A couple of weeks ago I took my daughter for some blood tests and, on the journey, we were discussing how the last time I had taken her for some she’d had a complete meltdown in the waiting room and then again when she’d got in to see the nurse.
Consequently, she does everything she possibly can to avoid any sort of injection so it is quite an achievement that we are engaged in a 48-hour jab fest including blood tests and a couple of immunisations that are leftover from her unwillingness to have them at school.
In the car, we are talking about needle anxiety.
“What really annoys me is when people say stuff like ‘don’t look’ and ‘think of something else’ when you say you don’t like needles”, she says.
“Yes, it doesn’t work, does it?” I reply. “Much better when people say, ‘I agree that injections are horrible’.”
We both know that the reason she tends to want me to accompany her to such appointments is that I feel exactly the same. I can’t stand injections and so I’m unlikely to give her the annoying platitudes she can expect from others.
When people seek to stop us feeling anxious quite often it is their own discomfort they are concerned about rather than ours. After all, it’s not fun being around someone anxious so why not try and stop them feeling it if you can?
As we draw into the car park I tell my daughter that one of the ways I learned to manage my anxiety was when I realised that my fear of looking pathetic was stronger than my fear of most things I’m frightened of (blood, needles, heights, flying, balloons..yes that’s right)
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“Well, even when I feel like I want to avoid something I am compelled to do it because to not do it would make me look bad to everyone else and that’s worse than a fear I can only feel and don’t have to show”.
In the waiting room, she is remarkably calm, not at all like the last visit. It reminds me of the time that we went to inquire about having her belly button pierced and, in the absence of anyone else waiting, just had it done on the spot having agonised over it for months.
Anxiety, because it lives in the future, is only a problem until you reach it. Once in the middle of its object, the anxiety morphs into something else entirely. Something infinitely more manageable.
Ten minutes later we’re leaving without fuss or drama and I feel quite teary and emotional. I felt like this after the belly button piercing and I will feel it again the next day after her blood tests go without a hitch. It’s relief and it is only something we can enjoy feeling if we allow ourselves to be anxious in the first place without trying to close it down.
A week later I am back in the hospital, this time alone, at the eye clinic waiting to see my consultant about some pain and headaches I’ve been having since retinal attachment surgery in August. I think back to that train journey to the hospital prior to my surgery and how thankful I was that it had all happened so fast truncating my opportunity to be anxious. I think too of the point at which the surgeon said, “We’re just going to put an injection in your eye” and how I found calm in the middle of the discomfort because I didn’t have any other options.
Staring into the distance and wondering what the consultant will say about my symptoms this morning I am drawn towards a sign on the far wall. “Eye Replacement Service” it reads, and I find myself hoping that it won’t come to that.