confessions of a trypanophobic- who has tattoos

Trypanophobia, or simply put in medical literature “needle phobia”, is defined as an extreme fear of any medical procedure involving a needle or injection of any kind. However, trypanophobia is often confused with aichmophobia, which is the general fear of needles or pointy objects. Trypanophobia is a very real fear. It is an anxiety-inducing fear and as someone who openly admits to suffering from this phobia I often get a follow up question of: “if you’re so afraid of needles, how come you were able to get tattoos?” Well, simply put, I wanted them.

Having received professional tattoo’s, and given myself one stick-and-poke, I can confidently say that I have

wanted each and every one of those needle-fueled experiences. However, I have never once wanted to endure a situation in which a syringe has injected something into, or drawn something out of, my body. No, thank you.

Now, I admit, at first that may not make sense to some, but there are a few key factors about the specificity of trypanophobia that one needs to consider. First, the phobia is definitely situational. When I go get a tattoo, I know I am going to this really cool tattoo shop, with flash sheets on the walls and an out of place, yet reassuring, lingering smell of medical soap, I know I am going to walk out of there with a new piece of body art to admire on my baby smooth skin for the rest of my days. Not to mention, your tattoo artist usually does a good job of making you feel calm and comfortable for the entire process. I have had some fantastic conversations with my various tattoo artists, and once we’re deep in conversation, the scratchy sunburn feeling of actually getting a tattoo tends to just fade out into the background with the buzzing of the tattoo machine.

When I go to the doctor, my stomach is just in knots, and not because of the extra sterile smell - not that of a clean tattoo shop, more that of an overly cloroxed morgue - and not even because of the way the fluorescent lights flicker mildly, yet aggravatingly against every unnecessarily white surface. Instead, it’s because of the looming idea that somehow, sometime while I am in this brick exterior building, I am going to get a syringe stabbed into the fleshy middle part of my deltoid, or even worse the inside of my elbow, and there will be an exchange of fluids…. bllleeehhhhh, I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.

Another difference is simply the instrument used. A tattoo machine is undeniably different from a syringe. A tattoo machine has a needle, or multiple needles, attached to it that make tiny pricks in your skin that ink goes into. In order for the tattoo to become permanent, the ink needs to seep into the second layer of your skin called the dermis. This is compared to an injection, in which case medication is delivered directly into your muscle via a syringe. Okay, I know that doesn't sound too different, but it is… I promise. Just the sight of a syringe gives me the creeps, the needle sticks way out and it always has this cartoony shine on the point from the reflection of those god awful flickering fluorescent lights. A tattoo machine barely displays any of the needle, in fact it looks more like a refined electric fountain pen.

When it came to fully understanding my phobia, I had to turn to technical definitions to get a grasp on it, because for a while I was confused by my love of tattoos, and my incessant need for one yet, crippling fear of a simple tetanus shot. The words “medical procedure” within the definition of trypanophobia really rang true for me. It is needles used within a medical situation that make me screech and jump into my mom’s arms (god bless that woman for raising a giant baby). Let’s say I, for whatever unfortunate reason, require anesthesia of any kind for surgery, you can bet your sorry a** I will be weaving, dodging and whining about that needle. However, if you were to turn around and offer me a free tattoo-sesh to finally get that sternum piece I’ve been itching for, my answer would be a very enthusiastic hell-to-the-YAS!

Now, ultimately, I get shots when I need the shots, but I do still go to my pediatrician so I can get blood taken out of a little prick on the tip of my finger, instead of the big scary thirsty syringe in my elbow crevice. Alas, I am running out of precious birthday’s where this is still acceptable, and the looming reality of having to go to a big-girl doctor is right around the spine-chilling corner. But, I will always love adding to art collection that adorns my skin, and do plan on expanding the gallery despite always being subjected to my trypanophobia.

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