Anything but Zen


I have finished my last medical appointments for the year! Hurrah!

Last week I had my dentist and my rheumatologist.

I adore my dentist and dental hygienist. Everyone at that surgery is so nice. (I bought them some homemade mince pies to say thanks for making a visit to the dentist always something to look forward to: that’s how nice they are!)

I am a huge fan of dental health and flossing *. Consequently my teeth are pretty good on the no-plaque avoiding-cavities level. Yay, me!



Me (artist’s impression)

Regrettably, though, my bargain-bin immune system affects all aspects of my life and my dental health is no exception.

I have quite the bruxis (tooth-grinding) problem. My poor teeth clearly show the results of thirty years of gritting through chronic pain. And so does my jaw. Don’t ignore pain, folks! Never ‘push through’. Or you too will end up with a clicky, gappy jaw that constantly unhinges itself and makes chewing impossible, as well as worn, faceted, cracking teeth. And TMJ pain, headaches, dizziness, neck pain blah blah …

I tend to grit mostly during the day, which makes it a bit pointless getting a preventive night guard. There is only one solution. To be blunt, I need to keep my pain and stress under control, if I want to keep my teeth.


Me (artist’s impression)

On top of that, there is my body’s tendency towards spontaneous and random inflammation. My gums and mouth sometimes just get horribly inflamed for no obvious reason. I think for a while I really freaked my poor dentist until she registered there was an autoimmune situation going on. (She still says things like, ‘Hey, remember that time you had that weird, random inflammation and freaked us all out?’ Poor love.)

And add to that my hyper-excitable nerves, so I have very sensitive teeth. Hurrah!

I got a lovely old-fashioned hand-clean of my teeth (they’re far too sensitive for the usual newfangled equipment) and my latest x-rays checked, congratulated for having extra-long roots to my teeth **, and sent off with a serious exhortation: ‘AVOID STRESS AND PAIN’.

Okay then. I mean, hard to achieve, but okay.

Then I saw my rheumatologist. Last time I saw him, my blood tests showed my rheumatoid factor was pretty high. This was before I took time off work.

This time all my blood test results were great. My rheumatologist was pleased with my progress, and was inclined to attribute it to less stress in my life.

He knows me well and understands my tendency to disguise outward signs of pain and stress – so they come out instead in the form of more pain. He also knows about my boom-or-bust personality, and the drive that leads me to push through fatigue and pain, like a stubborn, grumpy bear.

As usual he reminded me that there is more to life than working. I know!

He also checked in to make sure I was eating plenty of seafood ***, reminded me to get enough iron, and sent me off with a serious exhortation: ‘AVOID STRESS AND PAIN’.



Me (artist’s impression)

So that makes it official: every single health provider I have (and I have a decent collection) has told me in no uncertain terms that I must keep my stress levels down in future or face various dire consequences.

Looking past the obvious irony of that coming from a series of overworked medics: seriously? Do you know anyone who lives a low-stress lifestyle? Even my yoga teacher admits to being a stress-bunny.

Show me a modern adult without stress and I’ll show you a dead person.

I’m not convinced it’s possible to achieve a zen calm without unpleasant pharmaceutical assistance (and that’s not happening).

To add to the unlikeliness of becoming this chimera, an ‘unstressed human’, I seem to have developed a new and exciting way to express my utter uncoolness. My normal human background level of misanthropy, especially when it comes to doing horrible things like shopping, has started to get a bit out of control.

Example: my friend K can’t accompany me to the fresh food markets at the moment. Last time I made sure I got there nice and early, so I could easily find a park then do the shopping by myself in relative ease.

I duly parked without too much hassle, got out of the car while the markets were fairly peaceful, and promptly had a bit of a panic attack. The whole shallow-breathing, shaking, sweating, dizzy nightmare.



Me (artist’s impression)

I managed to get through it by breathing very slowly and calmly, and thinking ‘what would K do?’ the whole time. **** Although it was really quite calm at that time of day, my eyes must have been rolling around like a panicked horse. Every time a child darted around in my presence, or somebody leaned in from behind me to pick something up, I startled like a rabbit. My voice was shrill and breathless. And when I got home it took an hour or so before my legs stopped feeling weak and trembly.

Every time I need to go to the Bad Place, or out in public by myself, this is happening. In fact, I need to get a few groceries in a couple of hours (after the lunch rush, most definitely), and I can feel my heart rate speeding up already.

Naturally, I took this issue directly to my counsellor. She was quick to reassure me that developing a social anxiety disorder is common for people with invisible disabilities. It’s the whole inability-to-avoid-pushy-people-with-trolleys thing. Get a few whacks with a pram, or a few good shoulder-checks from grumpy shoppers, and the body (and psyche) starts to tense up to prepare for the worst.

And yes it’s a problem because my body responds to this flight/fight thing by giving me pain, in the hope I’ll avoid the situation in future. My counsellor said I will most definitely need to tackle the problem, because otherwise I’ll end up being trapped at home, too scared to leave the house at all. (And I can see it starting to happen.)

But she also added that December is NOT the month to begin aversion therapy to deal with it! As she pointed out, everyone hates the shops in December. Meaning more grumpy shoppers and far more of those situations that slow-moving people cannot escape.

After the January sales, she says we will need to start tackling the problem. In the meantime she urged me to avoid the shops during busy times unless I have trusted company, and I have some biofeedback tricks to use to keep myself from flipping out completely.

I will need to use those today, I can see! It’s all very well to say to avoid the shops when they’re busy, but they are ALWAYS busy in December, and we still need loo paper and suchlike.

So here is my situation. Needing to try and be a calm person, while having innate tendencies to be anything but.

Are you good at managing stress? How do you cope with the Bad Place during the Stressiest Time of the Year? Any advice for how I can become one of those hugely irritating zen-types, with their borderline-aggressive calm? (I don’t want to be like that, of course. The moment I describe myself as an ‘Earth Mother’ or use the term ‘Natural Living’ without irony, I give you permission to slap me on the ear.)



Definitely not me (ah, bog off)

* Seriously I can’t push this hard enough: floss! Visit the dentist regularly! Teeth deserve love!

** See, this is one reason to love your dentist. They give you truly unique compliments! I felt so special.

*** My rheumatologist is strongly of the ‘let food be thy medicine’ camp. He is CONVINCED of the efficacy of seafood in managing joint problems and also believes in eating the whole food in preference to taking supplements. The upshot for me is a doctor who urges me at every opportunity to enjoy plenty of our lovely, fresh, delicious local seafood – and who am I to say no? Life’s hard …

**** WWKD? Get the job done, calmly, practically, and with great determination. WWKD is a philosophy many of us could live by.



One thought on “Anything but Zen

  1. Sue

    I don’t think I am the best person to advise you on being zen. I find killing computer generated monsters helps me! Happy to help do your shopping for you! xxx fatrat


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