TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post talks about the incident that caused my needle phobia and how it affected my life.
How my needle phobia began.
At the risk of being a cliché, a visit to the dentist at seven years old started it all. I was expecting a gas sedative for my extractions, but the next thing I knew the dentist was sticking a syringe into the bend of my arm. I had no problem with needles despite having blood tests as a small child but that experience was the starting point for a debilitating phobia that would consume me for the following 23 years.
Do I have a fear or a phobia?
In my opinion, the word ‘phobia‘ is often used inaccurately. It’s unhelpful to hear people exclaiming how ‘phobic’ they are of something and proving the opposite with their behaviour.
A phobia is “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.”
What many people have is purely a fear, that scares them but wouldn’t result in risky, life limiting behaviour. Sadly, quite the opposite is true of a phobia and realising this was an important turning point for me.
Annoying things that people say to needle phobics
If you are a needle phobic, you will definitely have heard some (or all) of the following:
– “It’s just a scratch”
– “Don’t fuss, it’s over in a second”
-“Look away and you won’t notice”
-“I hate needles too”
It’s often said in a well meaning way but couldn’t be more frustrating or insulting.
What happened next?
Things gradually got worse after that. I became increasingly untrusting of medical professionals and everything became something of a perfect storm. People began helping me avoid situation by warning me off films and TV programmes where needles would feature. I even refused to consider holiday destinations where injections would be required. We were all reinforcing my needle phobia without even realising and it was slowly taking control of my life.
HOW BAD DID IT GET?
As time went on, I couldn’t bear to look at people extending their arm or touching the bend of their arm. I couldn’t even stand to touch the bend of my own arm. I could give you many examples of how extreme things got but these are just a few.
When I was a teenager, my mam once walked into my room with empty printer ink syringes. She was expecting that it would help to desensitise me. I completely lost it and ran to my window with my back pressed against it screaming for her to leave. My room was on the first floor so it’s scary to think how much I wanted to be out of that room.
A real hard-hitting moment was a conversation with my mam one day in the car. She asked me if I’d be able to have a needle to save myself or a member of the family. When I said no, I think we were both pretty jarred by it. It’s certainly not one of my proudest moments but I think it brought home just how serious the situation was.
Working in the health sector with a needle phobia
Whilst buying our first home, I was made redundant but found a temporary job at a doctors surgery. The doctor I worked for did a private acupuncture clinic. The needle boxes actually only had text on them, but just the sight of them made me anxious or upset, demonstrating how severe my needle phobia was by this point.
Once my contract finished, I got a job at the pharmacy in the same building. I almost didn’t take the job on the basis of me being so phobic but I didn’t really have another choice. It has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as it was the beginning of my recovery.
Syringes (even the oral ones) used to make me feel sick and jittery. I also refused blood-pressure machine training because the person would have to extend their arm and my greatest anxiety stemmed from the bend of my arm. My biggest challenge was a discussion about a needle exchange being added to our services. It was a step too far, and embarrassingly in the middle of a meeting, I ran off and locked myself in the toilets for ten minutes. It all sounds very attention seeking and dramatic but it was a pure ‘fight or flight’ response.
My needle phobia rock bottom
Whilst at the pharmacy my husband and I had decided to start our family. Devastatingly, after falling pregnant quickly, I’d experienced a very early miscarriage, which wasn’t treat with much understanding at the hospital. The doctor simply told me I might never have been pregnant in the first place and said they could confirm this with a blood test. I was an emotional wreck and explained that I was needle phobic. He left the room and loudly spoke to someone who sounded more senior and I vividly remember hearing “oh well, tell her we can’t help her then” and they sent me on my way.
I get it. There’s only so much they can do and people have to help themselves, but there’s a huge gulf that people with medical phobias drop into. Ultimately, the severity of a needle phobia can potentially mean life or death and they have no way of controlling that fear. The magnitude of the situation often isn’t even enough.
I realised that I desperately needed help if we were trying for a family. Truly though, I didn’t know if I could face ending up in the same situation again.
Taking the first step to beating my needle phobia
I called the service, ‘Talking Matters‘ from a leaflet I’d seen at work and asked them if they could help me. It was a pretty desperate phone call and I didn’t dare hope that they could actually help me but at this point I felt I had nothing to lose. We arranged a further phone call and my first appointment from there.
In my next blog I’ll talk about the treatment I had, what happened in between and where I’m at with my phobia now.
Please feel free to contact me privately or comment below with your experiences or with any questions. I’d really love to try and help.