stuff but I’d need to come back for a consult and then have it done, and yes, it would cost more (we don’t have dental insurance). So, being a relatively tough cookie, I sighed and said “go ahead.”
It was freaking awful. The doctor was great, the aides were wonderful, but sitting in that fucking chair, having them yank and drill and yank and crack and pull was unbelievably difficult for me, and I started crying, which was really embarrassing. I told them I was very anxious and then closed my eyes, trying to keep the tears behind my eyelids, trying not to let it get worse which would involve hiccuping while they were drilling.
While I’d been waiting earlier (for the novacaine to take effect) I’d come up with a brilliant thing I could do with my revisions – where I could place my dreaded flashback scene. So as I was clutching the arms of the chair and trying to keep from sobbing (and it didn’t hurt that much it was just so … invasive) I cast around in my mind for anything to distract myself. Every time I thought that I shouldn’t cry it would get worse. So I thought about moving that scene, and suddenly I was calm. Like I’d had an instantaneous shot of something. I couldn’t really concentrate on anything, of course, and they’d yank, and I’d get weepy, and again I thought of the scene. Again, instant calm. It was amazing.
Unfortunately both teeth were difficult, in particular the one that had had the root canal, which apparently had fused to the tooth beside it, plus was a very large one, so they had to work exrtra long and hard on it, so I had plenty of time to keep observing the phenomenon. Each damn time it would work – tears would be sliding down my cheeks from my closed eyes (and of course any sign of sympathy, like Carol, the really nice nurse, putting a comforting hand on my arm, made it worse) and I ‘d think of my characters and the panic would just vanish for the moment. It really was extraordinary.
I remember when I was an adolescent I would leave the house in the middle of the night when my parents were raging and walk across town to our church, about two miles away. They didn’t lock it, and I’d hide in one of the back pews and recite the Lord’s Prayer or some of the psalms I’d memorized over and over again to soothe myself. I imagine it’s similar to that, and to Transcendental Meditation where you have a certain mantra that you can focus on to make things better.
Story is my mantra, my lord’s prayer, my escape from an awful childhood, the only hope when things are terrible. For me story is the only way I survive.
Having the physical proof of it, over and over again yesterday, was really enlightening.
Has anyone else gotten into a similar situation? And if things have been disastrous, what helped?
Mind you, I’m not comparing having a couple of impacted teeth out as the same as losing someone. When someone dies (or stuff on that level, like Richie’s heart-attack) you have to deal with it, work it through. But if you’re in the midst of a short-term, or even longer-term situation that’s unbearable, what do you turn to for calm, for relief, for succor?