When Your Teeth Tells a Story

Last week I had my visit to the dentist in 2 years. Yes, I know it is waaaay too long to not see a dental hygienist or a dentist. I know that now. Growing up, I remember the first time I learnt how to brush my teeth in school. In Malaysia in the mid-80s, 7 year olds, will sit crossed legged on the concrete ground, one hand brandishing a new toothbrush, while the other a tube of Colgate toothpaste. We were each given a plastic cup, either a blue one of red one. No one had the option of choosing the colour of preferences. Our cups were filled with water. As you remember, I did mention that we sat crossed legged on the concrete floor. So, no bathroom sinks or a mirror on the wall. The whole cohort of 7 year olds, eyes glued to a nurse that showed us how to brush our teeth properly. Whether or not I knew what I was doing was beyond the point. I was just excited to sit with all the other 7 year olds, imitating the movements of the nurse, as my mouth is flooded with tooth paste foam and the taste of mint on my tongue.

You must wonder why I am telling you this story… I am telling this story to immortalise this somewhat mundane occurrence, because I realised something in therapy today. This exact moment was when I learned how to brush my teeth for the first time.

My therapist made me realised that I never had the experience of learning something this mundane from my parents. My mother did not show me how, neither did my father. Somehow, I can understand why my father never took the initiative to teach me, as he only brushes his dentures once a day… in the morning. My father has been wearing dentures for most of his adult life. As for my mother, I have no idea why she never took the time. She would shout from the kitchen or from whichever room she was in around bed time to remind me to brush my teeth. I was never interested in brushing my teeth when I was 4, 5, or 6. There were many nights that I would fall asleep without brushing my teeth.

After that morning in school when I was 7, I remembered that I actually felt ‘excited’ in the mornings and before bedtime, when I needed to brush my teeth. Like a lot of things, it was novel, new, exciting! It takes so little for a child to find the wonder in things. As adults, this magic only happens when we take note of the little things around us.

So… back at the dental clinic… I opted for no anaesthetic before the procedure. I knew it was going to be uncomfortable and of course, it would hurt. But, I just wanted to feel the pain, the physical pain… so, it would numb out the emotional pain. As the dentist drilled and chipped away the decay in my molar, I winced and clenched my fists. This went on for an hour. There was a lot that needed to be done.

The dentist sat me down, in front of large computer screen, with multiple snapshots of my teeth, as well as frames of x-rays…I am not a dentist, but what I saw on the screen, tells me that my teeth is not doing very well. The dentist looked at me, her surgical mask on, that split moment before she spoke, I could see in her eyes that… ‘this does not look good’. She was kind, professional and there was not a single tone of judgement, while she explained what the pictures on the screen are showing. Still, despite her her kindness, I was embarrassed…. I can’t put all the blame to my parents for never showing me how to care of my teeth as a child, but, I know there is truth in what my therapist told me this morning, that my the damage to my teeth, is a bigger reflection of the kind of neglect that I have endured as a child.

Can’t Believe it’s Been A Year

WordPress sent me a notification that my first post was exactly a year ago. My first reaction was, “Has it already been a year?!”

A simple notification such as this can jolt and remind us that time is so fleeting. It is so easy to just live my days, moving through the motion that ‘I am walking through the path of my mental health recovery’. I do realise that my mental health is no longer as bad as how it was exactly a year ago, but this realisation does not discount the fact that the daily struggle is utterly exhausting.

New Zealand is currently in lockdown due to community cases of the Delta variant of COVID 19. Even though I am concerned about COVID, I can’t help but also feel a sense of deep relief that I can stop struggling so hard every day, just so that I can function at work, and be my best for the clients I work with.

I just have to keep reminding myself that “things will get better.”

Exhausted

Everything I am doing is towards mt recovery. Every decision I make on a daily basis is rooted on ‘doing the work’. The constant juggling of emotions, thoughts, exercise, work, studies and self care is exhausting. My therapist reminded me that I have come a long way from where I was at 13 months ago. My rational brain knows that what he said holds true in my recovery journey, but, I haven’t reached a point where I feel totally comfortable in acknowledging that just yet.

Kindness

The last couple of weeks, I’ve reflected a lot about what has been happening around me. I’ve been surrounded by so much love and kindness. In the beginning, I did not know how to respond to all the kindness that has been shown to me. All I kept doing was saying “thank you for your support and thank you for everything you’ve done for me”. I’ve built layers and layers of thick walls to protect myself, and because of my traumatic childhood and all my experiences as an adult has mostly been bad, I have learned to become cynical… I just couldn’t trust anyone… The first thing that would always come to mind whenever anyone showed me kindness was, “What is this person up too? There must be some ulterior motive”.

But, the last couple of weeks have slowly peeled away the layers and layers of walls that I’ve erected, and I’ve started to realise that the kindness shown to me by my colleagues at work, is real. I feel loved, respected and supported by them, every single day I’m at work. I’ve recently had a depressive episode and because of the support from my colleagues, I have gotten out of the slum, much quicker than I normally would. I feel grateful, so grateful… but, there’s also sadness that I haven’t had kindness shown to me most of my life until now. But, I am going to hold on to the kindness.. Savour it… And continue to peel away the layers of walls that I’ve kept standing all these years.

The Face Behind This Blog

I have just changed my profile picture from my cat’s photo (her name is Lexi, if you’re curious) to my personal photo. I have been mulling about whether I should be open about who I am or continue to hide behind the comforts of anonymity that the Internet can offer. I have only just started this blog about 2 months ago and some of you might be wondering why would I want to come out of anonymity? It is not an easy decision to for me to make. There is a lot anxiety surrounding putting myself out there on the World Wide Web, because nothing gets erased on the Internet. Things stay on the Internet indefinitely (unless, one day, we enter a apocalyptic era where the world no longer exist!). Another reason to not put myself out there was also a worry I have about my profession as a mental health nurse. Would someone at work come across my blog? Would my boss come across my blog? Would it affect my career in the future? So, if there are so many negative repercussions of coming out of anonymity, why do it?

To me, it feels right this time around. I just turned 41 last November and I am tired of hiding this little part of who I am. I am not just what depression, anxiety and past trauma make of me. I am much more than these challenges put together. Aren’t we all complex being?

Being Asian of Chinese descent, mental health issues are just not talked about. This taboo does not just belong to my ethnic and cultural background, but it is present in every other culture. Another voice that talks openly about mental health struggles, is another space to normalise it. It is not something to feel ashamed of and it should not be discriminated upon. There has been a lot of shifts of attitudes in Western cultures, where levels of stigmatisation might feel less in the forefront, but, in reality, the stigma and shame is still very much the reality for people like us, who struggle to stay mentally healthy. Strangely, and quite saddening is that, a lot of those who work in the health care system are the agents for perpetuating this stigma. This creates a problem because many who work as mental health professionals are the ones that do not seek help, or like me, who waited until things unravelled out of control to seek help. I am not saying that ALL those who work in healthcare stigmatise people with mental health struggles, but in my experience, it festers underneath the surface.

So, to my followers and readers, thank you for giving my blog a go and for the virtual support via likes and comments these past couple of weeks. I know that my writings have been quite dark and negative since I started, but, I believe, my musings will be lighter and more positive as I continue to process the past trauma and come through the other side via a long recovery journey. Hopefully, you’ll stick around for the ride.