By Pascalle J.M.
#Fearless Family Writer
Suffering from emetophobia is a harsh reality for many. I have struggled with this phobia ever since I was a very young child. My phobia started when I was around the age of eight. As a child, I was not really scared to get sick myself. But for some reason, the sight, sound and whole atmosphere of someone getting sick close to me terrified me and was enough to send me into sheer panic.
I constantly asked other children if they felt ill, just to be sure that I was in the clear. If someone looked a little pale, or rejected food I would stay away from that person. For some strange reason, I developed an almost supernatural ability to judge whether someone is about to get sick or not. I guess I developed strong senses and the ability to observe sharply.
This saved me from panic attacks often, because I would leave a situation where I suspected that someone did not feel well, just to hear afterwards that the person actually threw up later on when I had already left. I was coping quite well, aside from being a little anxious at certain points.
Then, I fell ill myself. From that moment on, I was horribly nauseous. I could not eat well, because anything that I ate made me feel like I had to vomit. I had no appetite and my stomach hurt. It took doctors years to find out what was wrong. These years were nothing less than terrible. Not only because my life had changed irreversibly, but also because it triggered my phobia.
I hit rock bottom when a doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. He was sure that I was not suffering from a physical illness. He thought I was either depressed or suffering from Münchhausen Syndrome (hurting yourself and faking an illness for the sake of attention), and that is why he denied me medication that helped easing my nausea. The antidepressant triggered a very bad reaction, and I had terrible side effects. One of them was an increase in anxiety and panic attacks. They were so severe that I refused to leave my house for weeks.
After some months I refused to continue using this antidepressant, and so, I quit taking it. All the side effects subsided, but the anxiety did not leave. I am now diagnosed with gastroparesis and achalasia, so the doctor who prescribed me the antidepressant was wrong after all. It has been two years that I quit taking the antidepressant, but the anxiety is still just as present, and a lot stronger than before I took the antidepressant. I am a hundred percent sure that it triggered some irreversible effect that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life.
The cruel thing about emetophobia is that anxiety is able to cause gastrointestinal issues like nausea. We fear nausea, and that constant fear provides us with the thing that we fear: nausea.
So, having to deal with both anxiety-related nausea and physical illness-related nausea daily I became a true master of managing nausea.
But I am not managing my emetophobia well at all, I have to honest about that. Actually, I avoid everything that scares me. As soon as I feel like I ate something that was ‘unsafe’ (and (99% of foods are ‘unsafe’ to me) I will count down the hours of the incubation period of the illnesses I fear (for example the horrors Salmonella, E. Coli, Campylobacter and my worst enemy: norovirus) until I am in the clear. Usually it takes up to 48 hours for me to feel safe, but sometimes I hold on to 72 hours.
I vividly remember eating some mozzarella cheese that was some weeks past its expiration date. I felt my heart drop when I double checked the package and saw that I made this horrible mistake. Naturally, I had a full panic attack. After an hour or so I sat down and accepted my horrible fate. Guess what? Nothing happened. However, from than on not a single day goes by without me double checking an expiration date on food and drinks.
“No one likes vomiting and feeling ill.” That’s a very common remark that people make when I tell them about my phobia. Many people fail to realize that this phobia has a huge impact on someone’s life. Mainly because it is a bodily function that is hard or even impossible to surpress, only by avoiding triggers (illnesses) or taking antiemetics in case your body wants to get sick you can avoid the thing that us emetophobes fear so deeply.
But after years of suffering from nausea daily, I have the most amazing tips and tricks on how to ease nausea, and I am sure that I will blog about this in the nearby future.
Living with emetophobia may be hard, but it sure is not impossible!
Thank you to Pascalle for sharing personal 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.