N.B This blog will talk about Needles and all things Vaccine. Phobias are real mental health conditions, so seek professional help if you suffer with one. This is an account from my experience, which I hope may help others.
When the talk of vaccines surfaced, I thought it would be something to worry about in a few years time. Low and behold, they managed to roll out the vaccine quickly and these ominous sounding ‘mass vaccination centres’. People were being jabbed quickly, one-in-one-out style. I am Needlephobic, and always pretty much have been. This continuous talk of the vaccine, adverts about it and people posting their cards on Instagram started a spiral of anxiety. ‘Just worry about it when you get the text’ would be the soothing phrase that calmed me down, until that moment when I got the text. I am writing this the day after my first dose. I didn’t ever expect future Harriet to have ever plucked up the courage to do anything related to needles.
Phobias are strange- I say that in no way to down play them. Your brain thinks it is in a real situation of danger, so the flight or fight response hormones peak. They are the same ones that pop up as though you are in front of a hungry bear. The physiological response is so overwhelmingly real (fast heart beat, fainting, shaking, etc). However this is matched with a general downplaying from a lot of people (“we are all scared of that”, “oh its fine don’t be silly”). They simply don’t know the right things to say to phobic people. The combination means we feel embarrassed, don’t seek help, and feel an engulfing sense of shame. Why am I so scared of this thing that everyone makes look so easy?
Remember that this is a diagnosable mental health condition, under the umbrella of Anxiety. Yes, you do deserve to get some help with it. How did I get the vaccine? I used every resource I possible could around me, as well as a couple of counselling sessions too. I will list a few things below, but want to make it completely clear that counselling is a really great way to explore this more. Some counsellors even specialise in specific phobias- just ask!
- Speak to the doctor or pharmacist. They could refer you to someone who may offer CBT and/or Counselling. Discuss the possibility of medication to take on the day- I was described Diazepam to take an hour before, which is simply to ‘take the edge off’.
- Numbing Cream. For me, part of the phobia is feeling the needle go in me. It’s not the pain, but the sensation of having it. The cream helped reduce that feeling, and gave me a better feeling of confidence going in- I called it my battle armour.
- Hypnotherapy. Whilst this didn’t explicitly work for me, it has been proven to be beneficial for phobias. The sessions I had didn’t fix it, but taught be valuable coping mechanisms, one being exposure work. Going up to the vaccine, I watched compilations of different celebrity vaccine videos whilst practicing deep breathing, the idea being you can reframe the fear and see it in a new light. This one can be tough to do, so it is not for everyone and might be one to avoid if you are really really phobic. Small steps is key.
- You decide. There is a feeling of powerlessness when you fear something- it is so overwhelming, almost as though it controls you rather than the other way around. One way to change this is taking control of when where and how you get your vaccine. Choose the day, make sure the time suits you, and take as long as you need when you get in there. My nurse told me “I would rather we spend an hour in here than you walking out and not having your vaccine”. I told them when they could inject me, and took my time in doing so. You call the shots.
- Surround yourself with the good people. Friends and family all have their own good and bad traits. Your best friend of 15 years might be the kindest soul out there, but might just be god-damn-awful at calming your Needlephobia. Find the right people who know, perhaps they might have Anxiety themselves and know exactly how it feels. Speak to them and only them, and perhaps leading up to the vaccine distance yourself from those who make the phobia worse (despite their good intentions at heart!).
- Practice it, role play it. My amazing colleagues worked out that a well sharpened pencil feels exactly like the needle. We would act out the scene a couple of times in a day, pretending to give me the vaccine and me looking away as though I would in the real scene. One of them told me “just pretend its me touching a pencil against your skin”- that really helped. To tell you the truth, the pencil hurt more!
- At your pace. Many people may tell you to “get it over and done with”. For myself, and many phobic people, taking the time to mental prepare and find the support system is crucial. I booked my vaccine for 2.5 weeks in advance, so that it gave me enough time to speak to the doctor, practice my role play and purchase the numbing cream from the pharmacy. I also knew that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I cancelled my appointment and booked it for a time I felt more ready.
- Be honest. I never had to worry about this one, because I would usually be sobbing by the time I walk into doctors/centre. If you are good at hiding your emotions, it might be really helpful to let them know that its a really big deal that you are here, and you need some extra support. My nurse was unbelievably supportive (they are trained for people like us), making room for special measures such as breathing techniques, talking to me, lying me down and just generally being very empathetic.
Finally, it’s worth nothing that the aim isn’t really to ‘overcome’ your fear (though that could be the future goal). Working with what you have, trying to reduce your anxiety take it a step at a time is good enough. I am still scared of needles, which makes me even braver for doing it anyway.