Fearlessness and Frozen Peas: Takeaways From Anxiety

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” — C.S. Lewis

Well, Mr. Lewis, I apparently have not. When the kindly doctor man peered in my mouth and proclaimed the need for oral surgery recently, my maturity fell away. I felt like a five-year-old kid fearing booster shots, the boogeyman, blindness (too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie).

I consider myself relatively fearless. I’ve overcome my share of hardships, certainly worse than wisdom tooth extraction. But the thought of someone forcing me unconscious, stealing my mind with the prick of a needle, left me vulnerable and naive, fighting thoughts of I WANT MY MOMMY!. I must have had some semblance of grownup thought left, as I took the first available appointment—a mere three days later.

Then with clammy palms and my heart already racing, I hit the gym. I posted a comment about anesthesia-phobia on Facebook, shared the news with kin, and pounded out my angst on the elliptical machine. It’s a blessing, I told myself. I have insurance. Dentistry’s come a long way! Think about people without food on the table, much less medical care. It’ll prevent complications down the road. And who wants an infection? Just because some people have suffered heart attack, stroke and death on the table, doesn’t mean YOU will. The wavers you signed were precautionary…Would you rather feel the surgeon cut into your gums, remove part of your jawbone and remove the innocent tooth that’s been with you for years? 

Great. Just what I needed—to feel sadness over parting with the detrimental bone.

The morning of the procedure, I woke up with feelings nearly identical to my last brush with anxiety. Last year after pitching and submitting to a bunch of agents, two emailed me the same day, requesting phone conversations to discuss representation. For whatever reason, I felt far more anxious about the phone calls than I had about pitching. What if I said the wrong thing? Or something stupid? Changed their minds mid-call? Though I anticipated positive results, I struggled to sleep the night before and woke up trembling in a giddy pre-heart-attack-like buzz. Just like tooth day.

The extraction went smoothly. I was in the operating chair for less than an hour and on my sofa, decked out in frozen peas shortly after. The doc was right: I simply fell asleep then woke up, groggy and relieved with the procedure behind me.

Over the next few days, it struck me that we’re often the most fearful before something positive happens. I’m not talking about the fear we rely on for safety, but the angst that comes with growth. Perhaps I wasn’t simply nervous about talking to agents, but landing one. Afraid of success. Of growing out of the comfort zone called “newbie” I’d been longing with my whole heart to grow past. Of measuring up to new status.

Sitting down in the dental chair was much like picking up that phone. I was anxious, but buckled down to do what I trusted was right. I took one step at a time, guided with my instincts, relied on support from others and knew that if I just kept going, all would pan out fine. You’re going to be fine. Just breathe. This is good. I didn’t bottle my feelings up, but shared, respected and coped with them. And both cases, I’m grateful to say, turned out well.

So perhaps I have grown up. Even so, I’m glad I can still connect with the fearful child I used to be. She’s as important as the adult I’m becoming.

I suppose if I learned anything from my tooth ordeal it’s this: Anxiety can be a very selfish state, if we allow it to consume us. And fixating on fear only fuels it. If we accept angst as part of the deal, part of the price we pay for growth and success, we become more empathetic, better friends and more likely to plow through ceilings to reach our goals. Oh, and little beats frozen peas for jaw pain.

My Jaw-Pain BFF

Fabulous related posts:

Marcy Kennedy: Do You Worry You Won’t Succeed as a Writer?
Tameri Etherton: Size Doesn’t Matter
Surgery Music: Going Under the Knife: Are You Afraid of Anesthesia?

Are you an anesthesia or something-else phobe? How do you manage anxiety? What have you learned through coping?