Until today, I haven’t felt this depressed since my time at Dragon’s Lair Comics.
That’s because today, I finally got up the courage to face my dental fears and find out just how bad my dental problems are.
But first, a trip back in time:
The first job I got in Austin almost 5 years ago was for a local comic shop. I liked the place at first. It had been a year or so since I’d had to close the door on my own shop, and moving out here I hadn’t thought that’s where I’d spend the next few years. Very quickly I moved into management positions, learning the ins and outs and dirty secrets and REAL personalities behind the scenes. After the first year I’d watched valuable folks get run out by the management “Mean Girls” while lifeless, hapless slugs continued to slormp around in the background. I should’ve taken the hint then. I’d even leveled with boss and told her my grievances with the positions and the position of the store. My role as ‘Store Manager’ was largely ceremonial. I would shake the hands, conduct interviews, and basically be the ‘bad guy’ to the staff when need be, all the while having very little say in operations around me. I was slave to a live-in General Manager, never really left to manage much without micromanagement superseding. When I stated my piece I was asked to stay on and was offered a lateral promotion into a newly created “Creative Director” role, again, I would find out in time it was mostly ceremonial. In the three years I spent at this store I witnessed a turn over of 4 different ‘store managers’ and three assistant managers. In fact 75% of the staff turnover was in management. When you were no longer useful to the hive, you weren’t gotten rid of; you were shunned and alienated, nit-picked and written up time and again for the littlest items possible until you finally had had enough and quit. All the while I’d watch real trouble makers continue to grow and succeed. I’d even received a year’s worth of late night phone calls from said GM about what she should do with the known trouble-maker. I would always give my honest opinion and advice, only to come in the next day to a more hostile environment. I watched that happen to close to a dozen people in 3 years, but didn’t think it would happen to me, until the day I quit. The worst part was always watching the queen of the hive flaunt that person’s leaving as her personal victory, seizing undo acclaim for making people miserable enough until they broke down and left. Cattiness reigns supreme in the house that picture books built, and remember, ‘On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”
The purpose of me talking about this place is to set the pace for a long, deep depression, I would sit at my desk and eat junk food and down soda after soda just to power through my days. There was no real joy, and not even the joy of a hard day’s work, because often enough, you were basically just spinning your wheels in the mud. I once spent two hours making a promo coupon that I then had to spend another hour re-editing because ironically enough, she didn’t like the shade of pink I’d used for a minute part of the flyer. but I used my understanding of color theory to pick all the colors as a whole, a point which is lost on them, so I changed the entire color palette only to then finally be told they were just going to print them in Black and White anyway. I began to fully HATE this place and the faces that filled the back office. A back office full of eyes and ears and high school politics. I was depressed, and my health suffered. In addition to the high volumes of junk food and sodas, I all but stopped taking care of myself properly, including proper dental hygiene. I didn’t care to take care of myself, because the next day I’d go to work at a place that made me feel like shit anyway, so why put in any more wasted effort than I was already putting in at this shit hole to being with. That’s not healthy, but it is the way depression (at least mine) took hold. I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t even acknowledge it at the time. I just assumed that this was what having a real grown up job is and I swallowed it, along with candy, and fast food, and SODA SODA SODA. The way a religious zealot lady chain smokes a pack a day, it wasn’t unusual for me to put away two liters at work and a six pack at home. I wish it had been alcohol to be honest, because it would have been more apparent that I had a problem. But it wasn’t. I even took an entire year where I didn’t drink soda, save for two ginger ales I had had on separate days where my stomach was upset. Work, and my feelings toward it grew so strongly negative that I eventually developed the habit of grinding my teeth while I slept. I ground my molars into oblivion. The first two broke while I was still there, two years ago now.
All four of my back molars are pulverized, two of them only barely count as existing at all. I have cavities eating away at several of my front teeth and one of the dentists first befuddled questions was “You don’t by chance do Meth, do you?” It’s a joke I’d made before about how insecure and horrified with the state I’d let my mouth reach, but I’d never have imagined that it would be a real question asked by a medical professional. So the amount of infection and decay that has taken over, have destroyed my teeth. Unchecked sugar intake and poor hygiene have stormed my mouth and left it looking like the dental equivalent to Normandy Beach.
I was informed that there are two options, both of which I simply can not afford as a cartoonist, or a hamburger attendant, or even as a regular person.
Option 1: Crowns. I’ve heard of that before, we all have, okay, what are we looking at, I know I’m going to lose probably two of the teeth, but we can crown the others? Kinda, but at this level, with the amount of teeth that would need crowns (a number I was not given, and was in too much shock to ask for) we’re looking at a $40,000.00 treatment. I didn’t mistype that Fourty-Thousand Dollars. AND he suggested against it, because crowns really only last on average between 10-15 years, so this would have to be done again by my 40s. Not an option.
Option 2: “All on Four” / “Teeth in a Day” implants. For extreme cases, they play an episode of Flip This House in your mouth. Get it all out of there, and by it I mean your teeth. Take them all out. There are so many infected ones that none of them can stay, we gotta wipe the slate. Then they install four titanium rods into your jaw, 8 if you’re doing top and bottom, and attach a temporary set of newly designed, space-age acrylic teeth to two four posts. You walk out that day with all new teeth. THAT DAY. DAY. After three months of healing, allowing your jaw to fuse to the titanium screws (btw, did you know that they use titanium because it is a unique metal that will actually bond with bone?) maintaining a 2 month minimum diet of only soft foods so as not to upset or jar the process, you go and they install the real deal, permanent acrylic implants that look and function like regular teeth. And for the amount of work hinted I’d need (I’m guessing full mouth by the mannerisms of the poor dentist delivering me this news) it will only set me back $50,000.00. Yup. Fifty-Thousand Dollars. That’s all. PENNIES A DAY assuming I live to be five thousand years old.
At the mere mention of the costs I’d be expecting I literally burst into tears in the chair. I was in a combination of shock, despair, embarrassment, shame, and of course crippling depression. He offered me some great advice on avenues I do have available to cut the cost of things down to only a regular level of affordable. I’ll be calling the dental college in San Antonio for starters, I was told that it can be hard to get in for small cases, “but they’re always ready and willing to take on these more extreme cases for study.” So there’s that. At age thirty, I’m about to ask medical students to remove all of my teeth and replace them with space teeth.
Please learn from my horror, if you’re a lover of sugary delights such as I am, please don’t drink soda more than once a day, or ideally, EVER. We’ve all seen those videos of people cleaning rusty pennies with coca-cola. It does that to your teeth too if you let it. I know I don’t really have to say it, but don’t forget brushing AND flossing.
Most importantly, more than the horrific dental nightmares, if you’re feeling depressed, or think you might be, or know someone who is; don’t hide it, down’t bury it. Get help. It’s okay. It’s okay to ask for help. I wish I had coped a little better with all that. I wish that I had realized it sooner and that when I did recognize it I hadn’t tried to bury it away. I’ve never been good at talking about it, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to Laura, who has only ever been supportive and caring, and it’s not fair to myself; this really drives that point home. I let myself be depressed for a long time, and though I have felt better in the past couple years since leaving that scene behind, the damage has been everlasting it seems. Please reach out, if you don’t think you have anyone to reach out to, you do. If you’re reading this, you have one person at least who can hear you. I can’t help much, but I can listen. I think though, as I’m figuring out, the trouble it not in finding someone to listen, but in finding the willingness to talk about it. I didn’t talk about it, and I’ll be paying for it, both literally and figuratively. I feel mostly fine, besides today I mean, but I’ll probably at least find a phone line to call, or some other way to communicate what’s in the ole’ headspace. Please take care of yourselves, however you may need to, because you deserve it. Don’t beat yourself up, just forgive you for your own weirdness and speak up, people can’t help you if you don’t let them know something’s wrong, that’s what Laura tells me.
I’m going to to end this post now. I’ll definitely be talking about this as I move forward to the next phase.
Thank you to the dentist who gave it to me straight and offered me advice and help despite not being the one able to cash in on this gold mine of a mouth. Thank you to friends for checking on me. Thank you to my mom and my mom-in-law who have both been very supportive and encouraging today. And of course a huge thank you to my wife Laura for letting me interrupt you at work so I could cry in the car with you there, thank you for letting me cry more once we got home, and thank you for putting up with my weirdness over the years and looking after me, you have so much on your own plate already, stuff I am often not very helpful assisting with, I love you.
And I love you all.
Sorry if it seemed to jump from topic to tpoic on this. A lot is on my mind.