Our guest blogger today is Francesca Austin. She shares her journey on what it is like navigating diabetes and needle phobia.
By Francesca Austin (@type1_fran)
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on 28th January 2004 at 4 years old. 17 ½ years later, I am still in the process of navigating life with my illness as an uninvited passenger. I have severely struggled with my mental health, made worse by type 1 diabetes like so many of us. Having this extra label and the hundreds of additional decisions we must make daily just to stay alive which takes its toll for sure. Like so many of us in this community, I also had a very traumatic diagnosis with nurses pinning me down to inject the unknown lifesaving liquid (commonly known as insulin!). Unfortunately for me, to add insult to injury, these early experiences shaped my phobia of needles. Personally, it’s the unknown that terrifies me. Will it hurt? Will I be sick? What if I faint? Does it bruise badly? So many questions that I work myself up into hyperventilating. These worries meant I’d scream, wriggle and panic myself to try to get away but as so many of you know, having this diagnosis means we cannot avoid needles, we face them every single day – which is exhausting.
Acknowledging needle phobia and being open about it
Navigating my way through the years of having diabetes has been tiring, I was prescribed numbing cream and sprays to take some of the pain away but this never seemed to help me. The thought of puncturing my skin and potentially hitting a nerve, blood vessel or lump was just too much to bear. Some days it would take nearly 2 hours to complete an injection/cannula change. I’ve always found that people would comment during the routine school injections/blood tests that “I bet you are so used to this”. “I bet you aren’t even scared at all”. Of course these comments seem harmless but I was petrified. I felt I had to put on a front which made it worse. But since acknowledging this phobia and being open about it, I have interacted with so many other diabetics who are equally as scared of needles. This made me feel so much better, that I wasn’t the only one, that I felt less like a fool for having a phobia of something that helps to keep me alive.
When you feel ready to take the brave step and be open about this phobia (and other phobias!), you develop an understanding that the majority of diabetics are also afraid, many people put a front on; but if you inform people, for example, a phlebotomist, they respect your wishes and make sure they do everything they can to ensure you are comfortable.
Tips on navigating needle phobia
The most important thing is to figure out what works for you. Manoeuvre your way through diabetes and needle phobia. The following list is what works for me but please do remember we are all different:
- Listening to music to distract myself
- Not looking at the needle beforehand
- Practicing mindfulness
- Meditation beforehand
- Allowing someone else to assist and help me. This can help take stress away from you as you are not in control
- Seeking professional help
- Asking my DSN (Diabetes Specialist Nurse) to trial the Medtronic iPort if on injections
- Switching to a cannula device which hides the needles (I use the Medtronic Mio Advance cannulas)
- Talking to the person taking blood/performing injection, let them know you are afraid and the procedure could take some time
Even though I am 21 years old, my mum and boyfriend help me to change my cannulas as I am unable to insert it myself. There is no shame in this though. I need help. I cannot do this by myself and my support network is so brilliant that all they want to do is support me. It makes these experiences a little bit nicer (if possible!). This has helped to reduce time changing cannulas from 2 hours + to just under 5 minutes. I still flinch sometimes. Replacing those negative thoughts of “It’s going to hurt” etc to “This will only take a couple of seconds and I can then go” have been beneficial to me. Having help does not mean you are failing! It means you are brave to trust someone else to help keep you alive!
The importance of making progress
To this day I can accidentally look at the needle going in and vomit/faint in a blood test – it happened a couple of months ago! But these occurrences are much less than what they have been previously! This is what progress is: the solution does not arrive straight away!
I believe it’s about finding solutions to these problems which can include performing these tasks in a different way. We are all unique for a reason! My mum will always come with me to my clinic appointments especially when a blood test is involved. It’s something I can’t and won’t manage by myself. We just all need support wherever and whenever we can get it!
If you have questions and want to chat to someone living with diabetes that has needle phobia, please reach out on Instagram, I am always happy to help!