I had been avoiding this dentist appointment for months.
I had already rescheduled at least once, maybe twice. Although it was just a routine cleaning, I was dreading it.
At that point of my life though, I was dreading everything.
To give you a little background, my chronic illnesses were flaring and I was at an all-time low emotionally. I had recently lost my boyfriend, job, college, and many of my friends. The emotional toll of being in pain 24/7 was unbearable and I was incredibly hopeless. I had been diagnosed with amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety. My life was put on hold indefinitely and I hated it.
I dreaded waking up to the pain every day. I dreaded it so much that I didn’t even want to take care of myself. Showering, eating, brushing my teeth, all these normal things became a struggle for me.
Which is why I was especially upset about this dentist appointment.
As a laid back in the uncomfortable dentist chair, I wanted to run away and hide. After all, I used to be like, the straight A student of dentist appointments. But today, I knew I was in for a reprimand. The bright lights shining in my face weren’t going to hide the truth. I was embarrassed to admit that I was simply too sick and depressed to take care of myself consistently. My teeth were terrible.
I was already angry and frustrated with myself, and I knew the lecture I was in for would only make me feel worse.
As the woman who was taking care of me that day started working on my teeth (which promptly started bleeding everywhere), she didn’t reprimand or lecture me. She painstakingly gave me the care I couldn’t give myself, and she never judged me.
Without even a hint of judgment, she noted that I must grind my teeth and she asked about it. I told her more details about how I grind my teeth because I’m in pain a lot and I have anxiety. Instead of yelling at me for grinding my teeth and telling me not to, she responded by telling me about her own health issues and how they affect her life too. She didn’t do this in a way that minimized my pain, but in a very relatable and understanding way.
After the much longer than usual process of cleaning my teeth, we spent a few minutes chatting about how my pain made it hard to do things every day, even things as small as brushing my teeth. She was only encouraging to me, never harsh or frustrated that I had created more work for her.
She could have easily belittled me and my pain and just told me to brush my dang teeth. But she didn’t do that. Instead, she validated my pain and made me feel like I was worth her time. And then she gave me her personal advice about how to stay motivated and take care of myself, even when it sucks.
I don’t even remember her name, but I will never forget her kindness.
On my way out the door, she pulled me aside and whispered “Have you tried getting a weighted blanket? Because mine is pretty much the best things ever for my anxiety.”
I smiled and told her that I had one too and loved it.
Who knew I would have so much in common with my dental hygienist?
I decided to share this story now because I want people to know that it’s not hard to be an ally.
The chronic illness and mental health communities desperately need your kindness.
When I was feeling worthless, this stranger treated me with respect.
When I was feeling isolated, this stranger made me feel less alone.
When I was afraid of being judged, this stranger made me feel validated.
If a random dental hygienist can do it, you can do it too.
What you say to your friends, acquaintances, and strangers in your life matters. Your words could mean all the difference to them. You never really know what someone else might be going through.
So please, be kind.