Oh, dear Mary Poppins, I wish it was that simple for me!
Ok, I guess it’s time to talk about it, because the clock is ticking, and it will soon be the time where I won’t be able to run away from this massive issue I have. I have been working hard to avoid facing it, because it causes me a lot of mental pain; however, thanks to the incoming surgery procedure, dodging this bullet again won’t be an option… so I better do everything in my power to get ready before the storm will hit me in all its fury.
Unfortunately for me, I have been living with quite a nasty phobia. It is a massive one, a “wonderful” gift from post-natal depression: I am totally, absolutely, completely, and undeniably terrified of taking medicines other than the odd paracetamol. The thought of having to do it triggers quite a severe anxiety attack, the act of taking one… well, it’s a full-force panic attack with its horrible aftermath. Not a pleasant experience, believe me. At times, even vitamins and supplements can trigger an anxiety attack. Even cosmetic treatments!!! My gosh the day I had a fake tan… sheer terror (by the way, I’m having another one because I’m brave). Unlike my love for mushrooms, that disappeared during those three years of mental hell only to come back as nothing ever happened once I made it to the other side, this phobia overstayed it’s welcome and I’m still battling it to this day. When people joke about phobias and the impact they have on people, I become quite angry: you don’t know how frightening it is living with one till it happens to you, and even if for you it is stupid or inconceavable, for that person is a trauma, so be kind – nobody wants to have to deal with it!
The thing is, this medicines phobia it’s not something that is easy to challenge in a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy style (which I hate with all my heart, by the way), like I did with most food (at my worst, during my post-natal depression, I survived only on plain rice and plain pasta): I can’t just pop pills randomly to get used to them and don’t be scared of them anymore. Besides, even if I were crazy enough to do it, what medicines would I pick? I’m scared of all of them and there is a plethora available over the counter alone. What should I try? And why, since I’m perfectly healthy? My liver appreciates me treating him nicely and keeping him on a (almost) permanent state of relax. I rarely take medicines anyway, unless I’m really, really sick, so even when I could have the chance to challenge myself, I just don’t feel the need to.
I thought I had to face my phobia when I had my elbow surgery two years ago, but once the anaesthesia wore off, I found I had no pain at all, or nothing that a tiny bit of paracetamol would not solve, so I dodged that bullet at that time. However, it seems now that my next surgery won’t be a walk in the park as the previous one: my lovely surgeon wrote, on the pre-admission letter, that I am to expect considerable pain till two (but likely four) weeks post-op, and that pain will be considerably higher than what I experienced with my elbow. Yep, the odd paracetamol would simply not be enough… and my phobia is already waiving hello in the back of my head, feeling like an annoying acquaintance that you rather walk the long way round than crossing his path and having to wave hello back.
I always have been very blasé about my health and medicines. Not that I ever took a lot of them, but I guess it was the same as for any normal person: if your doctor says you need it, you take it, if there is anything over the counter that would solve your issue, you just buy it, take it and end of the story. My mum, her sisters and my grandma had a very… let’s say interesting relationship with medicines: for them, it was like exchanging shoes or clothes!
“Did you try this? Oh my gosh best painkiller ever”
“Really? Because I was using this other one and I can assure you this is so worth the money, you should totally try it!”
My dad, every time he saw them chatting away like that, he used to raise his hands and say “the drug dealers are in a meeting”. One of my mum’s sister used to be a nurse, and I will never forget that time I had food poisoning with egg pasta: she gave me a massive shot of Brufen that basically knocked me out for the whole night.
I took all the medicines I have been prescribed without a single problem, including a round or two of antibiotics. Before I got pregnant, I re-took my MMR vaccine, and all was going fine in my own little world.
Unfortunately, towards the end of my pregnancy, I had an allergic reaction to the hair dye I was using to cover my very dark roots (I was a proud bottle blonde), and something cracked in my brain: I was suddenly scared of any chemical thing. I coped kind of ok till I had to be induced, and I had a panic attack straight away: from that moment onwards, I descended into a spiral of pure terror at the thought of taking any medicine whatsoever.
It has been 6 years and counting now that my phobia gives me a panic attack hey pronto as soon as I’m required to take any medicines. This is also the reason why I am deeply ashamed to admit that I skipped, for the fifth year running, the flu jab: I rather take the risk of having the flu rather than having to face the guaranteed panic attacks I’d have before, during and afterwards (but, before you yell at me, my son has been vaccinated). The only medicines I do not have an issue with are paracetamol and Gaviscon (a heartburn medicine); however, overcoming this fear has not been easy: it took me few panic attacks and ultimately a very kind nurse on the phone who stayed on the line when I took them, and talked me out of the raging storm in my head. To this day, I’m eternally grateful to her and she is proof that a bit of care and kindness do change people’s lives: it certainly changed mine for the very better.
I know, for normal people, this phobia is quite stupid, but believe me, I can feel the anxiety building up as I write about it; I can already picture myself in pain, with a box of ibuprofen in my hand, petrified at the thought of either keep being in physical pain or to dare and alleviate it at the cost of causing myself mental pain. It’ a horrible, vicious cycle, I know.
To be honest, I am a bit fucking done with this phobia. It doesn’t mean that I wish I could walk into a pharmacy and swallow every medicine I could lay my hands on without an issue, but I just want to be able to take what I get prescribed without spending hours (or days, or months) of my life completely terrified. I told my therapist that, in a weird and masochistic way, I’m ready for the challenge: like a wrestling match, it is about time I get in the ring and start punching my way to victory, rather than just seeing my phobia holding the championship belt and yelling abuse at me to scare me away from even daring to get near it.
Will I be able to win this one? Any suggestion is more than welcome!