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5 Tips to Help Conquer the Fear of Self-Injection

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For many years, hereditary angioedema (HAE) prevented me from living my life to the fullest. Countless days and nights were spent in the bathroom with severe pain, enduring waves of unrelenting nausea and diarrhea. Those excruciating attacks of abdominal swelling would often last for days, and strike one after the other. I felt hopeless, frustrated and exhausted.

Then, one incredible day, my doctor told me there was a new medication available to treat my HAE attacks. I could administer the medication the moment I felt my symptoms emerging, and it would stop the swelling in its tracks. The only catch? The medication was a shot, and I needed to inject it into my abdomen myself.

It took time for me to overcome the anxiety I felt regarding self-injection. As a child, needles terrified me. As an adult, I still felt a pang of apprehension at the sight of one, especially one I was guiding towards my own abdomen! But conquering my fear has led to a dramatic gain in health and in my quality of life.

If you are at the beginning of your own self-injection journey, or are still grappling with fear or anxiety, you are not alone. I hope the following tips help you move forward:

1. Put the pain in perspective.
Do my shots hurt? Oh heck yes! But do they hurt more than spending the weekend on the bathroom floor puking in agony until I black out? Absolutely not. The benefit far outweighs the initial pain. Think of all the ways the injection will help your body. I envision my shot going in “kicking and screaming” ready to conquer my illness and protect me from attacks. Understanding shots as pain with purpose will put you in the right mindset to approach self-injection.

2. Discuss your fear.
Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to share your concerns with your doctor and nurses. They can provide proper instruction (see below) and offer helpful tips for injecting. Your friends and family can also provide an encouraging ear. If you still struggle to overcome your fear, consider seeking professional help. Counselors can give you the tools and support you need to move forward.

3. Take training and learning seriously.
Training will also give you confidence. Ask your doctor or nurse to demonstrate the skill. For many medication types, a home nurse can come to your house with a “dummy tummy,” walking you through each step of the process. They may even be able to be present for your first injection. Always take your medication exactly as prescribed, and follow the instructions carefully. Online videos and how-to guides can also be helpful in mastering the process — and can be accessed day or night, whenever you need to inject!

4. Breathe.
Often in the face of pain or anxiety, my coping mechanism of choice is holding my breath. This is a terrible reflex, and amplifies the stress surrounding situations with needles! It is critical to take deep, thoughtful breaths before and as you inject. Find a comfy position, relax, and breathe — it will do wonders.

5. Find strength in your inspiration.
Of course, your primary inspiration should be utilizing the treatment to manage your condition and live a better life. But if you need extra encouragement, think of the other lives this treatment will affect. I imagine all the years my parents watched me suffer in agony; they felt heartbroken and helpless. I can help prevent them from seeing me suffer any further now. I have that power.

I think of my husband and all the plans we get so excited about, only to have to cancel at the last minute due to my illness. There is so much we want to do, and I want to be present for all of it. Improving my health improves his life too, and injecting my medication is the first step to making that happen.

Although I don’t have children of my own, I cannot imagine a more powerful motivator. Treating your illness teaches them the importance of taking care of your health, and models courage and tenacity. If you can do it, they can too. Love is stronger than fear. The power to better your life, and the lives of those you care about, is literally in your hands. So take a deep breath, remember your training, and go for it.

Originally published: August 27, 2019
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