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My Journey Overcoming The Fear Of Self-Injection:

This post is sponsored by HealthBeacon plc.

Nine years old: It begins with a flu shot

I’m perched on the thin sheet of paper in the cold, sterile pediatrician’s office, my leg bouncing up and down, filled with jitters. December in New England. Bitter cold. But worse, it’s officially flu season: Time to get a shot.

The nurse walks in with a little plastic basket filled with band-aids, alcohol swabs...and that dreaded syringe.

I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.

I make my younger brother go first. How embarrassing.

But there’s no delaying it. It’s my turn now. My body tenses. The nurse tells me to relax my arm. To make my muscle feel like a marshmallow. Relax? How am I supposed to relax when you are about to stab me?

She rips open the alcohol swab, its pungent smell overcoming my senses. The ritualistic preamble, the opening act that can only mean one thing: The needle is next.

I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.

I jump off the table and run out of the exam room into the waiting room and straight out the door to the elevators.

I’m nine years old. Old enough that there was no excuse to be running from needles. But I can’t help it. They terrify me. And I would do anything to escape pain.


Ten years later: A life changing diagnosis 

Fast forward ten years. I remember lying in a hospital bed with bleeding ulcers in my small intestine and total body arthritis so severe I could not dress or feed myself. 

At the age of 19, I received a dual diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease & Psoriatic Arthritis. Two chronic conditions I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

Along with these serious diagnoses came a slew of unexpected burdens -- more time spent in a waiting room than I care to think about, battles with health insurance, missed time with loved ones, and the seemingly never-ending quest to find a treatment that works.

One of the most devastating burdens was that the very medication designed to heal my pain, would inflict pain in the process. My medication would need to be delivered via a dreaded needle.

The thought of injecting myself with a pre-filled syringe in my stomach or thigh, the recommended injection sites, used to send shivers down my spine. But my autoimmune diseases forced me to grow, to build resilience, and lead me to a moment in time I never imagined possible...

Twenty years later: An empowered, self-injecting patient advocate

Fast forward nearly 20 years and now I regularly inject myself with a syringe. You can see the first time I ever self-injected in my video here:

A constellation of factors lead me to this point in my journey. I am sharing my experience in the hope that it may help my fellow “needle-phobes” in overcoming fear of self-injection:

  • The power of feeling in control: When it comes to living with a chronic illness, there are often many factors out of our control. I’ve learned along the way that when there is something I have the power to control in this journey - whether that be my diet, getting plenty of rest, “hiring” doctors that engage in shared-decision making or, you guessed it, self-injecting my medication - I jump at the chance to have that control and the peace of mind that comes with it.
      • The administrative burden of not self-injecting: This was my personal tipping point that pushed me to take the plunge. Every time I was due for an injection, I would have to book an appointment, take time off work, travel to and from the hospital, sit in the waiting room, be seen by the physician, and finally get my injection. The whole process easily took 3-4+ hours. Switching to self-injection would give me hours of my time back.
  • The knowledge that I had already overcome much worse: My autoimmune diseases had an extremely severe onset. The pain and suffering I endured often felt unbearable. I knew that if I could mentally and physically overcome the worst of my autoimmune diseases, I could take on the pinch of a needle to prevent myself from ever going back.
  • Overcoming the fear of self-injecting is easier said than done. It’s not something that happens overnight. It took me five years of someone else injecting that pre-filled syringe before I finally worked up the courage to do it myself. 

    If you’re not there yet, don’t force it. Give yourself some grace. Acknowledge the resilience you’ve built and take control of your chronic illness in ways that feel manageable to you. You’ve got this.

    Lilly Stairs has served as an advocate for over a decade, transitioning into patient advocacy after she was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases. As the Founder and Principal at Patient Authentic, Lilly’s work sits at the intersection of marketing and patient engagement where she helps healthcare organizations build programs that empower and educate patients. She regularly lends her expertise via speaking engagements from conferences to Capitol Hill, serves as the Vice Chair of the Board for the Autoimmune Association, and is a Lead Patient Advisor to several major pharmaceutical and health tech companies.

    *Content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice. Always consult and follow the instructions of your healthcare provider and any patient information leaflet for your medicine.

    This post is sponsored by HealthBeacon plc and the author was compensated. The author does not use Smart Sharps Bin. All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of HealthBeacon plc or Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc.

    Navigating Self-Injection

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