I finally did it! I got my first ever flu shot! No, it didn’t hurt. Although, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t suffer anxiety. Many people react to anxiety with a mentality of “it doesn’t hurt” and therefore there is no reason to have anxiety. It doesn’t work that way. Often times, I’m told “I have nothing to be nervous about.” and I get that. It’s not that I don’t understand the situation… it’s that you don’t understand anxiety disorders. For me, anxiety means having this intense feeling inside myself regardless of the situation. Don’t get me wrong, the shot not hurting does matter in that it makes the anxiety less intense and improves my chances of doing it again. In fact, a huge factor is how I’m treated in the process.
I was chatting with a coworker and there was this awkward moment when she suggested “They are giving free flu shots here today.” as a solution to CVS being out every time I’ve gone for one. Prior to this comment we had discussed how stressful work was and how it negatively affects my anxiety disorder. So you think getting a shot, which is highly stressful in of itself, in an already stressful work environment is a good idea? That alone proves that you don’t understand how anxiety works. It’s not your fault… you don’t have it. Let me walk you through what will likely happen.
I need to muster up the courage to get up and walk out to the area where people are being stabbed with needles. I’m already stressed out over work, so any anxiety will be even greater. I have to wait around for my turn, to which I can’t look anywhere without seeing a needle and even if I close my eyes I can smell the rubbing alcohol which already induces a sense of panic inside me from just the smell alone. As the medic is touching my arm and prepping me for the shot, I feel dread like you would not believe. Waiting is the HARDEST part. The longer I wait, the more the anxiety builds up. I think about something else, but I’m not stupid. I know where I am and what’s about to happen. I can’t quell this feeling inside my body.
It’s not just a feeling in your head, it’s your whole body and it manifests physically. I feel tingly at first. Have you ever accidentally poked your finger with a needle while sewing, or got a paper cut, or maybe a light singe from a hot curler or pot handle? You have that moment of shock. It’s like that feeling, prolonged, without the physical pain. Although, for me, there is some pain. My left wrist starts to ache and throb. Even on the days that they were out of the shot and I got nothing, my wrist would still hurt. I believe that I’ve associated needles with my left wrist because of all the times I’ve had IV’s in that hand.
I imagined that I’d get another shockwave of anxiety when the needle enters my body. I can close my eyes and it might not hurt at all, but that shock is intense. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. It feels like I’m going to throw up, but I never do. My vision gets blurry and there’s this dark shadow clouding the edges of my vision. It’s what I imagine happens right before you faint… but I never faint. It’s like my body is pushed to the limits of the stress it can handle, but instead of purging or fainting, there’s no release. I’m stuck in this moment of misery with no control over how my body feels. Sometimes, when it’s extreme enough, I turn a pale white (which I’m already a Ginger translucent to begin with), and can feel the blood draining out of my face in waves. When it gets this bad, even nurses panic a little.
While lost in this moment, do I really want my coworkers staring at me? People buzzing around me, asking me if I’m okay, or telling me “everything is okay”, or “there’s nothing to worry about”… this is just frustrating and pointless and causes me more unnecessary stress. In these situations, I don’t feel like talking and in most cases I’m prone to say “SHUT. UP.” in desperation to be left lone while I focus on coping. Compare it to having a hangover – sick your to stomach and aching – don’t you just want to be left alone in quiet?
Often times, as I’m coming down, I get a sort of tourettes. No, I don’t have tourettes, but I feel like it because I get these ticks. I have a hard time using words and even stutter. I get uncontrollable ticks, where I’m shivering like a cold chihuahua, my arms/head jerks randomly, my eye twitches. Often times, even nurses get caught up in this idea that I’m cold. “Are you cold?” they ask, and I reply “No. This just happens when my anxiety gets too high.” They look confused and usually get me a blanket anyway, even though I seriously don’t need it. It’s moments like this that make me feel like even nurses don’t understand anxiety, which is very disconcerting.
During most of my anxiety attacks, I generally have a down to earth mentality. I don’t typically panic or “freak out” every time I suffer anxiety. I usually just ride it out and cope in my own way. It’s the people around me who do the most damage. When I’m treated poorly or embarrassed, it makes anxiety so much worse – harder to manage and recover from. A bad anxiety attack lingers and effects future plans. Think of it like a family dinner outing. If dinner with the in-laws goes horribly, then you’re going to immediately dread the next dinner outing with the in-laws. I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want to make a scene. Would you?
All in all, I don’t need people laughing about it, whispering about it, getting up in arms because I told them to shut up, or expressing their ignorant views of my condition. So no. I do not want to get my flu shot at work. That would be a horrible experience and then I would likely never get another flu shot again. Thank you for the suggestion. No, I didn’t explain all this, because I get tired of being judged. People often think you’re being overly dramatic, or that you can just not worry. It’s infuriating and, yes, it’s embarrassing. I’m not saying that everyone is judgmental in this way, but there’s a 50/50 chance and why put myself through this when frankly, it’s none of your business.
Was getting my flu shot this bad? Thankfully not! At first, every time I mustered up the courage to get the shot, CVS was out. This did try my patience, but then I called to make an appointment and the lady was so understanding and respectful, which gave me that little bit of extra encouragement.
I decided to bring Quill the Butterfly with me for extra moral support. My husband got me this butterfly when I was really sick and I named him Quill, after Nyquil/Dayquil. Since then, he’s been with me when I’m sick. He was with me during ear surgery, during a nasty tooth extraction, etc. I love animals and plushies, so when I have my butterfly, I have two things that I love within my grasp. He’s something I can fiddle with in my hands and he’s soft to touch. It’s a focus and a good sensation. It’s something to counter balance the negative associations. The soothing it brings me far out weighs the embarrassment of a grown woman clinging to a stuffed rainbow butterfly (to which I see nothing wrong with even without the needed moral support).
So we get there an hour early and I asked if we could do it sooner. Like I said, waiting is awful! They were happy to and didn’t make me feel like I was inconveniencing them at all. As we waited, I had anxiety building up and my wrist started to hurt, but rubbing Quill between my fingers helped with the wrist pain. My husband asked the pharmacist if they had the really thin needles, to which they said yes, and that they were very thin. That made me feel a little better. As the medic was rubbing alcohol on my arm, the smell made me feel instantly queasy. I closed my eyes and probably whimpered. The medic said it wouldn’t hurt and it would just be a pinch. It’s been my experience that when doctors say it’s a pinch, it still hurts. In this case it didn’t hurt at all. I felt the needle go in, but barely. I felt the fluid go in, but it wasn’t painful at all. I wouldn’t even call it a pinch really. My husband said he felt nothing with his. My body is fairly sensitive when it comes to touch, smell, and pain. So on a scale of 1 to 10 unpleasantry, I’d give it a one (only because of the anxiety)!
I chose to sit for an extra minute to let the anxiety wash over me. Due to the low level of anxiety, the release phase came almost immediately. I started to shiver and my teeth chattered a little bit. I told the medic that this was my first ever flu shot and that I have an anxiety disorder that makes it hard to do this sort of thing. He said “Then this a huge step for you. How do you feel about it now?” His comment actually made me feel pretty good. In one sentence, he acknowledged how hard it was and how brave I was for going through with it. I told him I felt great and that I feel like this is something I can continue to do. The medic was so nice and that made all the difference in the world. Bedside manner means so much to me. It’s the difference between an easy or hard fight with anxiety. My husband and I love our CVS pharmacy. They always treat us with respect and kindness.
I was stuttering, shaking, and aching for maybe 5 to 10 minutes by the time it subsided. A 5 to 10 minute recovery time is golden! Thank you CVS for taking good care of me and helping me to have the courage to continue getting my flu shots in the years to come!