Dear Diary, I Am #Fearless, Mental Illness
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Dear Diary: Please, Don’t Generalize My Struggles

There are very few things in life that make me upset. In fact, it’s a pretty short list:

  1. When my husband pushes my cats hair “against the grain” and she gets this ridiculous faux hawk.
  2. When someone eats my food without asking.

But the one thing that really gets to me is when someone says something about me that is untrue, but will not give me the chance to explain myself.

Which is why whenever I get called a germophobe it really works me up.

Now, I’ll admit I do have a special sense for when things are dirty and gross. I tend to obsessively check my food, sell by/use by dates and if my fork looks even remotely unclean, I assume it’s covered with stomach turning germs. Most emets do, as it happens, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I also have nothing against people who are genuinely germophobic. I can empathize and sympathize with the anxiety and panic that comes from the unseen, and I could not imagine how difficult it would be to fear germs. Not just stomach bug germs, but ALL germs.

However, what I do struggle with is when someone who is trying to grasp my phobia looks at me and goes, “Oh, so you’re a germophobe.” You know the tone; condescending and skeptical, giving you this look of ‘grow up, it’s not THAT bad.’

Countless times I’ve had people, unsuspecting and good people, explain my phobia by saying I’m a germophobe. Unfortunately, never once have I been in a conversation when someone said that word without it having some air of negativity.

Emetophobia is widely unknown, despite being one of the most prevalent phobias in the world. That being said, it’s no wonder that people who do not understand it find a way to relate to it in a different way. For them they hear scared to throw up and they think squeamish, not enjoying throwing up and a fear of germs.

They don’t recognize the almost strictly internal struggle that comes with emetophobia. It’s exhausting to be constantly trying to run from your own thoughts and from yourself, and it’s so much more than just not liking to get sick.

What this has shown me is that so many people just don’t seem to understand that it’s an invisible fight, just as it is with other mental illness. They think because it’s not something they can see and experience, that it just isn’t that bad or isn’t happening at all.

People have always struggled with believing and understanding something they cannot see, but it is possible to come to terms with it. Just look at religion and Santa Claus.

But I think my frustrations with being wrongly called a germophobe stem from this negative connotation surrounding mental illness. It’s this broad conceptualization that makes it easy to generalize and stigmatize suffering from an invisible illness, and it’s damaging.

Let’s think of it this way.

Your friend has a cat, but every time you come over you go up to it and say, “Aw, what a cute doggy!” You treat it like a dog, buy it dog toys and only address it as dog. You try to play fetch with it, you bring it bones; you might even try to give it a belly rub before it runs off irritated.

At first your friend might think it’s funny or a simple misunderstanding. You’ll probably be corrected the first couple of times, and despite them feeling as if you now understand the difference, you’ll still continue to call their cat a dog. They continue to correct you time and time again, but after a while it won’t be funny anymore.

Why?

It gets exhausting trying to explain that their cat is not a dog. It might make them sad that you don’t understand; it might make them angry that you are ignoring their efforts to teach them; it might make them start to believe their cat might actually be a dog.

And that just isn’t right.

A cat is not a dog.

Anxiety is not the same as depression.

Emetophobia is not the same as germaphobia.

And every fight is different.

Each person who suffers from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, and more are all different. No two people who have emetophobia will react to the same things the same way. We all conceptualize things differently, which means that while we have similar traits and similar triggers, our panic is likely manifested differently.

I want to make sure I stress that there is nothing wrong with having manic depression, bipolar, emetophobia, schizophrenia, germophobia, or any other mental illness.

I sympathize with the anxiety and panic. I can empathize with the struggles you endure fighting with depression, schizophrenia and more. I may not be able to know exactly how it would feel for you, but I understand that you are struggling and doing the best you can.

So please, before you generalize my struggles or down play my emotions, remember that to me they are very real. They are constant, nagging reminders of what some people may never understand.

My cat is not a dog, so don’t try to treat it like one.

Until next time, Internet.

If you would like to email me, you can send any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions to contact@hashtagfearless.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  FacebookTwitterPinterest 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.

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