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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

don't look at the needle

When you go to the doctor to get your blood drawn, the voice in your head rings out with the most common, consistent piece of advice you've ever been given. "Don't look at the needle." That thing your mom told you when you were five years old and squelching on the crinkled tissue, being restrained by the phlebotomist. As that needle inched its way toward your skin, dressed up with butterfly wings to pretense harmlessness, she covered your eyes. "Don't look."

And so the needle pierced your arm, digging sharply into your vein and filling endless tubes with your bright red blood. When it was over, you got a Mickey Mouse band-aid and a lollipop. "You were so brave," the nurse lied to you with the sort of compassion that rarely exists in people. Even though there was snot running down your nose and your cheeks were stained red, you believed her when she said it. You were so brave.

At nearly 23 years old, I have almost always taken the same approach to life. When I anticipated that the needle was coming, I so often tried to squint and avert my gaze. Let's say you knew a friend had been speaking ill of you behind your back. Would you inquire on the subject matter of what she finds personally so annoying about you? I know that I would not. Would I thrash on the table uncomfortably, crawling inside of my skin and hyper-fixating on the parts of myself I should change? Absolutely. When the needle was out and the moment had passed, there would be no one there to fib to me about my bravery. No one tells you you're brave at 23. Unless it's your therapist. But that's mainly so you don't take a trip to the ward.

I don't know when (maybe nearly two years of therapy later), but eventually, I realized that a needle is not a problem. (I love being heavy into metaphors). At the end of the day, the needle is simply a vehicle to ensure that you are healthy. And it's still going to claw its way into your skin whether you pretend it's real or not. If there's a little pinching feeling in your body, trust that instinct. That pinching could be trying to alert you that something is truly wrong. Maybe you hate your job, need to stop spending so much money on clothes just because they're 50 percent off, need to be single for a while or need a 5 foot 10 boyfriend with brown hair and glasses (Daniel Radcliffe in Merrily We Roll Along.) Whatever it is, maybe its time to stop looking away from the problem and start addressing it. Maybe then you'll find what makes you happy.

This morning, I had to get my blood drawn. Sitting in that chair with my hand clenched into a tight fist, I made the fatal mistake. I looked at the needle. Only, when I stared at its sharp, glistening point, something crazy happened. I didn't die. In fact, I felt a bizarre and unprecedented sense of calm wash over me. So that's what the needle looks like? Not scary and ready to bite me, just a piece of medical equipment meant to help me. So that's the worst thing that happened? A peaceful smile spread across my face. I looked at the needle and I lived. It confronted me with its pervasive presence and all the hell it gave me was only worth a smile.

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