June 21, 2016

I feel like I have little control over much of my life these days. I’m sure that is a common sentiment for people in all walks of life; even people whose schedule and habits are so ritualized probably feel some level of helplessness over at least certain aspects of their lives. Still, I feel I’m entitled to boast about my situation a little more than most.

First of all there is my living situation. The apartment I was supposed to move into 7 weeks ago is still not done being remodeled. That’s what happens when the people doing the work only do so on the weekends. (And don’t ask why there are now three toilets, none of them hooked up, in the apartment, because I don’t know.) I’m tired of living out of suitcases, tired of living in someone else’s space and tired of not having a space I can make my own. Secondly there is the job I work at. Although things have been rectified and my boss and I are now actually enjoying the type of professional relationship I envisioned when I took the job, he’s still enigmatic as hell, and between his odd mood swings and an ever changing schedule, your guess is as good as mine as to what my workday or week will look like. Finally there’s the novel: I’m sure there’s more that I can do to help it sell, but I don’t know what it is, so I sit here watching the sales dry up.

So this is what I’m in the middle of, and yesterday i just said “Enough.” I needed to do something that was mine to control, and so I decided to brush my teeth. But I mean really brush them.

I know that may sound odd, and your first question is probably “Don’t you already do that?” Honestly the answer is not as often as you think. Some morning I think about how bad my coffee will taste and other days I just straight up forget. And at night, well let’s just say I can take lazy to new extremes. So no, I’m not exactly a poster child for dental hygienestry. You’d think I would be based on the amount of work done the last time I had a dentist, and maybe that was part of why I decided this would be the area in which I reasserted my control.

Whatever the reason I found myself at Duane Reade buying a new toothbrush, better tooth paste, a bunch of dental floss and what could only be described as miniature pipe cleaners. Armed to the teeth (see what I did there?) with my new weapons of cleaning, I went home to do battle.

And battle is what it looked like.

I don’t know if your dentist has told you about these miniature pipe cleaner thingies, but basically they exist because flossing is no longer good enough. One you’re done stringing your teeth like a bunch of pearls, you are then supposed to jam this little wire brush between each pair of teeth as well. I guess it’s kind of like sweeping the floor used to be good enough, but then the Swiffer got invented and suddenly brooms were just the opening act. If you wanted things real clean, you needed a Swiffer to do the job.

Now, not having been a regular flosser as of late, I knew that this could get a little messy. My experience has always been that when I start flossing again the first few times my saliva gets a little scarlety. And that’s always what it’s been, red hued saliva. Whatever blood is drawn by the flossing is minimal and diluted by the saliva almost immediately. Sure, it ain’t pretty to see, but it doesn’t feel me with any sense of panic or worry. The pipe cleaners are another story.

On the list of flavors that I like, blood is pretty low on the list. I honestly probably couldn’t describe what it actually tastes like; I just know that I don’t like it because if I’m tasting blood that means something is seriously wrong. I knew I was going to be in trouble when the first time I used this weapon it went into my mouth the color of wire and came out the color of blood. And I don’t mean tinged. The damn thing looked like I stuck it in a can of paint. Immediately I could feel that unfamiliar and unpleasant taste. This was going to be a challenge.

I mentioned before I’m lazy, but I’m also stubborn, usually in the wrong direction. I’m definitely of the “Telling me no just makes me want to do it that much more” mold of humanity. If I’m drawing blood, common sense says I should probably stop. But I continued, rationalizing it by saying that if I don’t persevere now nothing will change. I need to train my teeth and gums for this sadistic event so they can enjoy improved health.

By the time I was done my sink looked like the floor of a slaughterhouse. I fully expected Brian DePalma to knock on my door and ask me if he could reshoot the final scene of “Carrie” using all the blood I was now diligently trying to clean up before it stained and made my landlord’s sink look like a crime scene. But here’s the thing: I felt good.

Not just good because my teeth were cleaner (albeit probably also a little redder) than they’ve been in quite some time, but good because i had done some small, almost inconsequential activity that let me have some semblance of control over my life. I posted a quick and dirty status update last week about just how tired I felt, and it was – and is – a frightening sense of tiredness. It is the tired that makes me not want to get out of bed. It is the tiredness that makes me not want to talk to people. It is the tiredness of wanting to get in a hot shower and not let it end. It is the tiredness of depression.

Left to my own devices I know that I’m an accident waiting to happen. I’m not known for always making the smartest decisions in general, and when I’m feeling so unmoored from life and adrift in a sea of instability, all of that becomes heightened. I’m not sure what the final straw was yesterday, the event that pushed me over the good edge and not the bad one, but I’m glad it happened. To be sure, depression is not just something a person shakes off, and it certainly isn’t “cured” by brushing your teeth. The longer the apartment drags on the more likely I am to feel this way.

I guess the trick is to find the trade offs and take on the battles you can win. I can’t do anything about the apartment. I don’t know how to do plumbing, install toilets or hook up sinks, and I have to cede that control. I don’t like doing that ever in my life, but I have to accept that’s just the way it is. So I find areas where I can do something that makes me feel positive. I feel a lot ridiculous celebrating that I’m improving my dental hygiene. That roughly puts me on the same level as your typical five year old. But when the big things are falling apart, being able to find the little things and start rebuilding with those makes all the difference in the world.

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