I had my dental check up last month, with a new dentist because my old dentist wasn't on the insurance list, and when the dentist called out the number 15 when probing, I knew that couldn't be a good sign. I am in my 40's and never had a cavity. I went home and looked up adult cavities, and stopped after about 10 minutes. In the past I would've searched repeatedly, in hopes of finding the exact answer as to why I had a cavity, and how best to have it filled, so I can tell I've come a long way.
I had it filled yesterday, and there was a whole wave of things to stir up my health anxiety. First, the dentist asks if I want a silver filling or a white filling. I had a moment of "Oh, shit. I have to make a decision. I'm not prepared for this," and I ask what the difference is. He says it's "six of one, half a dozen of the other"--no absolute winner. It's like going to class and discovering a pop quiz and you haven't read the chapter. I picked the silver filling because it was a)cheaper and b)would probably last longer(when I asked which lasted longer the dentist said, "I'm not a fortune teller, but I'd say the silver.") Uncertainty all over the place.
All sorts of tidbits of things I'd heard in the past bubbled up while waiting for the numbing to take effect(what if I'm allergic to novacaine? What if?? What if I chose the wrong thing? What about all those people who are afraid of silver fillings?) I had my knitting which helped, as did thinking of Leonard, and all I've learned from him in Exposure Therapy, and the fact that we really aren't fortune tellers. We take our best guess, and sometimes the outcome sucks.
The sound of the drill wasn't as bad as I thought it would it would be, though it smelled like burning hair. I was pretty calm until I heard the dentist opening and shutting drawers, because he couldn't find something he needed--he's filling in for the regular dentist who is ill, and never used the item he wanted. So I'm listening to him improvising with the dental assistant with whatever they have on hand. The dentist ended by telling me that if I have some sensitivity to heat or cold, it will go away with time. I wanted to say, "I have OCD. My symptoms don't f-ing go away. . ." but I didn't because I know that there is a chance it will actually go away on its own if I let the fear be there, and go on with my life, rather than researching and checking the tooth constantly with my tongue.
I'm proud of myself that I haven't looked up the potential dire consequences of silver fillings, or a lack of cavity varnish. I woke up today wanting to look it all up because I was getting the insistent, "What if you screwed up? What if the sensitivity in your tooth won't go away?" Because, yes, cold water hurts my tooth. Finally I recognized that it's only the day after the dental work. It's too soon to tell. The OCD wants an answer NOW. But if I try to accelerate the answer to tamp down my fear, I will make it worse. If I repeatedly test the tooth with cold water, it is going to bring it to my attention and not give it a chance to get better. It might not. But I am practicing tolerating that uncertainty. That doesn't mean I like it, but I have things I want to do with my life, and probing my tooth will certainly lead to being stuck in compulsions, rather than making art.
Many of you know how much I've healed during my work with Leonard, my Exposure Therapist for my OCD struggles, and now he needs thoughts and prayers for his own healing. I went for my session yesterday, and another therapist came into the waiting room to tell me that Leonard had tried to call all his clients, but that he must not have gotten to me, and that he was in the hospital. He gave everyone a good scare, but it sounds like he's going to be ok and out of the hospital soon, but he has healing ahead of him, and I'm not sure when he'll be back to seeing clients.
I am so grateful for the compassion and skill of this therapist, and saddened that he is going through this hard time. I also feel for his other clients, especially ones who have just started, or who are in OCD crisis. The rapport between therapist and client is an amazing tool for motivation and growth and courage in facing what we fear. Leonard once told me he felt honored that his clients trusted him with their personal thoughts and fears.
Life by its nature is full of the unexpected, pain and suffering, but also contains joy, love and meaning. In the past, my OCD would go into overdrive trying to figure out the suffering, with compulsive analysis, but I am learning that some questions have no answers, and I am able to live in spite of this. I never thought I'd find someone to help me face my OCD, and it feels like a miracle that I did, and I hope for miracles in Leonard's life too.
Edited to add: I saw Leonard for therapy on Tuesday. He is doing much better, and his tests came out negative, so that was a relief! Thanks again for all the thoughts and prayers.
So it's been two weeks since I wrote my last post on perfectionism which resonated with several of my readers, and I have been avoiding writing another post since then, because my perfectionism says, "Ok, that post was helpful, so the next one better be even more helpful." Perfectionism raises the bar so that satisfaction is never possible. I am also realizing more and more how uncomfortable it is to give myself credit for what I have accomplished in dealing with my OCD, and that this too is a manifestation of perfectionistic OCD. This is often accompanied by my feeling on trial by my OCD.
So what is it that I fear will happen if I acknowledge the work I'm doing?
I will discover it's not possible to be perfect, and that small steps are acceptable, and I will be faced with a flood of sadness about all the time I've lost to perfectionism
I won't be able to survive the sadness, because it will haunt me every minute
I am learning to make room for affirming of myself, but the remnants of all the old stuff cling stubbornly. I also know that there is a deep sadness about the missing years, but that the more I flee from the grief, the more it ensnares me. I also know that I respond much better to self kindness and compassion than to self denigration. At one point this is all I had to go on, in faith, that kindness worked, and even if it seemed crazy to be kind to myself, that if I wanted to heal, I needed to take the risk and be gentle, even if it was with gritted teeth.
If you are struggling with perfectionism, please know that it is possible to learn how to exist in the world without a constant striving for the perfect, that happiness is possible. Perfectionism can feel like a sticky film that refuses to be washed off, but it is not invincible. To write something that helps others with OCD is one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had, and although my OCD clamors that I'm not feeling the gratification "perfectly right and sustained", I can still claim the moments of clarity, of being enough, of being myself.