Friday, 19 August 2016

Anxiety Bites: Fear Talking

I originally shared this with my friends on Facebook, but I have edited it slightly for posting here.

PSA: It's really not funny to make fun of ANYONE's phobias, no matter how much of a small deal it may seem to you. We know how irrational our fears may seem to you, but that knowledge doesn't stop them.

Last week, YouTuber and pretty awesome human being, Saffron Kershaw-Mee, posted a video in which they discussed their experiences with anxiety and depression, including about how they've been feeling recently.  The part of this video that stood out to me the most was where they spoke about suffering from emetophobia (fear of vomiting).  They spoke about how this fear could stop them from enjoying themselves, that their whole outlook can change (including not being able to eat or leave their bed) if they believe that they've been near someone who has been sick.  To me, vomiting can be a way of ridding your body of a toxin (like something you have eaten) or a symptom of another illness. Personally, I generally hate vomiting and would do anything to avoid it. I'll be regularly swallowing or sipping at water, and trying to keep as still as possible.   A couple of days ago while going down windy roads down a mountain and a few weeks ago while at the cinema, I was feeling a bit motion sick, and I was just sitting there taking deep breaths and wanting it to stop soon.  I've also been sick in public several times in the past 10 years, including in a shop, in a theatre toilet, in a hotel public toilet, and twice on long-haul flights (which I was then teased about). Feeling really bad stomach pains therefore makes me nervous about being sick during a flight, which then adds to other issues I have with flying (I've learned to deal with taking off, landing and walking around on a plane, but I'm terrified of turbulence or anything else happening). But vomiting is not something that I fear every day.

While I've been on holiday, I've been struggling with a couple of fears that I have been teased a bit for, and I think I should explain those fears and why it is not ok to make fun of me or anyone else for them.  Since sharing this on Facebook, I received some comments from friends who understood what I was feeling from their own personal experiences, so I finally know that I am not alone in the latter of the two fears I am about to discuss: needles and dogs (and other animals).

That sounds really silly, right?

Needles are so important in vaccinations for protecting against infectious diseases, they can be used to apply anaesthetic to reduce the feeling of pain (including for dental use), and they can be used in blood tests to find out if you're A-ok or if there's something wrong with you. Needles can be used to gather blood or other cells for donation, and for giving those to the recipient. But needles are one of the things that I'm terrified of. I'd love to be able to give blood, but every time I think about it, it makes my feet start to tingle. Once when I was 14, I was simply being spoken to about an upcoming vaccination, and I started to feel dizzy and like I was going to faint. When I had injections at school, I'd be so scared beforehand and I was just glad that I had a couple of friends around nearby. Last year, I started considering the possibility of if I needed to have any injections at uni and who I'd ask to come with me in case anything happened (such as if I fainted). When I was 17, I needed an injection and I was so anxious and couldn't stop thinking about it beforehand, and while the nurse was talking to me about the jab, I suddenly fainted and woke up on the floor with no memory of how it happened. Following almost fainting at the dentist after being given local anaesthetic, and then stopping having my mum in the room with me when I'm seeing the dentist, I've stopped having numbing injections for fillings because they're just so painful and I can't deal with that on my own. The most recent occasion that I had an injection, I was teased about if I fainted afterwards (I'm assuming this person thought I had fainted because of the injection), even though I'd actually fainted beforehand that time. No, I'd actually fainted because of the pure anxiety I felt about that injection and every day about the idea of any time I will need an injection.

The second fear of mine which I will discuss here (I have many fears) is dogs. I know that most of you will find dogs really cute. When I'm near a dog, I'll be hyper-conscious, I'll be scared about them coming any closer to me, my eyes will be darting around to see where they are, I'll be really hoping that something catches their attention and makes them walk away from me, if they're under a table I'm sitting at, I'll be really scared. I'm terrified of being bitten or scratched by a dog, even more so when I'm wearing shorts or cropped trousers. That kinda seems ridiculous to most people, because most dogs are nice and friendly and you might even try to use a type of "Not All Dogs" argument with me. Well, my brain doesn't care if it's "Not All Dogs" and it believes that I'm in danger any time a dog comes near me. I'm also scared of cats, but I think I could learn to be ok with cats, in a controlled environment. To me, being followed by a dog is like being chased by a bear (or something else that could be very dangerous).

Something that has been exacerbating this fear has been encountering a LOT of stray dogs while on holiday in Sri Lanka.  There was one morning when I'd been on the beach before 7am to go dolphin-watching, and two dogs had been coming towards me, and then about 4 other dogs joined them to play on the beach.  There were been other times when I saw at least 6 stray dogs in one go while in Sri Lanka, and even if they were sleeping, I'd be constantly checking to make sure that they hadn't woken up and come closer towards me. 

There is a history of rabies in dogs and other animals in Sri Lanka (read this article).  When my grandma was young, she was bitten by a dog and had to go through several weeks of anti-rabies injections to prevent the disease.  I can barely deal with a single injection every few years because I get so stressed about the pain and seeing the needle and everything, so I can't go through daily injections for this (although I would have to if needed).  Therefore, even though I'm really cautious about dogs while at home in the UK, I am even more terrified of being near stray dogs while wearing shorts or cropped-trousers (i.e. not having my legs covered) because I am so scared of being bitten or scratched.

A few days ago, my eyes were darting around to keep an eye on the cats that were behind me while I was eating my dinner, but the second that a dog came towards where I was and got too close, I got up and ran to several metres away until I felt safe to return. I've been told "It's just a dog" or "It's just a puppy", and I've even been told "Katie, there's a dog behind you" as a joke even when there wasn't, just to see if I reacted and looked behind me.

Well, it's not funny. It's never funny to do something like that to someone with any type of irrational phobia.

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