By Erin Biermann
#Fearless Family Writer
My name is Erin. I’m 32, and this is my Emetophobia story…
It started when I was around 5 or 6. If someone coughed, I would sprint from the room, while plugging my ears. If someone got sick at school, it would send me into a panicked daze. I was just a little girl and I had no idea why the thought, sound or sight of someone getting sick made me feel so out of control. I just knew that I hated it and that it felt dangerous to me.
I got sick a few times as a kid, and it wasn’t a completely terrible or traumatic experience. My mom was there and she was comforting and loving and I don’t remember feeling afraid. So I can’t say that it was a terrifying experience that caused me to be the way I am.
Fast forward a few years. In my teens and early twenties I didn’t even think about my fear! It was amazing. It was so freeing. I would hate if someone around me got sick but I could go about my day after and not think about it again. I ate out all the time (without washing my hands!), I traveled all over the US in a tour bus with my husbands band. I would lay on the floor of the bus and read while we were driving and I didn’t think twice about getting car sick!
Then I got pregnant. It was planned, but I went into it being pretty naive about what happens when you are pregnant. I mean I knew morning sickness was a possibility, but it didn’t scare me. And geez, was I nauseous. Day and night for 6 months. I never actually got sick but I felt terrible and there is no escaping your own body. I had a beautiful baby girl. She was amazing and I didn’t even think about my fear at all. I was a busy new mom. Then I get pregnant again. Morning sickness was much milder and shorter the second time around. I gave birth to baby girl number two. She was perfect and I was so in love!
6 weeks later, my world changed, or maybe I should say, collapsed. My husband became sick with a stomach virus. It was the first time he’d been sick in our 5 years of marriage. Suddenly I felt so weak, helpless, overwhelmed, and even angry! I was mad at him for bringing that into our house. I remember every detail of that day. That’s the day my phobia started to control my life… The day I let my fear take over and rule my every move. For almost two years I stayed home. I would go out for groceries, but it was a huge deal and it took lots of prep and pep talks (to myself). And my girls… They pretty much never got to leave the house. It felt too out of control. I couldn’t even handle the thought of them touching things and then sticking they’re fingers in their mouths. It was just too much. The park was off limits. Having other people watch them was terrifying because I couldn’t control what they ate or how they ate it.
At this point my life was no longer my life. It belonged to my fear and that was heartbreaking. I had rituals, I wiped my house down with disinfectant wipes several times a day, I lost so much weight that my clothes were falling off of me because I was living on strictly applesauce, saltine crackers and bottled water. I started getting severe headaches from stress and lack of food. My life was a mess! My family thought I was suffering from severe postpartum depression. My mom and husband knew about my fear but did not understand it at all. They always told me “Just don’t think about it.” It was so frustrating and so lonely.
I finally tried to get some help. I saw a counselor for a 6 week period and that helped to nudge me out of my funk. It didn’t help much, but it did something. Then I found a counselor online who specializes in emetophobia. She did our sessions via Skype. She helped me a lot, but she was extremely pricey and I could only afford a few sessions.
At this point I was on the up. I was getting out more. I even enrolled my daughter in preschool, which had me shaking with fear every time I dropped her off. After a few months I dropped her off and felt safe. But during this time, I still
had a lot going on in my head. I was fighting it with all of my might though, determined to live a “normal” life.
A little later, my husband and I started the adoption process. 18 months after starting, we boarded a plane to South Korea to meet our son. And let me tell you, I do not fly well! Being trapped for over 12 hours… Nope. I don’t like it. But I did it! With lots of prayer and Dramamine, I did it. By God’s grace, everything went well but my fear was still a huge part of that trip. A trip I know I would have enjoyed more had I not been afraid to try all of the delicious food and explore more!
And now, today… I am still a busy mom. I STILL have emetophobia. It still rules my life at times. I still have obsessive cleaning frenzies. And I still think constantly about how to avoid this, and how to prevent that. When my kids become sick, I cry out for my husband to run in and be with them and then the days after that are a blur of cleaning and starving because I can’t eat. It’s a battle that I may never win, but a battle that I can keep fighting and ultimately just live with. Do I hope and pray that one day I will be able to rid myself of this fear completely? Absolutely. But the fear of letting go of all of the things I do to protect myself scares me so much.
This fear is debilitating at times and there are other times where I have felt at peace and so hopeful, depending on the seasons. It’s just a terrible, terrifying cycle.
But I am much much better than I was when my kids were tiny. My girls are in school all day so I had to let go of a lot of control there. We eat out, we go on trips, we do potlucks at friends houses, but in all of this I don’t have complete joy because my fear is always in the back of my mind. Always. I am grateful that I don’t feel like need to be trapped in my house ever again. So I’ve made progress! But I still have so far to go!
Thank you again to Erin for sharing her story.
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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.