This is another coffee talk of some sort.

Yesterday was one of the scariest days of my life – I went to the dentist, and that is the place that I haven’t been to for 10 years! I know! TEN. Not even once for a check up. My fear of them has started long ago, when my mum decided that we needed to extract the first milk tooth when it was to fall out on its own just in a couple of days. I really don’t see a reason why shouldn’t you let it fall out on its own in time and instead go to the dentist, but it doesn’t matter. The dentist did extract the tooth, but I was in such hysterics that I begged mum to promise that she would never do this to me again. The promise was given and obeyed.

Years later, when I was 13, I had to go back to the dentist to get two fillings done. At that moment I was so terrified that I bet I was the worst patient they have ever had till the present day. I was constantly sobbing, moaning and crying that I couldn’t breathe. And that was the last time I ever sat in that scary chair at the dentist’s. However, this time I have a really bad case, so determined to get it done with, I went back there only to find myself in hysterics again, despite the fact that they didn’t do anything, only two X-Rays.

When doing the first X-Ray, they asked me to put some weird thing into my mouth and hold it there, so I couldn’t close my mouth and couldn’t breathe well, because of some panic attack which I always get at the dentist’s. And the doctor asked me, Are you claustrophobic? Of course, I said no. I was kind of afraid of elevators in my childhood, but was never afraid of small rooms or anything of the sort. And that’s exactly what claustrophobia is known for to everyone, right? Turns out, no.

Taken from Wikepedia:

Claustrophobia (from Latin claustrum “a shut in place” and Greek φόβος, phóbos, “fear”) is the fear of having no escape and being closed in small spaces or rooms[1] (opposite: claustrophilia). It is typically classified as an anxiety disorder and often results in panic attack, and can be the result of many situations or stimuli, including elevators crowded to capacity, windowless rooms, and even tight-necked clothing.[2] The onset of claustrophobia has been attributed to many factors, including a reduction in the size of the amygdala, classical conditioning, or a genetic predisposition to fear small spaces.”

It also says later:

“Claustrophobia is typically thought to have two key symptoms: fear of restriction and fear of suffocation. A typical claustrophobic will fear restriction in at least one, if not several, of the following areas: small rooms, locked rooms, cars, trains, tunnels, cellars, elevators. Additionally, the fear of restriction can cause some claustrophobics to fear trivial matters such as sitting in a barber’s chair or waiting in line at a grocery store simply out of a fear of confinement to a single space.

However, claustrophobics are not necessarily afraid of these areas themselves, but, rather, they fear what could happen to them should they become confined to an area. Often, when confined to an area, claustrophobics begin to fear suffocation, believing that there may be a lack of air in the area to which they are confined.”

It says, that often claustrophobia comes as a consequence of a traumatic childhood experience, but sometimes due to an experience in adulthood. I had one of the listed experiences when I was under 3 years old. I was locked up in a dark bathroom (accidentally, of course). That could onset the claustrophobia, but it’s quite interesting that I’m not as afraid of small spaces, although I am afraid of the dark to some extent).

But how and why don’t bother me too much. What does bother me is that I have to go back to the dentist next Friday, and I know for sure that I’ll have another panic attack. Probably, a lot of them. So my question is how can I help it? How can I avoid these panic attacks? I don’t want to take any sedatives, mainly because I have a small child at home, and they say that after that drug taken you can’t look after children.

I have tried to research what we can do to alleviate the panic attacks, how claustrophobia can be treated and everything that relates to it, but it’s practically a dead end. If you suffer from claustrophobia, there is not much of a choice that you have. The treatment options include:

  • Behavioral Therapy. This type of treatment involves a therapist who will help you build a plan of overcoming the panic attacks and will teach you to relax. It’s a good thing to start therapy if you suffer severe claustrophobia that affects your lifestyle. Though I don’t really see it too helpful if you have a dental related claustrophobia. Well, it will certainly help you in the long-term fear management, but it is not a quick remedy that you can take just before the visit. Too bad.
  • Relaxation & Visualization. This should be known to everyone, although not everyone has tried it. It certainly takes time in mastering the techniques, but they are the ones that you can use when you happen to have the panic attack. Common relaxation methods include tensing and relaxing the muscles and breathing. When going through the X-Rays, I found it helpful if you ask for some time to get ready for the procedure, fine-tune your mind and then, when the procedure begins, you start breathing deeply in and out, concentrating on your breathing. It’s like a meditation without singing mantras, you just really have to focus on your breathing. Or you can count every inhale and exhale, like inhale on one, exhale on two, inhale on one, exhale on two. It helps if you really put your mind into it. Visualization works for some people too. You need to try and relax and imagine something very beautiful, careless and happy. It can be your biggest dream, your favourite place for vacation, it can be a face you love dearly. Anything that works for you.
  • Exposure to triggers. This is probably the most complex method of overcoming your fear, because you have to intentionally put yourself into situations when the fear kicks in. It is hard, it involves determination and concentration. It is best to talk to a therapist to develop a plan of action before you attempt self-treatment with encountering the triggers. They could be anything, whatever bothers you. If you’re afraid of elevators, you should take elevators, even if you’re going just two floors. Or spending time in small or dark rooms, but of course you have to know that at any moment you can get out of there. It is important to understand that there is a way out.
  • Discussion of procedures involved. If your irrational fear, like mine, is a fear of dentistry, which is not the fear of dentistry itself, but rather things associated with it, like inability to breathe or swallow, etc., you have to speak with your doctor and explain your anxieties to him. Ask the doctor to tell you exactly what he is going to do, what you will feel, ask him to give you signs when the next stage comes. If you’re terrified of dams in your mouth, ask him not to use it. If you can’t stand being with an open mouth for a long time, ask for short breaks, during which you can mentally prepare yourself for a few more moments of hell (try not to think of it as hell though! :)). And remember, the key is to breathe deeply.
  • Prescription drugs. If you know that you will have to encounter the situation at which you feel claustrophobic, ask your doctor if there are any drugs he might prescribe you. They are of great help, although it is not a choice for everyone. I, personally, have another kind of fear or phobia, which is a fear of being sedated. When I was at the dentist’s for the last time, ten years ago, I refused any anesthetics, and I also refused anesthetics when giving birth to my girl. I choose pain over being numb and unconscious, or semi-conscious. So taking these drugs is not a choice for me, but it might be the right thing for you if you think that you can’t manage otherwise.

This seems to be it, no other options. But if you have any tips from your personal experience, I would love to hear them, because like many other people, I too have this thing that bugs me from time to time.

I hope this entry helps someone! Stay sane and breathe! 😉

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