Warning: this post deals with needle phobia and may trigger those who find it difficult to read about this topic.
I’ve always been afraid of needles – well as far as I can remember. I don’t know if something particular made me grow so fearful or I’m just wired that way.
This extreme fear has been such a frustrating part of my life. Over the years I have faced my fear time and again with mixed results. But I recently have come to understand that each of these milestones (good and bad) have been inching me closer to a life where I can ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.
I know needle phobia is very common so I thought I might share a little about how I am slowly overcoming it. For reference, my phobia is not based on pain, danger of things going wrong or medical procedures. It is purely an intense fear of vulnerability and powerlessness. I won’t go into it in too much detail but I don’t like to feel vulnerable and find trusting people is difficult. Being on the receiving end of a needle for any reason pushes these buttons and causes me to panic, faint and feel a deep and terrifying sense of dread.
The first big turning point
After years of being frozen by my fear, an important turning point came in the form of a church mission trip back in 2008. We were planning to head to rural Fiji to help small communities and I was so excited about the opportunity. Knowing I needed vaccinations to go was a fact I kept pushing aside as I made the other arrangements. Inevitably the doctor appointment loomed and I found myself faced with the decision to either go on a life-changing adventure that lined up with my values and enriched my soul or avoid the uncomfortable experience at the doctor and miss out. For the first time ever I was considering putting myself through a needle for no other reason than ‘I want to’. I spoke to my doctor about this and, lucky for me, he was amazing about it. Instead of treating me like a child or pushing me to just ‘suck it up’, he said ‘ok, let’s find a way to make this happen’. That was a game changer. He validated my feelings and offered to help me take control of the situation.
After talking through what was happening for me and what triggered my fear response, we hatched a plan and later that week, trying out the new strategy, I came back and got the shots I needed to safely go on my trip. Lucky for me the first strategy we tried was a winner and I went on to use it every time I got a needle.
A hiccup on the road
Some time later I found myself needing to get a blood test. My husband and I were dating at the time and he accompanied me (having someone with me is part of my strategy to manage my phobia). As I gave over my paperwork I said clearly that ‘I have a needle phobia and need to lay down when getting my test’. The nurse said that was fine and I waited till I was called in. When she directed me to a room, I noticed straight away there was no bed. I began to panic. I said again that I needed to lay down. There was another nurse there now for some reason and both of them started saying things like ‘you’ll be right’ ‘I think you’ll be fine sitting up’ ‘you won’t faint, we’ll make sure’. They were quite forceful and even though my instincts told me to demand a bed, I fell in line and treated it like a challenge. Maybe I was ready for this. Maybe I’d done enough work on my phobia to survive getting a needle sitting up.
You can guess what happened. After multiple needles and blood tests prior where I was able to calmly go through with it and not faint or feel uncontrollably anxious… I fainted. Apparently I nearly fell right off the chair and lucky there were two nurses and my husband there to catch me! I was shaky afterwards and felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I remember heading to breakfast after that and taking almost an hour (and a full brekky and strong coffee) to feel ok again.
This was such a discouraging experience. I felt like a failure and was worried I could never conquer the fear I had.
Getting back on track
I feel like that last experience was an important one for me. After processing what had happened and thinking a bit more about it, I realised that I was doing really well with my fear and had found an incredibly successful strategy that had got me through many tough moments with considerable calmness. I just had to dig my heels in and keep doing it my way. It’s all I had at the time – the only option. But better than nothing!
So years went by where I calmly went through many needles ‘facing my fear and doing it anyway’.
Oh baby, here we go!
It doesn’t take a medical degree to know that having a baby in modern times means needles.
When I was younger I was so scared of needles, I couldn’t imagine ever having children. I have even said on a few occasions that I’d rather die than get a needle! But things change and priorities shift as time goes by.
So babies were back on the agenda and in late 2015 my husband and I were expecting our first child. I’m not going to lie – I was terrified of what this meant in terms of my phobia. But I just kept telling myself I can go through with anything necessary for the right reason. Along the way it was really difficult and I had to contend with so many scary moments – blood tests, immunisations and blood glucose level checking as well.
I’m actually hoping to one day write more specifically about pregnancy and needle phobia so I won’t go into too much detail here. But basically, I felt like things went from scary to intense to terrifying. And you know what? I kept going, kept saying yes to whatever was needed. I even survived some minor complications and lots of surprise needles.
During my pregnancy my husband took me through a little bit of exposure therapy (he’s a psychologist) and that got me even further. I found myself in a space where I was quite calm about things. By the time I was in labour I felt very confident in my ability to cope with jabs. It meant I got through labour relatively unscathed. That’s not to say I am not scared of needles anymore. I wouldn’t even say I cope well with them – but I can cope. And I’m realising that’s all I need right now. I don’t have to be a hero or ‘cure’ my fear of needles right now but I can manage it.
Where I’m at now
I still worry a lot about what needles I might need to get through in the future but I think that by doing things gently over many years I’ve come to a healthier place with it all. I’ve learnt that pushing yourself too hard to overcome a fear is never a good idea. And I’ve also learnt that setbacks are ok as long as you acknowledge them and keep moving in a forward motion.
To get to where I am I’ve needed a great doctor, a familiar and friendly pathology place and a supportive and patient partner. I’d also say my own determination, self-forgiveness and courage has been a big part of it.
I do dream of a day when I am phobia free but for now I’m ok to be where I’m at. And I think that breaking through so many massive ‘impossible’ moments along the way is no mean feat.