Have you ever had something that you knew you needed to do so much you even secretly wanted to do it but you protested doing it for some reason until someone else “made” you do it?
This past December I went to the dentist for the first time in over seven years. Many people suggested I do it years ago. But I protested, avoided, and, towards the end, covered my face with my hands and groaned when anyone mentioned teeth. I knew I would never go until I got married. Only when my tooth decay would be someone else’s problem could I bring myself to take care of it. Thankfully, the military offers dependents great insurance!
Prior to this December, the thought of going had haunted me regularly– daily almost– until the dread became far worse than going would be and I knew it. Still I resisted to the point where it became funny. I knew I would wind of laughing at myself when it was all over. I thought I could post about this, even before I went. The post would be about how things are so much worse than you think they are going to be or something like that. And it’s true– I had some cavities but they were minor and the whole thing was taken care of with little to-do.
But what I wound up getting stuck on was WHY did it take me so long to go?! I mean, skipping one or two bi-annual appointments seems normal to me. But we are talking years of knowing I needed to go, having the insurance to go, and then still not going. What is up with that?
Why do we sometimes resist caring for ourselves, almost relish taking bad care of ourselves? I can’t suggest why others do it, but here’s why I think I did…
When I was working in Baltimore, I started out as a teaching resident, working for my degree at the same time I was working in a high needs school. I learned to operate my life in a state of “crisis”. Part of this was necessary, in that I faced some challenges that were difficult to handle AND I was also insanely busy. But part of this was a learned behavior. I worked at a high needs school but I certainly could have taken a half day off to go to the dentist. Or, at the very minimum, I could have scheduled an appointment over winter break. I just didn’t. I think that I made “not having time to take care of myself” something to be proud of. I was such a good teacher, I was having such an important impact, I had to make sacrifices. I mean– I really DID have to make sacrifices– I’m just not sure that was a necessary one. It was almost as if having time to make dental appointments (doctors appointments, hair appointments…) meant I would not be working as hard as I should be. It would mean I was not dedicated.
What happened was that, in many ways, I got so used to not taking care of myself that I stopped knowing how to. When I finished my degree and found time to breath, I didn’t know how to use my health insurance and it seemed too late to figure it out. This happened in many ways, this is just the one we’re talking about now. It’s taken the later part of my twenties to learn how to not operate in crisis mode.
I think what I’ve learned is this. Working hard and making sacrifices for things that are important to me are good and, I hope, a forever part of my life. However, my default should not be to never take care of myself. I shouldn’t judge my success by how little self care I practice. These things don’t make me a better person, a more devout Christian, or even more effective as a teacher or a follower of Christ.
They just result in five cavities and lost sleep over nightmares of the dentist’s chair.