The room got blurry around me. My palms were pressed down on the exam table beneath me; I tried to move my hands, but they stuck to the paper. Someone was trying to talk to me, but all I could hear was myself screaming, "NO."
I was screaming not because I felt sick. Something inside me, some part of me that I could not control, was telling me to leave.
My mom looked at me. "C'mon, Jamie. You can do it."
But I couldn't -- I couldn't sit there and have a needle injected into my arm. I couldn't let the nurse clean my arm, wetting it down with disinfectant and cotton balls, and then proceed to poke a hole in my skin.
According to my mom, I had no problems getting vaccinations when I was younger. She said I wouldn't cry or hyperventilate (as I do now, as a 17-year-old). Rather, I would just turn away and close my eyes until it was over.
Somehow, the concept of receiving a shot became dramatized in my mind. A few years ago, I visited the doctor for several routine vaccinations. I was already apprehensive (I dreaded that day for weeks before the appointment), so I sat on the exam table trying to steady myself. I was performing some breathing exercises and kept telling the nurse that I wasn't ready yet. The nurse was becoming increasingly impatient, which only added to my anxiety.
"Time's up," she said finally, and shot the needle into my arm. I burst out crying -- hiccupping sobs that only a needle could provoke. As I was leaving the room, I asked the nurse for a lollipop. She didn't give me one.
I dreaded the needle at first, and then I came to fear it -- to a point where it now has the potential to be life-threatening. At some point, I decided that I would rather have the actual disease than the vaccination for it. The scary part is when I thought this, I truly meant it.
My mom is typically the one who takes me to these appointments. She says the only way to describe my face is "true fear." It's only recently that she has come to realize how intense my fear really is, so she made me an appointment with a therapist.
The appointment lasted an hour, and I was able to talk about my fear and the roots of it for the entire 60 minutes. I had to take a break halfway into the appointment to practice breathing because I felt faint. (Even writing this about myself, I find myself getting queasy.)
My therapist introduced the idea of "exposure" to me. In psychology, we learn it as a classical conditioning technique called systematic desensitization. Exposure involves creating a hierarchy of fears, starting with events or objects that evoke the least amount of anxiety and gradually working up to the ultimate fear.
My hierarchy begins with reading about needles and the vaccination process online, and as time passes, I will eventually hold needles in my hand, witness people giving blood at the American Red Cross, watch injections on "Grey's Anatomy," and then, hopefully, when the time presents itself, I won't have an overwhelming fear of receiving vaccinations.
The idea is that since I have been exposed to needles over various occasions, I will eventually become desensitized to them.
So far, I have done my online reading. I managed to survive that first step without significant distress. My therapist advised me to take deep breaths whenever it gets to be too much. And that seems to be working. I know overcoming this will take time.
But I'm determined. The next time I have to face a needle, I will not be in a state of overwhelming fear. I will breathe deeply and know I can overcome anything.
The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Jamie Altman is a junior at Amador Valley High in Pleasanton. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.