Thank you so much for your patience with me as I took a break from writing. Sometimes, the counselor needs time to care for themselves. We even had a webinar on Compassion Fatigue in February for our Community Care Team and our community. I was reminded that self-care is not selfish, it is necessary. Once again, I appreciate some time just for me.
As 2021 began (and that’s where I left off) I found myself wrestling with whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This was not a straightforward decision for me. My immune system does not handle the flu vaccine well at all. I have multiple autoimmune diseases including hypothyroidism, asthma and PBC. I also dealt with breast cancer back in 2011. I had tried telling my doctors that when I get the flu vaccine, I stay sick the entire time the vaccine is in my system. They all told me it was a coincidence and in my head.
So, one year, when the flu was particularly prevalent, I decided to try getting the vaccine again. I was healthy going in. After the vaccine not so much. By the third time I showed up at my doctor’s office needing an antibiotic and steroids to help me deal with an upper respiratory infection within about 6 weeks, my doctor said, “Don’t do this again.” They changed my chart, and no one asks me anymore about the flu vaccine. I stayed sick, needing medication until the vaccine ran through my system. Over three months.
That’s my history. So, you can imagine when it was announced there were two vaccines for COVID-19, I was not just hesitant, I was terrified! On the one hand, all those autoimmune diseases put me at greater risk for severe illness if I were exposed to COVID-19. On the other hand, my experience with a vaccine was not so great! I confess my response to this dilemma was also not so great. My initial response was to hibernate and go inward: that’s my typical response to any kind of stress. What this led to was an absolute meltdown. I signed up for the vaccine, which I qualify for due to my experience with cancer and all my immune issues and because I am a counselor. But the week I was scheduled to get the shot, I woke up one night absolutely terrified. I struggled to redirect my thoughts away from my fears. I could feel my fear in the pit of my stomach and that always leads to an immune response. Sure enough, the next day I felt sick. I canceled my appointment and I immediately got better. Of course, this was also during our cold, snowy days so that was my best excuse.
One of the difficult things related to the vaccine for me was the social pressure. Everyone I talked to was asking about the vaccine. “Have you gotten yours yet?” “Where did you sign up?” “Which one did you get?” None of this set my fears at ease.
So I started doing my own research. I knew these vaccines were different than the flu vaccine in that they were not a live virus. But what were they? And where does your body process them, the kidneys or the liver? The CDC does not answer that last question, so I finally had to ask someone else I know with PBC, who also happens to be a doctor. And I checked in with my primary care doctor and my gastroenterologist.
I found out the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on RNA, a ribonucleic acid, but an acid that contains a code. That was an important piece of information. Also, my friend let me know these vaccines were not processed in either the kidneys or the liver. Here is what she said, “Your body creates reactions to the spike protein that the cells make from the messenger RNA that is in the vaccine.”
Ok, I started experiencing some relief. I considered signing up again for the vaccine. Here are the steps that helped me speak to my fears with kindness and understanding.
First, I talked to anyone that would listen about my fears. Brene’ Brown writes in her books “Daring Greatly” and “Rising Strong” about shame. She notes that shame that is shared with others loses its power over you. So I had to turn outward instead of trying to face my fears myself. I shared my fears with Barb, Jennifer, Susan, Melissa, Dorene, Regina, my own counselor, Bridget, Lori, Anne and Pastor Choongho. I shared my fears with my prayer pod, Jen, Walter and Julie. Everyone listened politely. The more I spoke of my fears, the less the shame about those fears held me captive. I started feeling the freedom to make some decisions based on my research and not on my fears. (Note: I did not speak to my family as their typical response is to make fun of me. That is not a nonjudgmental response!)
I signed up for the vaccine again. Sure enough, I woke up one night with the same doubts running through my head. This time, I practiced the Centering Prayer, “Jesus Knows” as I inhaled, and “Jesus Cares” as I exhaled. With each inhale, I imagined my breath going to my gut where my fears are stored. It took quite a few breaths to get me to a place where I felt calm again. Honestly, I felt more than calm. I felt peace. Surprised, I kept repeating the prayer until I fell asleep. The next day, I felt fine.
The last step might surprise you. It involves imagination. The narrative we speak to ourselves and the images we hold on to matter. Again, Brene’ Brown writes of this in her books. So, I had to change my narrative. But that came about not out of any intellectual exercise or book reading. It happened due to play!
Janessa, our Youth Director, has used staff as guinea pigs since January to test out online games that she might use with the youth groups since they cannot meet in person. We’ve had a blast trying to get out of escape rooms and more. One game we played was based on a popular game you can get at a store called “Codenames.” I enjoyed the game so much, I purchased the Marvel edition to play with my family since we are all huge Marvel fans. My grandkids and I have enjoyed providing clues to unravel codes.
When it was almost time for my vaccine, I woke up again in the middle of the night. This time, I spoke directly to my fears. “It’s ok. This vaccine will not make you sick. This vaccine will give you the secret code you need in order to disarm the virus.” Just like S.H.I.E.L.D. sneaking into H.Y.D.R.A. headquarters, my immune system will effectively be able to disarm the virus before it has a chance to attack. It’s RNA. It’s a secret code!
With that image in mind, I walked into the vaccine event still nervous but healthy. Granted, it has only been two days since I was vaccinated but, so far, the only side effect has been a really sore arm. They inject it into the muscle.
In case there are others out there who are also timid about getting the vaccine, I hope these ideas help.
- Do your research based on your own personal health history.
- Talk to others about your fears. Especially to those who know how to listen without judgement.
- Practice prayer. I used a Centering Prayer but, any kind of prayer will make a difference.
- Play. Use your imagination. Create a narrative that speaks kindly and gently to your own unique fears.
I also found comfort in scripture. I read Psalm 91 or Psalm 121 almost nightly. Psalm 91 has these powerful words from the Message translation: “Fear nothing — not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows in the day, Not disease that prowls in the darkness, not disaster that erupts at high noon … ”
May you be healthy, vaccinated and Blessed.