As promised, here is the Q&A! I got a lot of great questions from friends, family and the lovely people in my support group and I’m excited to answer them for you. These questions are all answered by me, by my knowledge and what I’ve researched, so it’s my take, but like many things there are always more than one take. If you have any questions about my answers, or if you have a question that I did not answer, please let me know in the comments below or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer them personally as soon as possible.
As always, if you feel like you need assistance in any way, please contact someone who can help you – such as a healthcare provider or a trained professional. I am simply responding off my experience and knowledge, and I am not registered or qualified to help you in the way a professional could.
- What is emetophobia? Simply speaking, it’s the irrational fear of throwing up, but everyone who has this phobia knows it’s so much more than just being afraid of throwing up. It’s being afraid of people, being afraid of ourselves, being afraid food, and being afraid of public transportation and places (or anything that has us cramped up with a bunch of people for a prolonged period of time). Emetophobia is, by definition, the fear of throwing up, but there are so many facets and that makes it so hard to conquer because it’s not like being afraid of dogs. Being afraid of dogs is a single object, emetophobia is so much more than that. It’s all these different areas that can develop to other irrational fears
- How would I know if I had emetophobia? That’s a funny question, because believe it or not, a lot of the people who have emetophobia don’t even know they have it until a lot of time passes and they do some research. I was one of those people; I didn’t know my personality quirks that made life difficult had a name until I was 19 – I’m 24 now – and I struggled with this all my life. In fact, it wasn’t even me who put a name to it, it was my mom who did a quick Google search and sent me a link to an emetophobia article.The symptom list is extensive, but some commons ones include refusal to eat or drink if the sufferer feels sick or if someone around them has gotten sick, intense and sudden panic if someone around them gets sick, obsessive compulsive rituals that help them feel “safe”, refuse to stay in the house with a family member or friend if they are sick, and many more. For a full descriptions of symptoms, you can click here to be taken to one of my all time favorite sites for info on emetophobia.
- Why are you afraid of getting sick? What is there to be afraid of? This is a seriously good question, but you might not be happy with with the answer. Most emetophobics don’t know why or how they became afraid of throwing up, and some of them may never know. For me personally, I think my phobia started after I had my tonsils removed at the age of four and spent a month throwing up blood because they botched the surgery. Laser surgery was just becoming a thing, and turns out they didn’t do mine very well. In general though, phobias are usually formed either by a traumatic event (either happening directly or indirectly to the person) or is a learned behavior from someone who suffers from the same phobia. And as far as what is there to be afraid of? Most sufferers will tell you point blank they know there is nothing to be afraid of. No one likes to get sick, no one wants to be sick, but as far as being afraid there isn’t much of a reason to be. But we can’t help it, so please don’t tell us it’s not a big deal and we shouldn’t be afraid.
- Is emetophobia the same thing as being squeamish? No. Plain and simple. It doesn’t mean that someone who has emetophobia can’t be squeamish, but they are not the same thing. Squeamish is someone who is “easily made to feel sick, faint, or disgusted, especially by unpleasant images.” Being emetophobic is literally feeling uncontrollable panic about throwing up and feeling as if they will die if they were to get sick. I myself am not all that squeamish, despite being afraid of puke. My husband on the other hand is the opposite – doesn’t care about getting sick but one heave from a pet or a family member has him turning green. It’s actually one of my phobia pet peeves when people try to relate to my phobia by saying, “Oh I’m squeamish too!” Not only is that not the case, but it makes me feel like they don’t actually understand the gravity of the phobia and that can sometimes be frustrating.
- How does someone get emetophobia? As I said in a previous question, most phobias are either learned behaviors or the result of a traumatic event that happened either directly or indirectly to the person. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every person who has experienced a traumatic event or knows someone who has the phobia will also end up with it, but that’s what the basic answer is.
- Can you ever get over emetophobia? Yes! I promise you can. It’s not easy, it’s not always a comfortable, but it’s possible. I hope to someday have a guest blogger on here that can share how they recovered from emetophobia. I am in the process of getting there, and for the most part I feel like I’ve conquered this phobia but I know I still have a long ways to go before I can say I have beaten it. Regardless, with the right tools, techniques and support from your family and friends you can get over this.
- How do you start getting over emetophobia? I speak highly of counseling because it has been a huge part of my recovery. I’ve used both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR to help me (you can read about those experiences by clicking here for CBT and here or here for EMDR), but I know there are plenty of other techniques out there in the counseling realm that could help. Many people in my support group have started reading a book called “Cure Your Emetophobia & Thrive,” and they have spoken highly about it. I have not read it personally, but plan to. I want to see if this one is better than the previous emetophobia book I read and of course share that with you. All that considered though, I firmly believe that emetophobia is not easily fixed without the proper tools and the knowledge to apply those tools, and a heavy dose of courage. That is why counseling has been so beneficial to me. I think tackling this phobia without proper guidance will only make it worse, so before you start trying to test your boundaries and courage, make sure you know how to approach those situations carefully and know how to cope with the anxiety and panic that will accompany it.
- Is emetophobia an eating disorder? This is actually a very good question and one that I think not many people think about. It’s also something I don’t know much about, but here is what I’ve discovered from a small amount of research:The definition of an eating disorder: “Eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder – include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.”Despite what that definition reads, I still strongly believe that emtophobia is not an eating disorder even though most emetophobics do have strong feelings towards eating. Many emetophobia sufferers will refuse to eat or drink if they or someone around them feels sick or gets sick, believing that if there is nothing on their stomach they won’t get sick. Some can even create a list of “safe” foods that they feel they can eat without possible food poisoning. I was one of those people, and I personally have dealt with people assuming I was anorexic and/or bulimic because of my eating habits, and it bothered me so deeply to think my family couldn’t see what was actually going on. And I used to laugh to myself when my family and friends thought I would purge after a meal – I mean really? However, I do think it might be possible for emetophobia to lead to an eating disorder based on how they avoid certain foods or go days without eating. I think the biggest takeaway is that the eating habits have to disrupt your life mentally, physically and health wise for it to be considered an eating disorder. Many people with eating disorders use it as a way to correct a problem with how they view themselves or as a way to achieve perfection. That is not to say all people who have eating disorders feel that way, and I know that some of them don’t, but by that measure, emetophobics don’t feel that way. But, if their aversion to food, their obsession with whether or not something is safe and the anxiety/panic causes them to not eat, it could very well turn into an eating disorder.All that being said, though, the bottom line answer is emetophobia is not an eating disorder – at least from what the preliminary research has showed me. I’d love to delve more into this topic when I’ve had more time to search and examine the facts better, then write something up in a blog post. I’m actually seriously fascinated by this question.
- How do you cope if you, a loved one or a friend gets sick? If someone says they feel sick? I know that for the longest time, I definitely did not cope when a family member or friend got sick. I would panic, I would exit the area as soon as I could and if I couldn’t leave I would do my very best to isolate myself as far as I could from that person. I could go on and on about all the times I did dumb things to try to avoid someone getting sick (for example, trying to exit a moving car – no really this happened. I actually opened the door and started to climb out before my dad slammed on the breaks and almost threw me out the car himself in anger…not my brightest moment).Now, though, I’ve been going through a lot of counseling and I’ve learned to cope in various ways. One way I cope is by focusing my energy on something else. If I start to feeling anxious I get very fidgety; I have to move. So, I will typically try to play a video game or do something productive, like cooking or cleaning. Sometimes I’ll listen to music or watch a movie, other times I’ll say – out loud or write out – why I’m anxious. I’ve started noticing not only does that help me get it out of my brain where it’s swirling around and festering, it can help my loved ones who may not understand why I’m freaking out understand what’s going through my head.Long story short, the best way to cope is however you feel like you’ll relax best. If you like to pop bubble wrap, do that. If you like to throw glass plates at the ground and watch them explode do that – safely of course. Just make sure that when you cope, you are being smart and reminding yourself that you will be okay.
- Does counseling work for emetophobia? I cannot say yes enough to this question. Of course, I think it’s also important to note that one form of therapy may not be enough. I started with CBT and I hit a plateau. I had made great progress and I was managing my symptoms, but I had hit a point where I was no longer taking steps forwards, but rather walking in place. That’s when I took some time off of counseling, and when I decided I wasn’t quite ready to face the big, bad world on my own I reached out to a new counselor and started EMDR. Both forms of counseling have great advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s important to that you do not assume just one or the other will help you get over it better. And as I said in a previous question, these two forms are not the only way to deal with emetophobia, so do your research and decide what’s best for you.However the most important part of counseling isn’t so much the weekly sessions, it’s the ability to open your mind to knowing you are going to be uncomfortable. You are going to do things that will make you panic, will make you cry, will make you push your boundaries and your limits. You are going to stretch yourself, and you are going to start loosing the emetophobia side of you which is terrifying. I wrote an entire post about having an identity crisis after starting CBT (which you can read here) and how after almost 20 years of being Chelsie with Emetophobia, I was becoming Just Chelsie and that was very scary. You spend so long with this strange, neurotic security blanket and when they take it from you it’s almost like you don’t know how to handle it. But it’s an essential part of getting over the phobia – letting it go. Counseling is an 80-20 battle: 20% what you learn and 80% what you put into it. Counseling doesn’t work if you go in expecting it to be a cure all without trying. You have to put forth a lot of effort to make counseling work – so be prepared for that.
- Does pet vomit bother emetophobics? An awesome question, but I’ve found most emetophobics don’t mind pet puke. Sure it makes them squirm because it’s gross, but that’s as far as it goes. I think that’s partially because it’s not human… and because many emetophobics (including myself) know that you don’t typically catch something from a dog or cat.
- Can emetophobics have kids? This question is kind of worded funny, because of course emetophobics can have kids – but the issue is deeper than just having them. Many women who have emetophobia struggle with having children because of all the areas this phobia affects. One being the morning sickness that usually accompanies pregnancy. The other being the knowledge that kids get sick, A LOT, and that they will not only have to be there to help them, but they could catch what they child has or worse – give the kid their phobia. There’s a lot of emotional struggle that comes with the decision. I am currently in a place where I started counseling again because I know that I want kids in the future, and my husband and I decided that we wanted to wait 5 years before having kids. We got married two years ago, and I want to be sure I am most definitely prepared for whatever these little love bugs throw at me. I’ve been so scared that the desire to have children won’t overcome this irrational fear, and I want more than anything to have a family so I’m going to try everything I possibly can to ensure that happens.Several of the wonderful women in my support group have children and they are excelling at balancing their phobia and having children. I plan on writing a full blog post about this in the future, but what you need to know is yes, emetophobics have children and it’s tough – but they always find a way to manage.
- Do emetophobics ever worry about food poisoning? While I cannot speak for every emetophobic, I want to give a huge yes to this one. I had a lot of compulsions about eating food back in the worst of my phobia. I had a safe food list, a safe food restaurant, and you best believe cookouts and family pot lucks were an absolute nightmare. Food poisoning is something that I think just comes with the territory, and I think that it’s a huge stressor. Can you imagine going out to a nice dinner with your family, ordering your food, taking one bite and then not touching it again? I’ve had a lot of negative comments and judging looks about that, and it’s hard because you know why they are doing but you can’t help it.
- Are creative people more likely to get emetophobia? The amount of research I’d have to do with this question is more than I have time for at the current moment, but it’s a great question. It actually makes me think an article I saw online about how overthinking worriers are basically geniuses, and I guess that also includes creative geniuses. So revel in the fact that by having emetophobia or any other disorder that causes overthinking and worrying means you’re the smartest person on the planet.
Well that’s all the questions I received, and I hope that this has been as interesting for you to read as it was for me to answer. Have a question about an answer I made or think of something that wasn’t asked? Leave a comment or shoot me an email! I’ll be back soon with another post, not sure about what yet but I’ve got a couple ideas.
Until next time, Internet!
If you would like to email me, you can send any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions to email@example.com. 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.