Mimi and I had just finished our chicken nugget lunch, and decided to pop into an Indian shop in downtown Daejeon. On the way in, the impatient 12 inch solid glass door smashed into my left hand. My ring finger was instantly black and blue and I was using deep breathing techniques to keep from passing out. “I want to die. I want to die.” I was walking in rhythm with the words. Mimi was directing me back to McDonald’s for ice. “I want to die. I want to die.” “Jen, it’s just your finger. I know it hurts, but you’ll be ok. You have so much to live for.” Mimi was spewing her positive message. Finger met ice, and it was excruciating. “I WANT TO DIE! I WANT TO DIE!” We sat. Mimi was staring at me. I have no idea what she was thinking, but she was turning green. I said, “I want to die.” “You are really starting to freak me out, Jen.” And all of a sudden it clicked: Mimi thought I really wanted to die, and could, if given the right opportunity choose death over the intense throbbing, black finger. I said, “Mims, I’m not going to jump in front of a bus. I just have no threshold for pain and this is unbearable and in this moment, my first completely ridiculous, rash impulse is that sudden death would be better.” She was green for hours, and I swear kept a vigilant suicide watch for weeks. I later told my mom that if I was in a situation where I had to chew off my arm to survive, I would choose death. “I don’t have a strong will to live through the pain,” I said. “NOT the kind of information your mother wants to hear when you are 7,000 miles away!” she said.
I was thinking about my no tolerance policy on pain yesterday while my dentist was drilling out two cavities for what felt like hours. Ah, cavities. For 24 years, I never had the slightest tooth decay, and then after a year overseas, I had 9 spots that needed to be drilled out. All of a sudden I understood why kids with cavities hated going to the dentist. I was 24 when I got my first three cavities filled, but if I had been four, I’m sure I would still have reoccurring nightmares involving the take over of my brain by the alien voices the vigorous drilling mimics. One cavity yesterday was deeper than my dentist originally thought. He kept drilling. I felt totally out of control of the situation. “Oh my gosh. Make it stop. Make it stop!” I was screaming (in my head, of course) against the pitchy shrill of the drill. “Keep breathing, Jennifer, keep breathing.” I was trying to talk myself into calm. I was breathing heavily and felt tears slipping down my cheeks. My knuckles were white, locked onto the tips of the chair. “Keep breathing. Keep breathing. Make it stop! WHEN will it stop?! There is drool on my lip. Get the drool off my lip! Stop the drilling. Keep breathing. Keep breathing.” If my heart had been hooked up to a monitor, the display would have been spiking.
I left the dentist thinking, “Was I just having a complete freak attack over two fillings?” Yes, I was. Cavities and fillings represent two things I hate the most: 1. being out of control and 2. total failure. Clearly this line of thinking has to stop. And I heard something recently in a talk on my friend’s blog that helps. The speaker, talking about education in America said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” He is addressing the current educational structure, which makes it impossible for kids to take risks at being wrong because funding and support are based on perfect test scores, but I hear him screaming, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, then you must have a need to be right. You long to be miles from failure, and you are deathly afraid to try.”
I’ve given up drinking pop in the new year, in a last ditch effort to cut out acidity which seems to be adding to my tooth decay. So, why not tack on giving up my fear of pain and failure for the new year as well? It seems now, more than ever, I’ll need pain and failure to propel me into whatever great future lies ahead. But mom, really I’m never going to chew off my own arm just to stay alive.