For many in our chronic illness community, shots aren’t just a once-a-year procedure during flu season — they’re a regular part of treatment you do yourself, no doctor’s office required. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, migraine, allergies, infertility and others offer people the option of injecting medication on an as-needed, monthly, weekly or in some cases daily basis.
While people tend to understand the idea of taking pills, self-administering shots may seem like a foreign, confusing concept to those who don’t have chronic illnesses. (Exhibit A: the horrified looks you get if you give yourself a shot in public). It’s safe to say giving yourself shots hasn’t exactly been “normalized” in society yet, meaning there are a lot of misconceptions out there.
We asked our Mighty community to share what they wish people understand about self-administering injections as part of treatment for a chronic illness. Their answers show that while injections are an important, often life-saving treatment, there can be drawbacks that loved ones would do well to remember. Giving someone who self-injects support, rather than disgust or disdain, can help lessen the “sting” (pun intended) of this challenging treatment. And if you’re reading this because you also give yourself shots, we hope you’ll find support and comfort in the stories below.
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Here’s what our Mighty community told us:
1. Giving yourself an injection requires several steps.
“It’s not as easy as ‘line it up and pull the trigger.’ Gotta clean the area with alcohol first, wait for it to dry, place the needle, inject, wait a few seconds, watch the drop of blood bead up, put needle down and catch the drop with a clean gauze, hold for a bit to stop bleeding, clean it up a bit, apply Bandaid, then commence cleanup, including tossing the needle in an approved sharps disposal container. All while dealing with not only the pain in my head, but now add the sting of the injection site.” — Cathy J.
2. Shots can cause reactions and side effects.
“For me, it wasn’t just a quick give myself a shot and move on. I’d have awful local reactions with swelling and itching. Once it would start to subside in about a week, it was time for another injection.” — Kirsten K.
“[I wish people understood’ the bruising that happens if I am not careful and am careless with my shot.” — Crystal S.
3. There are different types of injections, including manual syringes that allow you to control the speed of the injection, and auto-injector pens that allow you to push a button to dispense the medication.
“It’s scary at first since you have to slowly inject the half-inch or so needle in, but it’s nothing after the first few times. I do like it better than the auto-injection pens some companies have since I control the injection. It can still hurt but not as nearly as bad as the auto-injection pens because once you hit the button you’re stuck with it injecting you.” — James L.
“If there is the option to do a manual shot instead of using an auto-injection pen, it hurts less and I feel more in control.” — Anna C.
4. Sometimes you might have to inject while experiencing symptoms, which makes the whole process more challenging.
“I have hyperhidrosis (uncontrollable excessive sweating) that mainly affects my hands and feet. For two-and-a-half years, I self-injected a medication to treat my ulcerative colitis. Each time, I’d have to brace myself for the sting while also hoping my hands wouldn’t slip off the syringe, causing me to lose a precious dose of life-saving medication. I’d have to pinch my skin using a dishtowel. Simultaneously, I held my breath while maintaining a death grip on the syringe with my other hand. People sometimes say, ‘It’s just sweat. Everyone sweats.’ But when dealing with sweaty hands and injections, sweat can become downright dangerous.” — Maria L.
“Since my injections are for rescue medications, I’m only ever doing this because I’m in a bad way. Giving myself an injection while shaking, sweating, and with blurred vision is not easy. The mental aspect of stabbing myself becomes powerfully motivated when I may die if I don’t.” — Sarah H.
5. Telling someone who self-injects “I could never do that” isn’t helpful.
“The ‘I could never do that’ attitude frustrates me. Yes, you could, and you would if you had to.” — Kimberly G.
“I am a type 1 diabetic, so for many many years, I had to inject myself. I’ve had people say they would never be able to inject themselves. My response is ‘I don’t have that choice.'” — Jenn R.
6. Sometimes the medication itself is more painful than the needle stick.
“Some of these meds are thick… and it hurts going in. And it takes more and more courage to inject yourself when you know how bad it is going to hurt and what the side effects are.” — Sara H.
“The meds hurt, not the needle! I have jerked and pulled the needle out and had to jam it back in.” — Christie W.
7. Mentally preparing for giving yourself a shot is not easy.
“I have been doing injections for a while and the dread never subsides. I never feel like I’m doing it right even though I know how. I hate certain days of the week. I hate injections more than my infusions and medicines and every complication I’ve experienced.” — Maddie A.
“Having to psych yourself up to be able to stab yourself on a regular basis is not easy. It goes against human instinct to voluntarily cause yourself pain. After years you get used to the pain of the injection and whatever it is that is injected. But the psych-up never ever changes. Neither does the anxiety.” — Keely S.
“Even though the shot helps me live a normal-ish life, the anxiety of giving myself a shot can be enough to want to skip doses.” — Acacia C.
8. Coping with other peoples’ reactions to your injections can be exhausting.
“I wish others understood how difficult it is for me to explain over and over again why I do injections instead of oral medication. ‘Can’t you just take supplements?’ No, because of malabsorption issues caused by other health problems, I have to bypass my digestive tract to make sure my body receives all of the medication. Trust me, I wish I could just add another pill to the list instead of having to give myself a pep talk every other week to convince myself to stab my leg with a needle so I can get the medication I need to function.” — Hannah K.
“I am not doing my injections to make you feel uncomfortable or get attention in public. I absolutely hate the judging stares and comments I can sometimes get. I am doing this because I have no other choice in my survival.” — Devon M.
9. Injections can be very expensive and difficult to replace if lost.
“If something happens to a pre-filled syringe (broken, not properly refrigerated, lost, whatever), insurance will not cover a replacement, and for biologic meds in the U.S., a month (four shots) often costs over $10,000.” — Suzie G.
“Injections can be expensive and without insurance, my injections would cost $5,000 for a one-month supply.” — Caylin H.
10. If you prefer to have someone else give you the injections, that’s OK.
“I want people to understand that’s it’s OK if you don’t give yourself the injections! My mom gives me mine and she is literally a lifesaver.” — Kerriann B.
11. Doing injections as part of your treatment can make travel difficult.
“For me, having a biologic prevented me from studying abroad where I wanted to in college and from doing mission work after college because I couldn’t safely travel with/get the medicine out of country. Sometimes choosing life-saving medicine means sacrificing life experiences, and that’s hard to process and accept.” — Maggie R.
12. Just because you’re “used to” giving yourself shots doesn’t mean it no longer hurts.
“Just because you have been doing injections for years doesn’t mean it no longer hurts or that you are used to it all the time.” — Anna C.
“The shots hurt. Every. Single. Time. Five times a day. I have scar tissue built up from several years of injections. With scar tissue, insulin or other injectable medicine might not absorb properly. It’s frustrating and depressing watching your blood sugars not corporate. I’ve dealt with diabetes burnout several times. It’s a beast of a disease.” — Heather S.
“People assume because you do it day-in, day-out and over many years that it doesn’t hurt anymore because you are used to it. They need to remember pain is pain, you don’t just conjure some pain-free superpower. I wish we could but we don’t.” — Elisabeth B.
“Just because it doesn’t hurt some people doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt others.” — Tori C.
13. However, some people find that it’s not as bad as they thought it would be.
“For me, it’s so much easier than I anticipated. It just takes a minute and then it’s done. It hurts while it’s injecting but I have no lingering pain, no site reactions, and none of the possible side effects. You should learn what you can in advance, but you should also know that it might become no big deal.” — Samantha J.
“It was a little scary to give myself injections at first. Now, they don’t bother me at all.” — Patrice M.
“It is so much easier than I ever expected! I was terrified to do the injections and put them off for as long as I could, but it really was OK!” — Kimberly M.
For more insight on giving yourself injections, check out these Mighty stories:
- The Bravery I Found in Giving Myself Weekly Shots
- The Little Trick That Makes Giving Myself Injections Bearable
- When I Gave My Daughter Power Over My Addison’s Disease