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It’s OK If the COVID-19 Vaccine Triggers Your Fear of Needles

I feel as though I can’t get through a conversation at the moment without having my phobia brought up. The release of the COVID-19 vaccines is an incredible thing and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to have had the first part of my vaccine. That being said, this has proven a very tricky time for me. Needles are my phobia, also known as trypanophobia. I have had a cycle of bad needle experiences which lead to increased anxiety, which then lead to bad needle experiences. To the point where needles have gone from an uncomfortable experience to a traumatic experience. Having this phobia is often not a problem. I don’t experience needles in everyday life and therefore it is usually manageable, except for any days I do need an injection or worse, a blood test. However, that no longer is the case.

Rightfully, everyone is very excited about the prospect of vaccines, meaning that the word vaccine is tossed around in conversation and on television constantly. I have found that I end up falling into two trapped conversations around the vaccination. I either address the fact that I have a phobia and am not keen on discussing the vaccinations, or somebody brings up their experience and I have to find a way out of the conversation without seeming rude. I understand everyone’s excitement and don’t want to appear ungrateful that I have had the opportunity.

Addressing the fact, my phobia has often brought the response from others of, “I am not good with needles either but…” Nobody enjoys needles; it is never a pleasant thing. However, I don’t think that anyone ever understands that I am not just bad with needles. The anxiety starts as soon as I am told I have to have an injection or blood test. I will think about it daily until it occurs. I will feel sick and panic every time it does come into mind. The night before is unbearable and I won’t be able to function at anything else the morning beforehand. Discussing it makes me feel hot and sick, to the point that even writing this article makes me feel uncomfortable. The waiting is horrendous and no matter how hard I try to use my breathing techniques, there’s no controlling my fear.

Once I am in with a nurse, I am not going to be of much use. Usually, I am able to tell them I have a phobia and that’s my contribution. Often, nurses don’t believe me when it comes to the extent of my fear.

Then, when the actual time comes, my body is going to try very hard to pass out. My body’s reaction to the experience makes it worse every single time. I am always scared of embarrassing myself, especially because I have had bad experiences before — involving multiple nurses. I am not just bad at needles and I completely empathize if you are not good but unfortunately, I can’t brush it off and agree that it wasn’t too bad.

The second conversation is by far the worst because inevitably, someone will go into detail about the experience and I cannot cope with that because physical reactions and anxiety will start. Simultaneously, talking about how mine went will take a lot of mental strain. It may not seem it, I can put on a front to make it seem like it’s fine. Yet, thinking about it will bring back those feelings and sensations.

It is unavoidable at the moment and I know I am struggling as are many others. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but how can I avoid this phobia?

I am learning to set boundaries, that I need to look after myself to avoid this phobia seeping into other aspects off my life. So, I won’t discuss the vaccine in detail. I am more than happy to offer my congratulations when your slot gets booked and celebrate that it is happening but I can’t do more than that and I think it is important that we all do set these boundaries so that we look after our mental health and protect ourselves. It may be hard but I also recommend taking yourself away from the news or social media when there are articles around the vaccines. There is no need to bring that additional stress into your life. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter do allow you to stop certain keywords from being shown on your social media, so this can be a good way to keep this away from your feed.

Another tip that I have previously shared when it comes to anxiety in medical settings is to write down your concerns and what could occur and share this with your nurse if you are unable to speak. This has worked in supporting my anxiety as I have grown up (as previously, my mum would be my voice at blood tests or vaccinations). It means the nurse can be fully prepared and provides an additional level of support if things do become overwhelming.

Questions about the coronavirus vaccine? The Mighty asked three medical experts to answer your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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