About 30 minutes into our 12-hour flight from Tokyo to D.C., flight attendants made their rounds with the routine drinks and snacks. Instead of pretzels, we were supplied with an “oriental mix” consisting of sesame sticks and dried wasabi peas. I cozied into my airplane seat, reclined the few inches it allowed, and was just about to crack open my book, when I felt an actual crack.
I turned to Lindsey, my eyes widening and my lips clamped shut. Her expression immediately mirrored mine and she sat up straight, alarmed. She was asking, “what happened?” but I was already on my way to the bathroom, ears ringing.
I pushed open the door and braced myself in front of the mirror. I forced a smile like in 4th grade school photos. Yep. My tooth was chipped. My front tooth. By a fricken’ wasabi pea.
Shit shit shit shit. My mantra. I sat on the toilet and assessed the situation, which really just means I started freaking out. The stages of grief began. First, denial. Maybe it was just in my head? (I tend to do that a lot). I stood up and grimaced at my reflection again. Tooth still chipped. Next came the anger. “Why do you always have to eat everything that’s in front of you, Casie? You don’t even like wasabi peas.” I contemplated if I could blame Lindsey. After all, she did give me her package of snack mix. It was probably her pea that broke my tooth.
I made my way back to my seat, where she was waiting for the verdict. I bared my teeth at her and waited for a gasp. She squinted and stared, but couldn’t see why I was so upset. I wondered if her glasses prescription needed updating.
“Look!” I pointed, frustrated. At this point, the familiar physical responses of stress had begun. My cheeks and chest were developing the hot, red blotches that always show up when I’m anxious. My stomach was in knots. My heart was beating so fast my chest ached.
I made Lindsey repeat over and over that she could barely notice the damage. “What about when I go like this?” I’d ask, and then turn my head a millimeter. “What about when you squint really hard and look closely?”
After I was mollified enough, I took a deep breath and resolved that I was going to be OK. Be chill, I told myself. There’s literally nothing you can do about it at 30,000 feet. But as much as I tried to let it go, I couldn’t turn my brain off. My head did kinda hurt. Surely from tooth damage, and absolutely not from overreacting and clenching my jaw nervously, right? What if it turned brown? What if I had to go to the dentist and it was really expensive? What if they shaved it down and it became uneven with the other one? Would I now smile close-mouthed forever, like a Kardashian?
I decided to torture myself, something I’m really good at when I make a mistake or something goes wrong in my life. I took my phone out to reminisce on old pictures, the good ole days when my smile was whole. Oh, the things we take for granted.
And then the crazy (embarrassing) part happened. I looked at the pictures. Zoomed in on the selfies. Studied my front teeth. And in all of them, my tooth was a little chipped. Maybe not as prominent as it was now, but definitely still already chipped.
A laugh escaped my throat. How had I never noticed before? My smile had never been perfect. I probably did the initial damage trying to open a beer in college or biting another wasabi pea on a flight years ago. I have no idea when I chipped it, and clearly it wasn’t significant enough for me to even realize. But when I felt the crack this time, my mind was already made up that something bad had happened. Like a domino effect, my whole attitude shifted. I saw that it wasn’t about the tooth, it was about my mindset. I had a chipped tooth for years and never even noticed, yet as soon as I did, I was overrun by obsession and negative thoughts.
I felt like a fool. I felt like I’ve felt so many times before because of my uncontrolled emotions: ashamed that I overreacted, guilty that I brought a friend into it, ridiculous that I was so dramatic. I felt tired, that bodily exhaustion after being kicked into fight or flight mode. I felt like saying sorry, like making excuses for myself. I felt like I needed to crack a joke and make up for it.
I felt like laughing, too, and thankfully that’s what Lindsey and I did. I think it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself, which is why I wanted to share this story. How I handle potentially stressful situations and my anxiety is something I am working on. I find that no matter how many books you read or podcasts you listen to, real-life application is the best practice. So, this time that I chipped my tooth, which was evidently the second time, I learned yet another lesson about how I want to stay in control of my mindset, not be so quick to react, and how I get to choose my perspective.
Oh, and not to eat wasabi peas.