So after the failure of my last stab at ‘meditation,’ I thought I’d give the whole shebang another go.
This time, the circumstances were slightly different, and I was arguably in even less of a calming location.
I wasn’t lay on the floor of my home office, surrounded by house plants and a smelly hamster, staring up at my vast collection of David Walliams books. No, I was on a public bus at 10am on a Thursday morning, en-route to my Covid-19 vaccination.
Let me just start by saying that I have a SEVERE needle phobia. It’s almost as crippling as my wind turbine fear, which has pretty much stopped me from visiting Leeds for the past 10 years.
I was absolutely bricking it. Literally - I couldn’t even eat for 3 days (which was ironic, considering as my low BMI was the thing that had granted me an early invite to the vaccination centre in the first place).
I had some pretty disturbing visions about what the morning might entail, including a despicable image of the needle getting stuck in my arm, resulting in a team of 10 having to yank it out.
Then there was the scenario whereby the injection went in one side of my arm and came out the other, due to my limbs being as skinny as cocktail sticks. I envisioned the nurse retching and beckoning for her colleagues, while she tried to stop my arm falling to pieces.
... So yeah, as you can imagine, come Thursday morning, I was not in a place of what you might call ‘serenity!’
I dressed in my best leather skirt and glittery coat, because I thought: if I’m going to pass out and wet myself, I may as well do it with sass and style.
I left work and caught the bus to the centre, trying in vain to quash the nerves that were zinging across my gut.
Thoughts of meditation kept tantalising me, whispering like an old friend from the back of my mind.
As I expressed in a previous article, I wasn’t overly swept away by mediation last time, and wasn’t really ever planning on trying it again.
In the end, I thought what do I have to lose, (other than my entire left arm)?
Feeling like a bit of an idiot, I began taking control of my breathing, focusing on drawing long, deep breaths from my core. (Jesus I sound like a hippie. And funnily enough, I do have a tie dye tea towel.)
Remarkably, something seemed to click this time, and I felt a sudden calmness soothe every crevice of my body with its cooling hands.
My muscles seemed to relax, opening themselves up like the dawning of a summer’s day.
I no longer felt het-up and tense, like a spring ready to uncoil and tear through the roof.
My woes started kicking up a bit of fuss again once I’d arrived at the vaccination centre. It wasn’t at all what I’d expected.
In my head, I’d foreseen hundreds of makeshift cubicles and curtains, making for a private and dignified affair for all those attending.
What I hadn’t banked on, however, was the village hall looking EXACTLY as it had done during last year’s Christmas craft fair, minus the 3D reindeer.
There were just loads of tables lined up next to each other, stacked with haunting numbers of boxes containing needles (this wasn’t a common site at the craft fair, by the way, but they’d evidently just swapped mince pies for Pfizer for the occasion).
People were milling around everywhere, having right good chin-wags.
It was basically one in, one out. You queued up, you sat down at one of the many tables, you handed your arm over and put your trust in a complete stranger in a face mask, and then you left.
The whole thing was open plan. Oh God... Quite clearly, I was going to have to have my vaccination in-front of several hundred people
The pressure to not freak out/ cry/ collapse in fear/ wet myself/ ring my Mum was mounting.
I could almost see the papers with their punchy headlines – BOOK UP: Local Author Passes Out At Vaccination Centre / FOR BOOK’S SAKE: Author’s New Chapter As a Local Laughing Stock.
By the time I sat down at one of the terrifying tables, I was practically hyperventilating.
Meditate! My mind urged.
$%&# Mediation! I snapped back. We’re all going to die!!!!!
... Didn’t feel a thing.
Like, not even the ‘slight scratch’ I’d been warned about as the nurse brandished the needle and eyed up my arm.
The whole thing was over in around five seconds flat.
Christ, I’d got comfy and everything! I’d taken my coat off and hung it on the back of the chair!
I was expecting a full medical grilling, possibly an examination, and maybe even a dental check thrown in!
I didn’t even get a plaster. Bit gutted, really.
My tension and worry had been building for days, and now that it had proven (as per usual) to have been for absolutely nothing, I felt liberated! The pride was comparable to when my first book came out. I know - sad aren’t I?! I had Heather Small ‘Proud’ in my head the whole way back to work and everything.
I’d seen online that people may be asked to wait around at the centre for 15 minutes after the injection so they could monitor any looming allergic reactions. I’d imagined a large room, a bit like an adult play centre, decked out with Ikea catalogues and carpet samples, where we’d all be forced to bond over the mutual holes in our arms under the watchful eyes of a gaggle of nurses, and possibly Matt Hancock.
... Again, didn’t happen. I was allowed to leave straight away.
(The worst part about the whole experience was when the nurse called me over and held out her hand to take my form, and I thought she was going to shake my hand, so I just held out my hand back, and yeah, I’m not gonna’ lie, I feel sick just writing this.)
I felt like the oracle as I sat on the sofa that evening, sipping water and eating fizzy strawberry pencils, reciting tales of my Covid vaccination experience. My husband and the hamster sat on the floor at my feet, gazing up at me in awe like I was some kind of war hero giving thanks for my latest medal at the Pride of Britain awards.
“... And the nurse said to me: ‘This is the AstraZeneca vaccine,’ and I was a bit disappointed, because I wanted the Pfizer one,” I said.
“Why were you so set on having the Pfizer jab?” My husband enquired, raising his eyebrows.
“I just like the way it’s spelt. Not many words start with PF,” I answered solemnly.
Well, it was all fun and games until later that night. I think I got a bit cocky to be honest, assuming the ‘very common – more than one in ten people’ side effects wouldn’t get me, as five hours had passed without so much as even a hint at a sore arm.
And then it hit me, like a big bloody bus.
I suddenly started shivering, my skin scattered with goosebumps. Within half an hour, my whole body was juddering uncontrollably with cold, despite my skin being scalding to the touch. A splitting headache had taken up residency across my forehead, and I have never experienced such intense pain in my neck, shoulders and back.
The mere thought of the pizzas that my husband had loving made to cheer me up began to turn my stomach.
I dragged upstairs at half past 9, wondering if I might have somehow contracted some freaky hybrid strain of meningitis, Covid and Rabies all at once.
I felt that rough, I didn’t even remove my face mask, and sunk into bed wearing mismatched pyjamas.
I think I slept for an hour or so, before my husband – the world’s least graceful man – clattered into the bed and somehow managed to knock my arm.
After that, I lay awake for rest of the night. It was absolutely appalling.
My reaction to the vaccination seemed to worsen as the night went on, which I don’t think was helped by the imminent lack of sleep. My head was pounding beyond belief, and the pain in my back was utterly breathtaking.
I remember lying there in a puddle of my own sweat thinking, ‘Yep, this is how I die – with greasy hair and half a face mask, wearing tartan pyjama bottoms and a leopard print shirt combination.’ I looked like something out of a Macklemore video, or the main focus of a Chanel 4 documentary about people who’ve lost the plot.
(Side note: Please don't let this put you off having the vaccination. These side effects are very common and are nothing to be concerned about. They only lasted for 12 hours or so for me, and were easily treated with pain killers.)
“Do you think I should call 111?” I wept, as I readjusted my position for the 105th time. “Or an ambulance?”
“I put it in the fridge, babe,” my husband replied sleepily. Seconds later, I heard snoring.
(Seriously, what is it with men being able to fall asleep in half a nanosecond?!)
The worst thing about being unable to sleep is the clock watching that comes with it. As the seconds turn to minutes and the minutes turn to hours, you become frustrated and almost panicky. Seeing the hours unfold before your eyes without the aid of sleep is a lonely sensation.
At twenty past five, I ceased to fight the insomnia anymore, and decided to just get up. I stood in the shower for half an hour, letting the hot water ease my aching joints.
Admittedly, I did feel a little more human and a little less corpse after a shower, a handful of Frosted Shreddies, and some more Paracetamol.
I only had one day left at work to get through before the weekend, and I knew I’d be going to my Mum’s that night anyway for our usual support bubble catch up.
I got through the day at work with no further side effects other than a lack of sleep and a slightly stiff arm. (Small price to pay for protection against a such a devesting disease.)
As soon as I got to her’s, my Mum sent me off for a hot shower, and had homemade tuna pasta bake and garlic bread waiting for me on my return.
She had stocked up on Revels and Jelly Babies, which we ate under the duvet on the sofa, watching Gavin & Stacey. It was the perfect evening after a day of exhaustion.
I’ve never, EVER been more grateful to sleepover at my Mum’s, in my single bed in my childhood bedroom. Honestly, it was divine. There was no snoring husband having night terrors and piling the entire king-sized duvet on top of me in the small hours – it was just me and my old cuddly zebra, Spike.
I had the best night’s sleep ever. I didn’t even set my usual Saturday morning 06:45am alarm for my half marathon. In fact, I gave running a miss altogether.
And do you know what? I didn’t even feel guilty. I felt replenished, and bright and breezy!
Are there any better people than Mums to go to when you’re feeling rough? I don’t think so!
Cara Jasmine Bradley