Happy Holidays! Whatever you celebrate this time of year, I hope it’s been wonderful and (nearly) stress free.
Before we get too far into the blog, I wanted to be sure that I shared my own personal emetophobia story. This is important for two reasons: not only does it help me continue to cope with my phobia, but there’s a slight chance that someone out there will read it and recognize that their symptoms, panic and anxieties have a name – and realize that they are not alone.
I apologize in advance for the long winded nature of this story.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been afraid of throwing up. Honestly. I don’t even remember a time in my life when it wasn’t something I feared more than anything else. There are memories I have of my sister getting sick, and me running to another room, fingers in my ears, eyes closed tight and cowering in a corner waiting for it to pass. That was the normal response, but one time I tried to exit a moving car because my mom got sick next to me. Not only was that not a bright idea, I got in a lot of trouble from my parents once we got home.
I spent much of my childhood being afraid of throwing up. Whether that was myself or others. It wasn’t until I hit my teenage and college years that I started to realize the problem went much deeper than I thought… Not only was I afraid of throwing up, but I had a handful of other quirks that made functioning like a normal person pretty difficult.
I was afraid to eat out at restaurants due to the fear of food poisoning. And you could forget about eating at dinner parties at a strangers. Coughing was an immediate anxiety trigger. Cars pulled off on the side of the road made me nervous. I didn’t travel in packs, preferring to drive myself and do it solo. I never used public transportation (planes, trains and cabs) and you can forget about cruises. I also never used public restrooms. I never went to parties, not only to avoid large groups of people who could be carrying god knows what, but because of the consumption of alcohol. As you probably guessed, I also don’t drink much (but that’s for two reasons). Hand sanitizer was a security blanket, and the only way I felt safe. I didn’t touch my face after going out or changing classrooms at school, and if I did it was an entirely new struggle I had to deal with.
That list could go one for pages, but I will spare you the time. I spent my entire life dealing with something that I thought made me weird. No one in my family understood what I was going through, and they called me a germaphobe in a way that made me feel disgusted with myself. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why did I have to feel the way I do? This phobia made me feel ashamed of myself, but I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do to fix it. I used to tell my husband (boyfriend at the time) and my counselor that my phobia felt like something that I would never be able to live without – kind of like diabetes. I could find ways to manage it, but it would always be there, just beneath the surface… more on that later.
Then the tipping point happened. My freshmen year of college I went to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving with my family. My boyfriend came with me, and it was a wonderful time. Every year they had an Oyster Roast. It was tradition, but I never ate oysters (not only do they look disgusting, but I didn’t eat seafood – you know, the emetophobia). Well, my boyfriend did and 24 hours later he had the norovirus. Never in my entire life have I ever felt such a terrible mix of emotions. I felt anxiety, panic, helplessness, disappointment. I couldn’t help my husband. I was too afraid to help him. I didn’t want to be near him. I walled myself off from someone who needed me more than anything else because I couldn’t stand to breath the same air. As harsh as it sounds, that’s how it felt. I didn’t catch the bug, and I hope that I never do.
After that incident, my symptoms got worse. I was now aware of something that, to this day, haunts my dreams, and after a year of listening to my boyfriend always bring up how terrible it made him feel (both the bug and my complete neglect), I decided to seek out help. I told my boyfriend, “I think I have a problem.” And the rest is history. I went to see a counselor who after two sessions could only tell me that I had some kind of phobia, but wasn’t sure what. I left for summer at this point, and transferred to a new school so he didn’t have time to even help me figure it out.
That summer, I decided to tell my mom what I was going through. She thanked me for opening up, and after a few quick searches she emailed me a link to an FAQ page on Emetophobia. After reading through it with my boyfriend, I cried. I cried because I was so relieved that my fear had a name and that I wasn’t alone. Fror the first time in my entire life I realized I wasn’t all that abnormal after all.
Now, after three years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy I’ve learned to manage my phobia. I like to tell people that I used to have emetophobia, but the truth of the matter is it’s always there. I can live my life with 99.9% confidence that my phobia won’t rear it’s ugly head. I can manage the anxiety and the panic, I’ve found ways to cope with the silly quirks that made me who I was for so long, and I’ve become more confident in myself. But whenever I’ve had a rough day and my emotions are on high, I sometimes feel the fear re-surface. Thankfully, I have the tools and knowledge to handle it better than ever before, but it’s still there.
I spent 20 years of my life feeling alone and scared, 3 years of my life feeling abnormally normal, and now I’m going on year 2 of discovering my new normal. For me, a name changed my entire life.
Over the next few entries, I plan to cover some topics that will not only be relevant to my life, but hopefully yours as well. I do hope to do some day to day blogging as well, but I want to use this blog as a resource to people who may still be struggling with this phobia. I will try to do some day to day blogging, but for me it’s sometimes easier to channel my thoughts if I have a plan going in to it. Some of the topics I hope to cover are…
What Is Emetophobia? | Why We Shouldn’t Fear the “N” Word | Emetophobia & Parenthood | Coping With Anxiety & Panic | Medicating vs. Not Medicating | The Need For Control | Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Why Not Knowing Isn’t An Excuse | What Is Agoraphobia? | A New Normal: Letting Go Of Your Emetophobia | Cognitive Behavioral Therapy | Staying Healthy This Flu Season
…and many others. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover over the next few entries, don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below! If you have a question about a topic I’ve laid out above, don’t be afraid to ask. Also, feel free to request to join our Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook where you can discuss your fear, anxieties and panic in a safe, private place.
If you would like to email me, you can send any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will do my best to respond to you within 48 hours, but if for some reason I cannot get back to you in that time frame, I promise I will always respond as soon as possible. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram!
Lastly, I run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle I am passionately engaged in. The group is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.