* This post is quite different from the kind of thing I normally write. I mentioned a few months ago that I suffer from emetophobia, and several of my readers told me that they’d be interested in reading about my experiences. This is a topic that is really difficult for me to write about, so please keep your comments respectful.*
Emetophobia is the irrational fear of vomit. For me, it presents itself as an intense fear of vomiting. I am also afraid of seeing or hearing somebody vomit. I cannot stand to be around vomit, and sometimes I even find it difficult to be in a room where I know that somebody has been sick.
For some emetophobes, even seeing or writing the word ‘vomit’ will bring on intense feelings of anxiety. Although I don’t like doing it, I will use the word a bit during this post. I apologise if that makes it difficult for you to read. I force myself to use the word because for me, fear of the word increases the fear of the thing itself (thanks Dumbledore!)
I find it difficult to talk about my emetophobia, because it’s not a well-known phobia. Many people are aware of phobias such as claustrophobia, but emetophobia is not widely spoken about, even though it is surprisingly common. When I tell people about it, they will typically respond by saying, “Well, nobody likes being sick”, without really understanding that for me, it’s more than just a feeling of disgust that’s brought on by vomiting. It’s a feeling of complete terror and paralysing anxiety.
I’ve always been sensitive to sickness. When I was a little girl, I would always be nervous around people who were ill and I hated to see anyone vomit. This feeling grew as I got older, but it never really affected my behaviour or generated too much anxiety.
I should point out that I haven’t actually thrown up since I was six years old. However I am preoccupied with the fear that I might get sick.
The first time I remember feeling genuinely afraid was when I was fourteen. I was on a bus and a little boy threw up in the aisle. I immediately started shaking, and screwed my headphones into my ears so that I didn’t have to hear anything. I spent the whole trip home sitting with my body turned to the window, which I’d thrown wide open despite the cold, taking shuddering breaths of chilly air and willing myself not to cry. My dad had to carry me off the bus because I couldn’t stand to step over the spot where they boy had vomited. When I got home, I took a long shower, scrubbing every part of myself raw. I was still so wound up that I didn’t sleep that night.
My phobia got quite out of control while I was living at college. I got food poisoning once and spent the entire time feeling terrified that I would throw up. I think it was only through sheer willpower that I didn’t. My anxiety was worse than the actual illness. Even after I got better, I would constantly think I felt ill again, and my fear would bring on a panic attack.
I eventually went to the doctor to see if they could do something about my constant nausea. The conducted a battery of tests, but found nothing physically wrong with me. The only thing that was causing my nausea was anxiety. It was a vicious cycle: I’d get anxious about getting sick, I’d misinterpret my anxiously churning tummy as nausea, I would get more anxious and more nauseated and the cycle would feed off itself.
I’ve lived with this fear for years. It’s had it’s ups and downs. I go through periods where the anxiety is intense and all-consuming, but there are times when it’s not as strong. It affects my life in so many ways. Here is a list of some of the most common ways it affects my living:
– I am intensely vigilant about hand-washing and personal hygiene.
– If I read on Facebook that one of my friends or their kids have gotten sick, I will instantly try to calculate my likelihood of catching their bug by thinking about how much contact I’ve had with them. This can preoccupy my thoughts for hours.
– I often have trouble sleeping, because I worry that I will get ill during the night.
– I won’t eat certain types of foods, such as sushi.
– I dislike eating food that has been prepared by anyone other than myself.
– I have very specific cooking rituals.
– I find it very difficult to travel on public transport, for fear that myself or someone else will become ill.
– I avoid situations where people may become ill. I don’t like pubs, parties where people are binge drinking or amusement parks.
– If I am out and I hear someone say they aren’t feeling well, or see someone who looks sickly, I will panic and try to avoid them.
– If someone mentions that they got food poisoning from a particular place, you can bet that I’ll never eat there.
– I won’t watch movies or T.V programs where people are shown vomiting.
– If I hear someone mention they’ve been sick, my blood will run cold. This happens even if I’m reading a blog post written by someone on the other side of the world who I have never met.
– I’d much prefer to entertain friends at home than to go out to parties or pubs.
– Whenever I enter a new place, I automatically note the location of the bathroom (in case I have to be sick) and plan an escape route (in case somebody else becomes sick)
A few months ago, I read this post on Yes and Yes. It resonated with me on so many levels. Before this, I had no idea that emetophobia was even a thing. I just thought that I was nuts. It felt so good to be able to put a name to my fear, and also to realise that many people feel the same way I do.
At the moment, I feel as though I’m doing pretty well with the phobia. It still affects my behaviour, but I don’t feel that it’s dominating my life and my thoughts as much as it used to. My panic attacks still occur, but they’re less frequent. I’ve had to work pretty hard to get to this point. I still have days where I start panicking while I’m getting ready for the day, thinking “Is this it? Is today THE DAY?”
If you’d be interested in hearing more about my experiences, let me know. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them. Please keep all your comments and questions respectful.