Exorcising Demons

I’ve got a little bit of a problem. It’s one that has plagued me for years and one that only seems to get worse as time goes by. In reality, I should have solved this problem years ago but when I’m not being lazy I’m being scared about confronting what’s wrong with me. This issue isn’t exclusive to me either and I’m pretty sure you know someone who suffers the same way that I do. I’ve got trypanophobia (apparently some people don’t agree with the word, but whatever). This is a fear of needles and injections and it sucks.

For as long as I can remember, needles (and basically the entire circulatory system, really, thus making high school biology a real pain in the ass) and I haven’t really gotten along. It usually didn’t set me off unless it was when I had to have blood taken. That’s when it would hit me hard. For years, I’ve avoided situations that involved me giving blood. Simple, right? Like a Jehovah’s Witness, but without the soul redemption bit. However, in the last few years my issue has gotten worse. Now, if I see someone else having blood taken (whether in real life or on screen) or even if I talk about it at length with someone it sets me off. This has happened twice recently and, in hindsight, they’re pretty funny. At the time, they were a living nightmare. In both instances, the person I was talking to was telling me all about their blood-related treatment/situation and I had no way of asking them to stop without looking like a dick (they were the the ones who’d gone through the trauma, after all). When one of my little ‘episodes’ begins there are specific things I notice: I start to feel hot, I get dizzy and then tunnel-vision leads to a very short blackout (we’re only talking seconds here, but still pretty scary). Twice this has happened: once in a restaurant with my wife and once in a hospital with my father (on that occasion I woke to two nurses asking if I was a patient and whether I needed to be admitted).

Take it from me: this is not an ideal situation, whether you’re visiting a family member or waiting for your main course.

Even worse, though, is that I recently had the very same kind of freak out over a very different situation. So, every year at the beginning of flu season, we are offered free flu vaccinations at work. I never take them up on the offer, feeling a little weird about getting stuck with a needle at work as well as normally believing the hype about people generally feeling rough after flu vaccinations. This year, however, I’d heard about the flu being worse than usual. Thinking that my issue was only to do with blood-related needling, I went ahead with a flu jab.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you at this point that this decision of mine was a mistake.

Despite being a completely different kind of needle and situation (and the fact that I didn’t watch whilst it took a whole four seconds to complete) I started feeling the heat and dizziness I always associated with my ‘moments’. I was on shift at the time, by the way. Not very becoming, sitting at the break room table, white as a ghost and desperately trying not to be sick and pass out. I managed to fight this particular bout of weirdness down without passing out (huzzah, victory!) but went home whilst phasing through a selection of shades of grey and green.

I started to worry. My issue was getting worse and I couldn’t foresee how I could be a human who avoided all needles forever. I spoke with Lou about what I needed to do and, as she had experience with the process of cognitive behavioural therapy, she encouraged me to seek support through my GP and healthcare provider. Naturally, as a man who always listens to the advice of his wife, I took her suggestion and promptly did nothing with it. What can I say? Sometimes I’m a stubborn dickhead who buries his head in the sand.

My issue has been thrown into sharp relief in the last couple of weeks for two different reasons linked to the same terrible event: the Manchester Arena attack.

The first is that after a tragedy like this, the NHS Blood and Transplant Service always need blood donations. In fact, for a few days after the attack, queues of eager samaritans stretched around the block. There was no way that I could support this effort in my current state. I know that and it tears me apart.

The other reason is that, like many others in this city and around the world, I wanted to get a bee tattoo to signify my love for the city and to give something charitable to the organisations that were helping victims. I was all set to book it too, but then I realised something: if my issue had spread to vaccination needles, how did I know that tattooing would be any different? With that doubt and fear in my mind, I put off the idea of the tattoo. Something so simple is currently so out of reach for me until I seek some kind of treatment.

I think it’s fair to say that what happened in Manchester has opened my eyes to a number of things. One of them is the absolute necessity of getting my issue/condition/phobia/psychosomatic bullshit dealt with as soon as I can. The right way and for good.

It’s gone on way too long and I really don’t want to spend anymore time on restaurant/hospital floors. Those aren’t great places for anybody.


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