Dear Ally,

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Paying for it now…literally

Dear Ally,

A lot has happened since I wrote last. First I had part of a tooth break off. My dentist said it was because a filling had become loose and I would need a crown. She made a mold for the permanent crown and put on a temporary one. She calls it a “little hat for your tooth.” If you’ve never had a crown, they grind your tooth down to a little nub (wasn’t much left of mine anyway) and glue a fake tooth over top of it. The good news was I didn’t need a root canal – a least not then. The permanent crown wouldn’t be as strong as possible in case I do need a root canal in the future and, in that case, they’d need to drill through it. My dentist used extra strong glue for the temporary crown because it was going on my trip to New Zealand with me.

The night before I left for New Zealand, the tooth next to the temporary crown had a piece of its filling come out. The friend I was with introduced me to the emergency tooth repair stuff they sell at the drug store. So, if the rest of the filling came out or if my crown came off, I had a plan.

The morning I left for New Zealand my dentist called me and said my permanent crown had come in and they had a 12:30 appointment. Our flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon, but it would be cutting it close, so I didn’t go.

I went to New Zealand for 17 days – chewing carefully all the while with only the occasional feeling like a cold needle was being jabbed in my jaw and a sore tongue from constantly exploring what felt like a gigantic hole. I had no issues with the temporary crown at all, just had to avoid sticky foods.

I got my permanent crown and had the neighboring tooth refilled on my 41st birthday last Tuesday. Fun stuff! It’s a funny thing when you get used to pain and then it’s suddenly gone. I hadn’t realized I’d been chewing differently until I could chew normally again.

Then on Friday I went to the orthodontist and had braces put on my top teeth. I will get the bottom set put on in a little while and the whole process is supposed to take 15-18 months. I paid for the entire treatment up front, emptying the Health Savings Account I’d been contributing to for the past few years. Along with the braces, I received a wooden nickel (for being on time and good behavior) that I can save towards various gift cards, as well as a balloon and a See’s Candy gift card since that week was my birthday.

Why am I telling you all of this and what does it have to do with college?

I am acutely regretting several things these days: 1) I didn’t get my retainers replaced when they broke while I was in college, 2) I didn’t floss much when I had braces, and 3) I didn’t have a good dentist to go to while I was in college.

These fillings that are beginning to fail are all 20 years old. I had nine fillings when I was in college – done over three separate, but closely spaced appointments. They were all for cavities between my teeth and were done by a dentist in the town where I attended college. I had never had a filling before in my life. A friend of mine went to the same dentist who told him he needed 13 fillings. He got a second opinion and the other dentist told him he only needed two fillings. My dentist later went to jail for selling prescription drugs. Hmm.

Fast forward to ten years ago, I went to one of those chain dentist offices and they were trying to convince me to get a bridge where I was missing a molar. They were suggesting that a 30-year-old woman file down the only two teeth in her mouth that didn’t have filings so that a three-tooth bridge could be glued over top of the nubs. I mentioned this plan to my co-worker who is a D.D.S. and she told me never to go back there and recommended my current dentist. I think this was the best thing she ever did for me!

Back to the present, one of the reasons for the braces is to make room for an implant where the missing tooth is. That’s not going to be fun at all, but it will be nice to actually use both sides of my mouth to chew. By the way, I am genetically missing that tooth and they pulled the baby tooth because that’s what they did back then. The other reason for braces, though, is because my bite is messed up and my front teeth are wearing each other down.

The take home message for you, of course, is to take care of your teeth and wear your retainer! I know, there is nothing sexy about retainers, but trust me, braces aren’t any better the second time around. You are lucky that you are still at home and can probably easily go to your same dentist and orthodontist. Just think, 20 years from now, you might want to go on a huge trip and you sure don’t want to have to worry about your teeth or be in pain.

See you over Christmas!

Aunt Sarah

P.S. You can have my gift card to the candy store!

Resourcefulness Skills

Dear Ally,

In August I joined a scientific study at a nearby university involving different health self-management interventions for people in stressful situations. I was given a survey (which included this resourcefulness measurement tool) and, based on the results, was chosen to take part in the resourcefulness skills intervention. I was told the assignments were need-based, which I interpreted to mean that my resourcefulness skills score was the lowest. I don’t actually know what the other interventions are.

I was surprised by this. I think of myself as resourceful, but, after watching an informative narrated presentation as part of the study, I realized my definition of resourceful is actually self-reliance.

According to Dr. Zauszniewski, the principle investigator of the study and author of the presentation, there are two categories of resourcefulness skills: social and personal. Her theory is that these categories are complementary and have equal importance to one’s health. I am pretty sure my low resourcefulness score is because of my answers to the questions about the social resourcefulness skills. I pride myself on my independence, which, I’m learning, may not always be a good thing.

I was taught an 8-letter acronym that spells RESOURCE to help me remember the skills, which are:

  • Rely on family/ friends
  • Exchange ideas with others
  • Seek professionals or experts
  • Organize daily activities
  • Use positive self-talk
  • Reframe the situation positively
  • Change from usual reaction
  • Explore new ideas

As you might notice, the skills are also conveniently grouped into social and personal, with the first three being the social resourcefulness skills and the last five being the personal resourcefulness skills.

At this stage in the study, I’m supposed to reflect on the skills and write about how I used or didn’t use each skill and whether I found it helpful. If I didn’t use it, I’m supposed to say why not.

So what am I writing in this journal? What examples have I given them?

Rely on family/ friends:

This skill includes receiving emotional support as well as help completing tasks. I’ve written about talking with my parents, husband, and friends when I’m stressed or worried and about a lot of instances of relying on Adam to help manage the day-to-day household duties.

For you, this could include relying on classmates as study partners and to help with homework and, of course, includes asking your aunt and uncle science questions. šŸ™‚

Exchange ideas with others:

It’s easy to talk with my colleagues about professional issues and scientific problems. I’ve come to realize I’m reluctant to share when it’s personal or has to do with my health. I appreciate friends and family who genuinely care and take time to ask how I am doing. I will give these people more than just, “I’m ok.”

For you and my students, I’m hoping the college environment has created an atmosphere of collaboration. I encourage my students to work together both in and outside of class. I hope your professors have done the same. I also hope you’re close enough to someone to share and get advice about issues of a more personal nature.

Seek professionals or experts:

This makes me cringe for some reason – maybe because the phrase, “You need professional help” sounds like it’s so bad. But this doesn’t only include psychiatrists or mental health experts, it includes any kind of doctor or dentist, mechanics, pastors, people specializing in home repair, or other professionals in your own field of work. I’m going to the dentist tomorrow, so that counts!

For the student, this can be your school psychologist, your advisor, an administrator, or a tutor. It also includes reliable internet resources and your friendly librarian.

Organize daily activities:

This is the one skill I am able to say that I used daily and I won’t say more about it, since I’ve written about it in the past.

Use positive self-talk:

I’m going to admit this sounded stupid to me at first. I imagineĀ  ridiculous people talking to themselves in the mirror. But it’s more of a habit of mind – try to think about yourself and your capabilities in a positive light instead of beating yourself up or constantly thinking that you can’t do something. Long-distance running is the one place I can say I use this frequently.

Many of my students come into my chemistry class with this fear of the subject and a belief that they’re just not good at it. Unfortunately, sometimes this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reframe the situation positively:

People who can learn from mistakes and see failure as an opportunity for improvement are doing this. In other cases, all you can do is think at least it’s not worse. (In “Bridget Jones’ Baby” they call this playing the “at least game.”) When you’re going through a tough time think about how, in the future, you’ll be able to relate to and empathize with other people having that same experience (people who have been through it are also the people you should be exchanging ideas with).

Change from the usual reaction:

This is one I’m still figuring out. I don’t think my usual reaction is always bad, except maybe when my usual reaction is to freak out or get angry. Complaining probably doesn’t help either.

Explore new ideas:

You can’t explore new ideas if you don’t have any. This depends on seeking out these new ideas from family, friends, professionals, or even the internet.

I hope this has been helpful and maybe, if you are in the habit of journaling, you can reflect on your own use of these skills during your time in college.

Goodnight!

Aunt Sarah