Some may argue that hyperawareness is a super power, a gift from the ancient Gods, to help normal people react and understand a given situation better than before. Of course, an emet might argue it’s inescapable curse and about 90% of why they feel anxious on any given day.
Nothing is worse for an emet than sitting on a train, in a meeting or in class when you catch the eye of someone who just seems off. You know, maybe they are holding their stomach or you noticed they winced while moving. Or, worse yet, you thought you heard them say they hadn’t been feeling that great.
The gears start turning. Even if they act normal the rest of the trip, meeting or class, you’re just certain they had a bug and now you’re going to get it too.
So now, you’re beginning to really panic. You remember saying that your stomach hadn’t felt right since this morning, and that it couldn’t be a coincidence that your acid reflux has flared up. Oh, and you knew that the bloated feeling in your stomach had to mean something – it always does, so why would today be any different?
You decided your fate: you got the bug.
This spiral isn’t uncommon for people with emetophobia, and it’s a pattern that over the course of a few years I’ve been battling to overcome myself. This hyperawareness is usually divided up equally to ourselves (noticing something wrong with our own bodies) and to others (noticing something wrong with someone else).
What makes hyperawareness so horrible isn’t the trait itself, but rather what anxiety turns it into. During stressful events, being hyperaware may actually be the key to keeping yourself safe. However, when you add in anxiety (and for many emets that anxiety is fairly constant) that hyperawareness turns into an ongoing battle with your mind.
That stomach ache is no longer just a stomach ache, it’s a reminder that you’re feeling tired, that your head hurts and that you ate out for the first time in two weeks and that’s probably why you’re feeling the way you are.
It’s sitting, anxiously, in your room because you noticed your roommate has been spending too long in the bathroom. Or, focusing intently on the fact that your stomach is gurgling and uneasy, then thinking it means you’ve got a stomach bug and you’re overwhelmed with nausea.
Hyperawareness for an emet means being the only one in the car to notice there’s a truck pulled off to the side of the road and a guy standing awkwardly behind the door. It means going out to eat and always hearing the conversation about someone who had been sick the day before.
Yeah, I’m beginning to think that hyperawareness is the farthest thing from a super power.
But it makes me wonder just how much better off our anxiety would be if we weren’t always so focused on how our stomach felt, or the sensations in our throat or chest. Would emetophobia be as terrifying if we rarely ever noticed the person who was bending over on the sidewalk or if we didn’t think about who handled our food before it was plated?
Perhaps the problem isn’t hyperawareness, but overactive hyperawareness. We are constantly looking for any signs someone could be sick. There is no off button for that. It’s funny, because there will be times I’m sitting in a cafe, in the same ear shot from another guest as my husband, and I’ll go: “ohmygosh. did you just hear that?” He always replies with no, and when I tell him they said they were feeling sick he then says: “Oh, no I didn’t hear that at all” and carries on.
It’s amazing how when you look for something to be wrong, it almost always will come true. I think the term for that is self fulfilling prophecy. On the other side, if you look for the positives and you look for the good in the world, you’d be surprised how much better a picture you paint in your mind.
So you tell me: have you ever struggled with overactive hyperawareness? What about it makes it so difficult for you, emetophobia or otherwise? If you do struggle with it, how do you handle those situations when they arise? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time, Internet.
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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.