Blog - Facing My Fear
Facing My Fear
Above photo by lauren lulu taylor on Unsplash
Blog - Facing My Fear

In my family, we have a condition that has been handed down – we see a needle and we pass out!

I’m not talking about the needle pulling thread, but the jab-you kind. Most in my family have no problem with the syringe, but for those of us that do, it has caused considerable discontent.

Community wellness visits used to be the worst – someone would have to take your blood. (Blood? No problem! I can shoot, gut, and chop up my dinner, and fry it up in a pan! Easy!) I would explain to the phlebotomist that I have an aversion to needles. Those that were professional would tell me when they are going to bring out the cause of consternation, talk through what they were doing, and when they are done. This consideration allowed me look away while the offending tool is out. All was well. Then there are those who are sure that I was being overly dramatic and wave the darn thing in front of my face, “You mean this?” and out I went, slumping to the floor.

During one of these wellness visits, I got the unprofessional. He waved the needle, I passed out. I come to amid first aid responders and concerned onlookers. It took me a long while to overcome the shock and stop shaking. My only relief was the tongue lashing he received from a sage nurse who was well aware of my family’s history. I detested the helpless feeling, which left me quite diminished for the next few days. Any little thing set me running for my bed where I could cover my head – a whistle blowing, a pan lid dropping on the floor, a slamming door – things that are all part of experiencing life. The fear was overwhelming!

During one of these wellness visits, I got the unprofessional. He waved the needle, I passed out. I come to amid first aid responders and concerned onlookers. It took me a long while to overcome the shock and stop shaking. My only relief was the tongue lashing he received from a sage nurse who was well aware of my family’s history. I detested the helpless feeling, which left me quite diminished for the next few days. Any little thing set me running for my bed where I could cover my head – a whistle blowing, a pan lid dropping on the floor, a slamming door – things that are all part of experiencing life. The fear was overwhelming!

Blog - Facing My Fear

I decided to face my fear and work through the incapacitation. There were many reasons to do so, including my sister-in-law. She had to self-inject insulin and sometimes needed help, which I could not provide. But how should I go about it? Even watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or House left me shaky and spinning. How does one overcome genetics? I didn’t have needles around the house handle and make myself accustomed to them. If I went that route, I would also need a safe zone to land when I passed out and a helper to make sure I didn’t injure myself. Then, there was my young son, who would not understand why I kept passing out. Of course, the time it would take to accomplish this was not available either. I worked two jobs. Then I remembered an experience from when I was five or six years old.

Blog - Facing My Fear

I did not like the taste of tomatoes in any form. When my mom made spaghetti, she would have to leave out the sauce and make a separate bowl for me. Catsup on hamburgers or hotdogs ruined them. I was fine without them, no matter how wonderful they smelled. Once they hit my tastebuds, they auto ejected. 

My uncle grew tomatoes and one summer brought us a box of freshly picked, vine-ripened, bright red tomatoes to my grandparent’s house to share with those that had gathered. All the adults were gaga over them, taking one out of the box and eating them like they were apples. My dad wanted me to experience the quality of the red fruit. I resisted with all my might. He pondered a moment, then put the offending food aside, and sat beside me on the porch.

“You like watermelon, don’t you?” he asked. I nodded yes and looked around to see if maybe someone had brought a watermelon. “I thought so,” said my dad. “I have a challenge for you.” He knew I loved puzzles and I focused on him instead of where the watermelon might be. “If you close your eyes and imagine that you are eating watermelon, I bet that you will like the tomato by the time you get through half of one. What do you think? Do you think you are brave enough to try?” I thought about his proposition and couldn’t find any fault with it. I agreed. He selected a small tomato and cut it in half with his pocketknife and handed me the section.

Blog - Facing My Fear

My world closed in – all that existed was that tomato half.

From far away I heard my dad say, “Close your eyes and imagine watermelon, then take a bite.”

I closed my eyes and imagined a bright red slice of watermelon with black seeds dripping its sticky sweetness onto my hands. With this image in mind, I bit into the fruit in my hand…it was watermelon! I took another bite. Still watermelon! I opened my eyes in wonder and looked at my dad, “How did you know that they tasted like watermelon?” I took another bite. I wanted to eat it all! “Can I have the other half too?” I asked.

My dad laughed, looking relieved, and said, “I know how smart you are. Your imagination is a powerful thing and can give you strength when you are scared to do something. It is important to learn how to do this. Now you know how to accomplish something when you don’t want to do it and know it is good for you to do it.”

I didn’t fully understand what he was saying to me then, as I finished eating my watermelon tomato, but I sure do now. I knew that because he took those few moments with me, I had learned to embrace all things tomato and learned that I actually liked them as they were, not because I pretended that they were watermelon. I could use my mind and overcome this phobia of needles.

Blog - Facing My Fear

This was the approach I used. I started watching Grey’s Anatomy and focused on the characters, not on the tools they used. The first few episodes were tough, but gradually I was able to not get sick each time someone brandished a jabber. Over time, I was able to watch House, which had many more needles, and not think about them as implements of destruction, but as the tools they are. Occasionally, when I am not fully in the moment, I get queasy when one appears on a TV show, but I am no longer passing out. The same is true for visits to the clinic, or wellness visits.

I am thankful for the lesson my dad took the time to teach me when I was so impressionable. It has served me countless times when I needed to confront my fears, be brave, and forge on.

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