Diabetic and Afraid: Trypanophobia

“I could never be a diabetic, I’m too scared of needles.”

When I hear this phrase, my usual response is to laugh and smile, while in my head a sassy voice snaps back:

“It’s not like I have a choice”.

Don’t feel bad if you suspect these might have been your words. I have heard this phrase so many times that the voices have blended together inside my head.

I have had diabetes longer than I can remember. At different points in my life, I have even felt grateful for the lack of memories of what life was like prior to my diagnosis. I will never know the days of “before”, when I could have popped a chocolate into my mouth without thinking of the consequences, or when apple juice boxes didn’t have a medicinal meaning for me.

For a long time, diabetes felt like a game. I credit a lot of this to my father. Every few days, when the time would come to inject a new site for my insulin pump, he would play a game of catch-me-if-you-can to distract me. Although this may have ended in my being stabbed yet again by an inserter, the game was so fun and I was so breathless from laughing and screaming, that I only remember the joy of the chase and not the moments after. To someone who has never had to inject their child with insulin before, this may sound like a strange game, but my dad helped normalize a difficult task and even brought a sense of playfulness to it that I am grateful for to this day.

I remember nights as a child, waking to my parents clumsily trying to test my blood sugar, trying to keep from waking me up but somehow managing to poke at the most painful parts of my fingers. I remember my annoyed sigh as I rolled over, took the lancet device from them, did the test and rolled back to my hazy dreams. Needles were a simple fact of life, and as a child I felt an occasional pride in my casual relationship with them.

Now, let me tell you a secret.

I am a diabetic, and the older I get, the more my fear of needles grows.

When did my easy relationship with needles and bravery transform into something else? When did I begin to hesitate, hold my breath, and look away?

Was it the lab tests, where nurses could never find my veins as they tried to draw blood, stabbing my arms two, three, four times; finally inserting one in the back of my hand, my fist throbbing from stress and fear?

Was it the night I had such a high blood sugar I thought I was going to be sick; the sudden and abrupt feeling as my fingers, heavy with sleep, accidentally inserted the new site needle only half way; the pain jolting me out of my sleep-addled state?

“I could never be diabetic, I’m too scared of needles.”

The truth is, I am a diabetic and the older I get, the harder it is for me to even look at a needle without that queezy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I used to insert a new site needle every three days, finger test multiple times a day, get my blood drawn every six months, all without a second thought.

Now, before going in for a lab test, I have to mentally prepare myself, knowing I’ll be tense and light-headed through the process and that I’ll have to coach the equally nervous lab technician in finding my well-hidden veins at the same time.

Now, I have lost count of the times I have stood alone in my room, frozen, with a needle poised in my hand, trying to screw up the courage to stab myself yet again. “Okay, on the next exhale, that’s when I’ll do it”. Fifteen breaths later, I don’t even breathe at all as my hand comes down.

“I could never be ____________” seems to signify that there is some choice in the matter; that I choose to overcome my fear of needles. I don’t. It’s not an either/or. I live in tandem with this fear and the equipment necessary in keeping me alive.

It would be so easy to feel frustrated and embarrassed by this new reality, by my weakness. My life is only made more difficult by this irrational fear. So how do I reconcile this new reality?

Humor helps.

It is good to laugh at myself every now and again. There’s really nothing to be done except keep living each day, chuckling at the universe that decided to combine diabetes with a fear of sharp objects.

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