Monday, 1 August 2016

July 2016 - A sharp scratch

My latest post is pituitary related because it regards a journey made whilst I was having loads of pituitary related blood tests, but this post is not directly about pituitary issues but about overcoming the fear of needles, of both injections and blood taking. The fear of many things isn't necessarily rational but scary nonetheless. Also I have been reading a book called The Chimp Paradox by Prof. Steve Peters and I realise that I absolutely used his techniques but before I had even read his book. The purpose of writing this piece is in the hope it might help someone, showing how I overcame my fear and hope it helps someone else do the same. 

The mainstay of The Chimp Paradox book is of course the Chimp part of the mind, it is an emotional and irrational beast. The book also talks about the human and the computer parts of the brain. The human is us and the computer is where we can store things that both the Chimp and the human can reference to help them make sense of the world. Essentially you program things into your 'computer' so they become the 'norm' and then when an event happens the pre-programming takes over. I don't usually read self-help type books but the Chimp Paradox is a very good one and although I haven't read it all yet, I have gone over the parts I have read several times.

For me, when I used to have blood tests I used to nearly pass out. I don't really know why I used to fear the blood test so much, it wasn't like I had good reason to, I'd never had a bad experience. Prior to 2013 when my pituitary journey kicked off, I had very few blood tests as I had no long term medical conditions. My main fears were:

  • The blood test site wouldn't stop bleeding and I would bleed to death
  • My arm would somehow not cope and drop off
  • It would be REALLY painful
  • After the blood taking I felt I could barely use my arm as I was convinced I would start it bleeding 
  • Some kind of long term damage would have occurred

Just typing the above out makes the whole thing seem ridiculous, but that is what I felt. So in 2013 when the blood taking was very frequent it was pretty inconvenient to keep feeling this way. By the time I had come out of hospital for the 2nd time in June 2013, I had already started to be de-sensitised by blood taking, but I was still scared. I suddenly realised that I had a chance to put this right, I had some real hard evidence about what this blood taking was doing to me. That is, not a lot really!

So I sat myself down and wrote out some of the above statements about blood tests and what they meant to me (the list was a bit longer than the above) and I looked them all through and spoke out loud to myself. "Did my arm actually drop off at any point", "did I bleed uncontrollably"...... As you may guess, the answer was "no" to every question. It is true that I did bruise a bit on quite a few occasions, but even so, no permanent damage was done. I felt I had to get this evidence clear in my head.

It took quite a while for me to go through all my silly statements and rationalise them. What I was doing was essentially programming my computer with facts. Previously all the irrational stuff was coming from the Chimp.....all those statements about my arm falling off were emotional things, the Chimp ruling my mind and telling me lots of falsehoods. Getting some facts programmed into my 'computer' helped me settle the Chimp down and me too. I started going to blood tests much calmer, knowing that actually if I just relaxed things would be much better. The "sharp scratch" actually did become less painful (I'm not sure if that was a physical thing or a mental thing) and I pretty much never bruise now, I'm convinced this is because I am more relaxed. I also think that even though the phlebotomists that I see are very good, I think it must put them under pressure if they see someone stressing out in front of them. 

There was a further complication, in that when I was in hospital I had to face an extension of blood taking, which was having cannulas inserted into various parts of my hand/arm/leg. This was actually far worse than the injection, because these needles lived inside your veins for ages. I do still struggle with the cannula concept a bit, but again I have evidence that they didn't kill me. So I had to do the facts-based chat with myself on this subject too.

So for me, confronting my fear with loads of facts based on experience of what had happened in a couple of dozen blood tests and getting those facts embedded in my brain is what took away my fear of needles. Don't get me wrong, I don't breeze into the blood clinic shouting "whoopee, a blood test", but I view a blood test now as very much a transactional thing. Nothing to worry about. It has completely transformed this part of my life.

Of course the above tips won't work for everyone, perhaps I was lucky. If you hate needles, it is worth trying to understand exactly why and then try and confront those fears with some facts based on some evidence of what has actually happened to you. You never know, you might end up like me, a more sane person when faced with the sharp scratch.

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