One year with anxiety: how I made peace with it

It all started with a pain in the knee that got worse with any exercise, even daily walking. I felt it could very well be related to my feet or shoes because I had started jogging several months before the pain showed up. I had actually started to put myself together and really wanted to quit smoking and build a healthier lifestyle. So I took my runners and went to see a podiatrist.

The podiatrist did a full check up of how I stood, walked, balanced on one leg. He said that my feet and shoes were fine. But when he examined my posture, he pointed out an issue with my teeth. He said the pressure on my teeth on the right was different from the pressure on the left, and that the left part of my body was compensating this by applying more stress in other places, such as my adductor muscles and knees. He advised me to see an orthodontist and fix this first.

I had always been told that feet and teeth could impact almost any other body part, but I was still a little put off by his findings. I came home, went to the bathroom and gave myself a big toothy smile in the mirror. There was a gap between my front teeth and they couldn’t touch. That wasn’t news to me and I thought nothing of it until then. Now that I paid attention, I could clearly see that not only this gap was probably abnormal, but it was obviously wider on one side. The pain was still there, so I decided to go see an orthodontist.

After one visit, a full jaw scan and some research on Google, I was ready to receive an official diagnosis of what was wrong with my teeth and what it would take to fix them. I already had an idea of what to expect before sitting down in front of the orthodontist, but it did nothing to lessen the emotional wave that hit full force when he said: “First, we would need to perform a surgery to widen your upper jaw. Once this is done and the bone is ready, we can align your upper and bottom teeth independently of the jaws. And finally there would be a second surgery, basically separating both jaws and fixing them back in their rightful place. You’re looking at a two years treatment minimum.”

As I walked back to work that day, I was in shock. I think what my brain couldn’t compute was the idea that someone would have to cut my face open twice. Twice! How can one ever heal from such a surgery? There was no way I could survive something like this.

I wanted to make the decision quickly. I tried to be objective. You can find plenty of stories about people going through jaw surgery on the internet and they are alive and better off than they were before. They survived. They healed. I could do this too. The other option was actually more risky. If I did nothing, the probability of regretting it years down the road when I’ve become a mess was too high. I was in the best position then to start this process, both at the personal and professional levels, even if it upsetted my life plans for a couple of years. I would do it.

During the first six months after receiving the diagnosis and deciding to go for it, I was awful at managing my emotions. Very early on, I thought I could trick my brain and diverge its attention to something else, something new and exciting. I decided to learn programming, which was something I had wanted to look into for some time. I put a lot of energy into this new activity, did exercises and found a training that I could do on company budget and time. It was actually quite fun and I don’t regret spending time on this. But eventually I overworked myself. I needed to set priorities and slow down.

I understand now that learning something new to divert myself from something painful never made the pain go away. For months I would cry whenever I needed to talk or think about all this. The anxiety was unbearable at times. Deciding to do this is probably the scariest thing I ever did. All my life I’ve been told I was a courageous person. But I was not driven by courage when I made this choice. I was driven by fear. Fear of being handicapped before I’m 40. Of giving up hiking, cycling, running in the great outdoors. Of becoming some sad burden of a woman. You only get one body and I had the opportunity to try and care for it, so I took it.

One year after the first surgery I finally acknowledge the emotional impact that this decision had on me. I am still scared and will continue to be until it’s over. My takeaway from this experience is that you should be kind to yourself by acknowledging when you are scared and sad. It doesn’t make you weak or broken. For me, accepting the anxiety also means that I can see it will go away. Acceptance and patience will be my best allies this year. Although I’m only halfway there, I feel that being kinder to myself helped me move on to a more hopeful, happy me.