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Overcoming Fear

For as long as I can remember, the sight of needles and the thought of them inserting into skin has made me want to jump out of my skin. My heart leaps up into my throat, my back gets shivers and my shoulders scrunch up into my neck. Even watching needles on TV, knowing that the camera is filming fake skin and fake blood, gives me the heebie-jeebies and I can’t watch. I close my eyes and burry my head. “Just tell me when it’s over.”

In the few times I have given blood, I looked away, squeezed something with my other hand to distract my mind and force myself into my happy place. I pictured lying on a beach and totally disassociated with my body. “If I can’t see it, it’s not happening,” I convince myself.

In high school, I gave blood during a blood drive. A guy-friend, who was also giving blood on the table next to mine, decided it would be funny to tell me — straight faced — that there must be something wrong with how they inserted the IV or with me because my blood was a weird color. He yelled, “Nurse!” When I looked to see what he meant, I just about hyperventilated seeing my blood filling a bag. If they hadn’t given me a bag to breathe into, I probably would have fainted.

Before I was a coach, this fear was just something that I accepted. Something that made my friends and husband laugh when we watched movies. Something I dealt with through disassociation…with blocking it instead of experiencing it.

To be completely TAO (Transparent, Authentic and Open), I didn’t catch my lizard brain when I tried acupuncture for the first time last week and I refused to open my eyes or let my mind visualize the needles. I tried to climb into my body to feel the sensations and my mind kept wandering to far off places. I now realize it’s because I wasn’t accepting and climbing into the whole experience. I was trying to block the needle part out, which inhibited me from a true mind-body connection.

As all things happen when we need to and are ready to experience them as part of our life path, this week I saw that I needed to “live it to give it.” I needed to address and do the work directly on this fear.

Our uncles, Steven and Jerry, who also happen to be our neighbors, have two aging dogs: Tasha (14 years old) and Nikoli (also 14). Recently, both dogs have had some serious medical issues. About five months ago, Tasha was in the hospital for kidney failure. Steven and Jerry almost lost her, but she’s a fighter and so are they. Tasha’s at-home care included receiving a daily IV of fluids to flush out her kidneys. This is something the uncles had to learn to do themselves.

On Tuesday, they were back at the vet because Tasha’s kidney issues had returned. Once again, the vet prescribed daily IVs. Jerry had sent me a misfire text, intended for Steve, that he was on his way to pick up her IVs and fluids. I responded with my condolences and apologies that they had to go through the painful process of inserting a needle into their dog’s neck.

“If it’s going to make her feel better, we do what we need to do,” he replied.

Realizing I was projecting my own fear and angst over needles, I said, “Good attitude. Glad you have options.”

“I have a new thing for you to do tomorrow,” Jerry said. “You can give Tasha her daily IV feeding. Come watch today and you can do it tomorrow.”

Immediately my lizard brain went into a scary story about needles and without catching this, I said, “LOL. I’m not sure if I’m that adventurous.”

“HOLD UP! Wait…what are you making that mean?” I heard a voice in my head say.

The awesome thing about coaching is that when I notice I’m having a stressful or adverse reaction to something, it’s a sure sign I have work to do on myself. This is a gift. So I took it to self-inquiry:

Q: Why is it a problem to give a dog an IV?
A: Because needles hurt and I don’t want to cause pain. What if I do it wrong? What if I cause more damage and make her more sick? What if the needle breaks off in her skin? (And my thoughts once again went off playing a horror movie of a future that doesn’t exist.)

Q: The vet trusts Steven and Jerry to do it…and they managed to do it fine for weeks. They’re also going to teach you and show you. Why do you think you can’t?
A: Because needles freak me out!

Q: Why are needles bad?
A: Because they hurt!

Framing up the painful thought: The needle will hurt Tasha. (The following tool is “The Work” by Byron Katie.)

Q: Is that true?
A: I believe so, yes.

Q: Can you absolutely know that that is true?
A: Well, no, not absolutely. I know they hurt me if I look at them, which is my cognitive brain’s story. When the nurse does it, it is only a slight pinch. And I have no idea what dogs’ pain thresholds are.

Q: How do you react, what happens when you think that the needle will hurt Tasha?
A: I get shivers down my back. I tense up in my shoulders. My heart beats fast. My hands get clammy. I feel like my chest is being squeezed. I stop breathing.

Q: Who are you without the thought?
A: I’m my normal, calm self. I would just be inserting a needle into Tasha and being clinical about it. Heck, I could have been a doctor if I couldn’t think that needles, or anything puncturing skin, didn’t hurt.

Q: What are some turnarounds?
A: To the opposite: The needle won’t hurt Tasha.

Q: Have Steven and Jerry told you that Tasha is in a lot of pain when they do it? Do dogs tell themselves painful stories about the IVs long after it’s done?
A: No. I don’t believe they’d do it if that were the case. And animals don’t have language, so they can’t relive it over and over again like humans can.

Q: What’s the turnaround to other?
A: Tasha will hurt the needle. HA! I guess if she’s like Tucker (my dog), if she doesn’t like something she will bite it. So if she was in pain, she’d try to bite the needle back. As far as I know, that hasn’t happened in her previous IV treatments.

Q: What’s the turnaround to self?
A: I will hurt me. My thoughts will hurt me. I guess that’s probably what I’m projecting. My own pain. My own story about needles is hurting me, not Tasha.

Well, alright then! This is exactly what I need to do then for Elation Explorer. Push beyond my fear and look for alternate truths in the process.

Yesterday I observed and learned how Steven and Jerry give Tasha an IV. While the thought was a little less painful after “The Work,” it wasn’t ready to release me yet. So today, I used another tool: ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). I looked at other thoughts holding up the “Needles will cause pain” and found some additional stories that my mind tells:

“Objects shouldn’t puncture skin.” (And this caused a whole series of lizard brain visions of knives cutting through flesh, broken bones poking out of skin, and a host of other physically painful story options.)

I said to myself, “I’m having the thought that objects shouldn’t puncture skin.” I repeated this three times.

I added to it with, “I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that objects shouldn’t puncture skin.” Again, I repeated this three times.

I sat with this for a moment, began to feel some separation, took a breath and said to myself, “I have a whole story around the thought that objects shouldn’t puncture skin. This is my needle story.”

Then I sang “this is my needle story” out loud to a tune I made up, then again to the tune of Happy Birthday. The painful thought loosened a little bit more.

I pushed myself to think of proof of why the opposite is true…why objects should puncture skin. I came up with a whole list, including:

  • So doctors can perform surgeries and procedures to save lives.
  • So that patients can get anesthesia to be unconscious during said procedures and surgeries.
  • So that people who like and want tattoos can use that form of self expression.
  • So acupuncture can help people heal parts that Western medicine and prescriptions may not be able to cure.
  • So that Tasha can live…so she can get the fluids she needs to flush out her kidneys.

When 2:30PM came, the time for Tasha’s IV treatment, I walked to their house and breathed slowly and deeply. I grounded myself and quieted my mind with the presence of the trees and breeze along my walk. When I arrived, they began to set out the IV bag and Tasha’s bed while I did some Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril) breathing.

I sat behind Tasha in the bathroom and became present and focused. Jerry handed me the needle and told me which direction to face it when inserting.

IV Needle prepared and ready to be inserted.

They had shown me how to grab the folds on the back of her neck and shake it in a way that would allow a space to inject the needle so that the fluid would fill underneath her skin. I was grateful that she was a pug with extra loose layers of skin. I inserted the needle. I was calm and my hand was steady.

“The fluid isn’t flowing,” Jerry said. “You’ll have to take it out and do it again.”

My mind said, “Of course. Lessons that are needed to learn are always going to have a few hiccups.”

I took out the needle…we rubbed the back of her neck, and I did it again. This time it worked and the IV fluids flowed in at a good pace. Tasha started fidgeting half way through and I got a little nervous…but I wasn’t scared. I was able to look at the needle and look at her and still breathe evenly.

It took about four minutes and then it was done. Tasha was given her treats, she shook herself and it was over. She wasn’t mad at me. She wasn’t in pain. It was like she’d already forgotten it.

I stayed for about fifteen minutes making small chat with Steven and Jerry, and Tasha was her normal, doggy self that I’ve seen and interacted with every other time I’d seen her. She wasn’t fazed one bit. She looked like the hulk with her neck full of fluids, but she was otherwise unaffected.

It really was all in my head.