Blood Draw Anxiety

I’m so anxious that it’s hard to swallow. Later this morning, my mom is coming to bring me to get my lab work. The list of ordered tests has lengthened but I keep putting off getting it done. It’s pathetic how frightened I get for bloodwork and how much I let this phobia blockade the diagnostic progress of my medical health. Each blood draw experience seems more scarring than the last, so instead of trending positive, I fear increasingly the procedure. At this point, I desperately need a favorable, or at least tolerable, experience to lob off some of the extreme magnitude my brain associates with getting my blood drawn. I picture a sound recording with a tracing of my anxiety level bouncing up and down. The threshold line over which my fearful brain decides the threat is too great for the perceived benefits and therefore registers a resounding “no” in my decision-making process, stay put, albeit in its low height for blood work. The anxiety reading, on the other hand, keeps climbing up and up, the peaks reaching much greater amplitudes with each negative experience. I need to trick my brain into turning down the volume on that tracing or changing the scale with which the graph is displayed so that the peaks look minuscule (or at least surmountable!). I pray that my mom’s company will not only distract me and provide comfort, but that she can help facilitate a more positive experience by advocating for my needs and smoothing the procedure. As I tend to completely clam up and just sit silently on the chair with tears streaming down my red cheeks, I fail to verbalize my sensory needs or suggest strategies that the phlebotomist can employ to increase my comfort. That’s where my mom’s presence today will hopefully make a difference.

Cognitively, I know that my fear is irrational. Nothing bad will happen to me during such a routine, low-risk procedure. Daily life is fraught with more dangerous events. I’m not afraid of needles, as evidenced by my very recent dog-bite-associated tetanus shot in which I was totally relaxed. I do hate the sight of my own blood these days (a problem I developed post-attack), but by not looking during the draw, that problem can mostly be eliminated (except when they leave the tubes strewn about the desk after filling and then I see them while packing up to leave). The rubbing of the alcohol wipe and the needle insertion in the antecubital space—my most sensitive skin—simply drives me bananas. The sensitivity of that region, thanks to sensory processing disorder and thin Ehlers-Danlos skin, is so severe that even the thought of it brings tears to my eyes and puts a pit of nausea feeling in my stomach. I can’t even touch that skin myself unless I provide very firm deep pressure. Light touch or friction there sets my skin on fire.

In an effort to curb my anxiety before it escalates even further, I’m going to try and focus on something else for the next few hours and distract my mind. I’ll get through this and will do my best to be brave and stoic during the process. I’ve learned that it’s not okay to cut myself slack and be forgiving with my anxieties; I used to chide myself so severely and criticize my babyishness, but ultimately, there’s no need for that. Even if I struggle and cry, I can conquer this and be proud of myself just for doing it, however “well” I do.

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