The mask we wear shields our fear

It’s often remarked that the eyes are the window to the soul. I am a believer in that. With masks, the eyes are where our attention is drawn to.

As we approach Halloween time, and the Covid-19 pandemic continues to haunt us, most of the population was or is continuing to wear masks.  But prior to the pandemic, masks already had a presence in our society.  Yet, in an invisible sense. Do you catch my drift?

Fear of doctors can start as a child. Even with the waiting room decked with books and educational toys, once taken back to a doctor’s exam room, clad with stainless steel décor, the experience can be bone-chillingly cold and help form a fear of visiting the doctor.

Whether it’s for a booster shot before starting preschool, fainting when getting stitches after a fall at the playground, or a fever that resulted in a hospital stay – these moments and impressions from our early years can make it seem that it’s never good when you have to go to the doctor.

Sometimes, a person’s fear of doctors lingers throughout his or her life.  Depending on what required us to go to the doctor’s office, any tests we had to undergo, and the emotions we felt and the ones we witnessed that our guardian displayed during those times – shaped our opinion of those visits.

“Of all phobias, medical fears are the most serious because they can stop people seeking life-saving medical care.”* Personality traits, genetics, and the frequency in which a person is exposed to negative experiences are thought to be three potentials in developing a phobia.

So at what age or phase during our lives can or does that perspective of fear of doctor’s shift? I’d say it’s hard to pinpoint. But let’s take a look at the research.

“As we get older, we are confronted with medical situations more and more often. The importance of overcoming your fear will only become greater over time.”*

I go into doctor appointments by mentally “prepping” myself.  I think about the positive results I will have. I think about what a short duration of time XYZ is going to take in a medical office or at a surgery center. I remind myself that the doctor is on my team. He or she isn’t intentionally trying to make me dread it or experience pain. I’m not living out a horror movie I have watched.

“Phobias tend to persist unless a person seeks treatment or life circumstances force the person to confront the feared situations.”*

As an example, some women prior to pregnancy feel extreme panic during a routine blood draw but during their pregnancy, they learn to accept and adopt a welcomed approach to the constant pricking of needles and discomfort of other types. This is a situation where the circumstances shifted outlook and perception.

“Exposure is one of the most powerful strategies for overcoming fear.”* I agree with this statement.

In my own experience, 31 Botox injections for migraine treatment every three months, an extended hospital stay, and a few surgeries later, have shifted my perspective and diminished my fear.

I was always a bit more jumpy, experienced heart palpitations, and sweaty palms before I was diagnosed with meningitis. But what followed (when I became a statistic) – a spinal tap, daily blood draws, and being sidelined with near-daily migraine has spun the wheel a different direction.

Now, while uncomfortable especially when a nurse can’t find a vein, I am more relaxed and do not experience fear like symptoms for medical procedures I need. And it’s a continued choice to not let fear weasel its way back into my medical life.

For me, my dedication to my health and support for loved ones’ health is unwavering. If it gives me pain relief or extends life for someone in my family, friends, or in the THM community – my support and encouragement will stay strong and positive.

If your childhood experience with doctors has been positive and you don’t have an associated fear – I encourage you to lift up those around you who may experience panic and avoidance. We are only as strong as our community.

If your past is riddled with less than positive medical interactions, my best advice would be to broach that subject with the lab technician, your doctor, or the pre-op nurse and ask for some extra comfort and care.  It’s okay to drop your mask of fear at this moment.

For all of us, no matter the road that’s led us to where we are today, I hope that if you need it, that this post inspires you to try again with the doctor, to work on getting those tests you need, to find answers to why you’ve been feeling down or ill if you have been avoiding seeing a doctor.

If you’ve been avoiding a cardiovascular checkup, a mammogram, or a trip to the dentist – I hope you do call and schedule.

This is just one way in which we can remove our masks. By verbalizing our past, present, and emotions can in turn enhance our wellbeing, overall health, and outlook. The mental aspect alone is tough! Perhaps you can relate that the inner dialogue in our minds can prevent us for going through with the treatment a doctor suggested.

And when it comes to mental health, I found this statistic highly educational and empowering. Why empowering? Because to me, it emphasizes the need for our younger generations to learn to be proactive, seek out someone to talk to, and for those who may surround them to release judgment. If we can change the stigma – we can lead healthier lives.

“One in four adults in England will experience a mental health problem at any one time and it is estimated that 75% of all lifetime mental health difficulties emerge by the age of 25 years.”**

The after-effects are what prevail in society on a large-scale basis which likely contribute to disease and illness. Decreased mental health can cause disability, and is linked with a higher likelihood of abusing substances (alcohol/drugs), suicide, antisocial behavior, and lack of desire to hold down a job.

Take down the invisible mask, if you want to, when you feel comfortable, and in the incremental stages you feel is right for you.  Open up to, connect with, and ask for compassion to someone you trust.  It could be about the stress you’re experiencing having your parents in assisted living, that you have an upcoming nuclear stress test for your heart issue, or that you and your partner are struggling to conceive.

Whether it’s me through THM, a nurse at a hospital who frequently treats you, or an acquaintance at the bookstore you’ve come to know, reach out and connect with people, share experiences.

Those tough conversations that lead to us exposing ourselves can offer a rich reward.  I’ve learned that even if the receiving party doesn’t mutually share at that time, for myriad reasons they may have, as time progresses there is a moment when they are vulnerable back. When that occurs it truly does become one of the unspoken about bonds, leads to a cracked smile, or an extra wave from the grocery check stand.

One person comes to mind for me. During the early stages of the pandemic, I would say hello and exchange small chit chat with a grocery store cashier that I had seen for years and within a few months – nothing prompting – she shared one day that she had been really struggling with anxiety and unable to sleep at night due to the uncertainties of the pandemic. I shared my thoughts and concerns too.  Without realizing it – we both had felt we could confide in one another.  Total strangers prior to the pandemic.

The pandemic and our simple conversations led to our newfound friendship. Each time we see each other now and she sees my family we both smile and wave. It’s such a sweet gift from the pandemic.

I have a handful of new friends made during the first few months of the pandemic and to this day, I can’t imagine not having their friendships.  We laugh, we know each other’s families, and we check up on each other health wise and offer support and advice if so asked. So, if for nothing else, that is my silver lining out of the pandemic!

Happy Halloween THM!


*Overcoming medical phobias, How to conquer fear of blood, needles, doctors & dentists, Martin M. Antony, PhD, Mark A. Watling, MD, 2006

**Identifying barriers to mental health help-seeking among young adults in the UK: a cross-section survey, Keziban Salaheddin and Barbara Mason, British Journal of General Practice, Oct. 2016

Coming next: Time, like gold, is a precious resource