Yes you – the emetophobic reading these words.
Please know that whether you have just discovered this crippling phobia has a name, or you’re at your lowest of lows, I’ve been there. I’ve walked in your foot steps and I know things are so hard right now. You may be really stuck, or perhaps you’re just beginning to explore how to make your life better but haven’t found anything that’s made an impact.
I’m here to tell you, it’s okay, I get you, and I want to help you in the only way I know how: by offering advice from someone who’s been there, done that.
So, here’s what I feel like you need to know as you begin to process your emetophobia:
You Are Your Only Obstacle
I think when many people are in the grips of emetophobia, they have a very strong external locus of control. This essentially means that we are convinced that external factors and stimuli control us; and that those external things determine our success and safety in the world. But that’s just not true! We emets are in control of our every action. We are the reason we don’t go out; we are the reason our thoughts run wild. No one else, nothing else, is the reason for that.
Getting into a place where you can start the recovery journey means accepting that you are the only obstacle standing in your way, and you are the only obstacle keeping you from doing what you want. You create the thoughts that paralyze you, you create the scenarios that keep you home; all it takes is recognizing that the same amount of energy that goes into creating the situations that scare you can be turned into the same thoughts that rid you of the constant suffering.
It Does Get Better
I think this one may be overlooked as stereotypical, but I genuinely can’t stress to you enough it does get better. But, what I think most people assume from that is: it’ll get better on it’s own. It won’t – you have to ignite and propel that change forward, but once you’re ready to make that change you’ll notice that with time, patience and hard work, it will get better.
It may take you a while to get there, but don’t give up. It took me 7 years of weekly therapy to be at a point where I confidently felt like I had a handle on my emetophobia. You didn’t read that wrong: 7 years. I spent the first 2 years just slowly crawling forward. I didn’t see noticeable differences until that point, and even then I was still struggling. But, slow and steady wins the race, and I can safely say, on the other side, it gets better.
You Are Stronger Than You Know
Most of the battle of overcoming emetophobia comes from within. I was recently talking with someone and they told me that the only reason why they got through a scary situation was because they had to; they had no other choice. That got me thinking, and it landed me in a place where I concluded what they said and what I heard were two totally different things. What they said was, I only faced it because I had to. I heard, I got through this situation even when I thought I couldn’t; and I think that’s something we could all bear to hear.
Never forget that in the moments where you feel like you have no choice to face what you fear most, and you conquer it, that the strength you found is always there. It exists, even in moments when we have a choice. You have always been that strong, you have always possessed the ability to handle those terrifying situations; you just didn’t know you could. So dig deep and muster up the courage, strength and drive that got you through those “I had no choice moments” and put them into your day to day life.
Aim for Normalcy, Not “Cured”
I know when I started my recovery, I longed for “cured” and whole heartedly believed that I would end up completely emet free. No more obsessions, no more irrationality, no more fear. As I began to shift in my thoughts through weekly therapy and began to understand what caused my emetophobia, I started realizing that “cured” isn’t feasible; it isn’t obtainable. At least, not for me, and it’s probably going to be the same for most emets. I know this sounds incredibly depressing, but hear me out.
When you start your journey, don’t aim to be cured, because I can tell you that cured isn’t what I am by all definitions of the word. I still struggle with intrusive thoughts and anxiety about emet, and I still have tough days where I may spiral a little more than I want to. That isn’t cured in my eyes because cured means the absence of the phobia. To me, setting the bar for that automatically sets us up for failure when our standards for cured aren’t met. If I only judged my recovery based on cured standards, I would have given up ages ago.
But, a simple shift in how we view our journey gives way to what you can strive for that is achievable: Normalcy. Gaining control of your life, your thoughts again. Gaining control of your diet, your emotions, your thoughts. This will get you back to what you will discover is normal. Normal is different for everyone, but when normal hits, you’ll know, and it’ll be your biggest drive to stay motivated. Recovery is less about the absence of thoughts and anxiety, and more about being able to cope with whatever your irrational brain throws at you without missing a single beat. Strive for normalcy, not cured, and you’ll find your journey to recovery is so much smoother.
Healing Is Not Linear
This is my favorite misconception when it comes to mental health: that our journey to recovery and normalcy will be a straight line upwards. I’m here to tell you that’s not how it is, and you will likely see peaks and valleys as you traverse into the unknown of beating a phobia that has likely had it’s grips on you for decades. You will likely take two steps forward, three steps back early on; then you may hit a moment where you shoot upwards without ever dipping down. And, sometimes, after you’ve hit that mountain top, you tumble back into the lowest valley and have to climb back out, but you’re never back at zero.
You started at 0, but as you climb and fall, you will never land back where you started. How do I know this? Because throughout your journey you’ve grown stronger, gained tools, conquered battles that starting you could never have even imagined. You may have hit a low point, and it may be your lowest point in a long time, but you are not at square 1 again. You are simply experiencing the unique and sometimes wildly unpredictable nature that is mental health.
Be Kind To Yourself
Which leads me to my final and ultimately the most important lesson you can learn: be kind to yourself. Celebrate those little victories that may seem insignificant to others. Take the time to listen to your body and self care when you’re going through harder days. Don’t always feel like you have to be constantly pushing yourself, you deserve a break too. Recognize that a lifelong battle with a phobia means you have to take time to unlearn all the thoughts and coping skills you put into place to protect yourself. It won’t happen over night.
You are literally learning how to undo conditions put into place by your brain to keep you safer from a threat that literally seems like life or death; it’s okay that you’re not magically better. You are walking your own path, that no one else has walked. Comparison is a theif of joy, so don’t let anyone (especially yourself!) take the positive aspects of your journey away from you.
Every day that you get up and face the demons that you left standing by your bedside the night before, you are proof that you are strong enough to take them down. You are a true warrior, and I hope you never forget that.
Until next time, Internet.
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Lastly, we support an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle we are passionately engaged in. It 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.