I’ve been seeing some improvement in my needle phobia since I started on T a few months ago (via intramuscular injection every other week). I’m still not able to give myself the injections, but I’m slowly working up to it.
One strategy for combating my phobia which has stood out among the rest, is simply that I choose to combat my phobia. This isn’t a choice that’s made one time and then everything is good. It’s a choice I make over and over again. The most important thing about this is that it means that I am the one who is in control. The injections are not something which are happening to me, they are something which I actively do. It helps that the people doing the injections for me ask me how I want to do it rather than telling me how they will do it.
At first, I let them make the decisions because I had no idea how the whole process works. But that gradually changed to me being the one calling the shots. This last time I went in for the intramuscular injection, I told them I wanted them to walk me through how it would go when I do it for myself, and then give me the injection as usual. Next time, I think I’ll try to do all or part of it myself. If I can’t manage it, that’s okay. Small steps are still steps. It’s okay to say “I think I’ll try this” and then when it’s time to actually do it, say “no, on second thought, not today.” If this happens, then maybe I just need to find a smaller step to take and do that, instead. Besides, being able to say “no” is part of taking control of the process! Reminding myself that I can say “no” if I want to, and doing so if I need to, re-frames the whole injection thing as something that I actively choose to do, not something which is happening to me. And that sense of control really helps when I actually do take one of those small steps.
Oddly enough, the more times I do this injection thing and see that it isn’t a big deal and doesn’t really hurt, the more anxiety I have in anticipation. Mindfulness meditation really helps with this. It’s hard to stay anxious when you are taking slow, deep breaths and concentrating on the moment, rather than the future. Being relaxed is also good when the time comes for the actual injection. The more relaxed the muscle is, the less it hurts. Being relaxed can reduce the amount of pain from not that much to almost nothing. If only it were the pain part that bothers me… It would make things so much easier.
I’ve also found that my strategy of role-playing the injections in a safe, comfortable setting is helpful. I have a syringe I have been keeping out on my desk for some time, so I could get used to the idea that it won’t bite if I look at or touch or even play with it. When I do the role-playing thing, I use this syringe and pantomime going through the steps: drawing up the medication, changing the needle (T is thick stuff, so it’s easier to use a thick needle to draw it up, then switch to a thinner needle for the actual injection), etc. For role-playing the actual injection part, I keep the cap on the needle.
Of course, there’s also the strategy of rewarding myself after every time I manage to get through something involving needles. Usually this comes in the form of some sort of tasty food item, but any small, inexpensive sort of thing that I usually wouldn’t get will do. This gives me something to look forward to afterwards and serves as a nice self-acknowledgement that, hey, I am totally doing awesome with this needle stuff.
Being on T, I also have to get a blood draw every few months. I have done these a couple of times in the past, so I am well aware that it doesn’t really hurt. But, unfortunately, that isn’t really the issue. I recently had my first blood draw since starting on T. I decided I would try to watch this time, but then when the time came I was like, “nope,” and I looked away instead and tried to do that meditation thing. It helped. I think I like these blood draw things a lot less than the intramuscular injections, though. The needle just stays in there for so long! Especially when they want to fill several of those little vials with my blood.
I started to feel a little light-headed or something towards the end of the blood draw. I don’t know if that’s more due to the anxiety/stress of having a needle in my arm for so long, or to having slightly less blood, or just part of some physical reaction my body has to needles. It was different from, and less pronounced than, the reaction I had after the first couple of intramuscular injections (possibly a vasovagal response to getting stuck with a needle, but it could also have been a reaction to something in the medication). They asked me how I was doing afterwards, and I said I wasn’t sure. They offered to get me some juice, and I took them up on it. Sitting for a bit and having a sugary drink seemed to help, and I was feeling okay to leave a few minutes later (with them warning me that I should take it slow if I need to). I have learned to pay attention to what my body is telling me in circumstances like these, ever since I left while still feeling a bit off and ended up needing to lie down for a while after reaching the next building over (fortunately there was a lounge with couches available for student use).
One thing that I am afraid of (besides needles, I mean), is that if I delay going in for an injection that I’ll end up, well, not doing the injections. More likely, though, is that I’ll just make it more unpleasant for myself or make the anxiety worse. Generally, more time leading up to the scary thing makes for more time in which to experience anxiety in anticipation of the scary thing. So I make sure to go in for the injection exactly two weeks after the previous one, and I don’t allow for any variance in the schedule unless it’s something that’s out of my control (like once I ended up going in a day late due to a delay with filling the prescription). I also try to go as early in the day as is reasonable. If I have class that day, I’ll wait until my classes are over, just in case I’m not feeling well after the injection. After that, I will go in at my earliest opportunity instead of delaying. If it’s around lunch time, I will get lunch first, however (the first time I had a reaction to an injection, they asked me if I’d eaten, and when I said yes, they gave me some food anyways, so I figure eating properly is a good preventative measure).
Another thing I have learned is to take things slowly when trying to make progress on the phobia. It’s better to take little tiny steps that I can handle than to freak out trying to do too much too soon. Bad experiences don’t really help with that whole anxiety/fear thing. In fact, they can make it worse. But if I reach a point where I’m comfortable enough with one thing, and then I add on something else that’s a bit out of my “comfortable enough” zone until that becomes comfortable enough, too, then I end up making progress. They may be tiny little steps forward, but so far I have managed not to take any steps backwards. And that is pretty awesome.