This will probably be one of the hardest posts I ever write. I have emetophobia, the fear of vomit. Just typing out and reading that word sends shivers down my spine. Looking at my past I wish I could sit here and give you a finite reason as to why I fear this. Sadly, I can’t. I can see warning signs from my childhood but whatever pulled the trigger and caused my mind to completely turn inwards on itself might always be a mystery for me.
When I was younger there were things I didn’t enjoy doing and still don’t. I didn’t enjoy sleep overs or overnight camps. I never liked to be far away from my family for any extended period of time. I don’t remember what my exact reasoning was for avoiding these types of events. I don’t know if I feared the unknown or feared not having the safety net of my parents. When it came to sickness I knew I didn’t like it but I would never say I feared it. Usually if I was ever actually ill I was fine twenty minutes later. I was back to being a typical kid in no time.
In my high school years my avoidance for things grew. I no longer liked to eat out at restaurants with my friends. I would still go out but I would eat before and sit there to be social. Once again, at the time I didn’t see any fear there, I simple favored my mothers’ cooking. Another telling story was my first real high school party. I remember taking two sips of a friends drink at a party and immediately thinking that I didn’t feel very well. All I knew from drinking was from the movies, when you drank too much you got sick, and I didn’t want that to happen. Looking back now I can see the blood in the water. There was something lurking under the surface waiting for me to have a moment of vulnerability to strike.
My first semester of college was wonderful. It was the epitome of the stereotypical ‘normal’. I went to class, made friends, and even went out at night. I continued to not drink. I simply had no desire. First semester came to a close and I was able to go home for two months for the holidays. Little did I know, that my life would never be the same when I returned to school.
I can’t tell you what happened. I didn’t get sick one night. I didn’t watch someone else get sick either. All I know is that I returned to school and suddenly I couldn’t eat. Every time I put food into my mouth I would gag like my body was immediately rejecting it. I was suddenly petrified that anything I ate would give me food poisoning. I had never had food poisoning in my entire life, these fears seemed so unfounded. I survived on smoothies and salads from the cafeteria. I ate anything I thought was safe which wasn’t much. I lost 15 pounds. This put my already small frame at just 100 pounds total. I knew it was time to find some help.
I started seeing a therapist but as with anything dealing with my phobia was a struggle. I suddenly didn’t want to eat at restaurants. No part of me wanted to “grab lunch” with a friend. I always felt as though people were asking me to climb a mountain and they didn’t even know it. I equate it to someone who has a phobia of spiders and every day you ask them to hold your pet tarantula. Inside they are screaming but on the outside they smile and say okay because they believe they shouldn’t be afraid.
Soon that small monster in my head expanded trying to grab every experience it could find for itself. Soon I wasn’t just fearful when I was eating but at all times of the day. Going on a boat, or to amusement parks, someday being pregnant, flu season, taking medication, or anything that could potentially cause nausea was suddenly like a mental mine field. Many people with phobias/anxiety will tell you that we know the thoughts we are having are irrational, but we can’t help but to have them anyway. It takes a lot of mental energy to stave off this onslaught of fear and panic on a daily basis. I was being consumed by something only I could take control of.
Fighting my phobia became a battle I was determined to win. I pushed myself through situations outside my comfort zone. Anytime a situation came up I feared I would try to ask myself “Do I truly want to do this even though it scares me?” If the answer was yes I did all I could to pull through that situation. I leaned on the support of my small group of friends and family that I had brought into my world.
I’m not saying it worked every time. I wish I could, but that is not the reality of the anxiety that follows my phobia around. I’ve ignored phone calls and event invitations. I’ve left parties without saying a word to anyone. I’ve intentionally missed a flight. Even with this elimination diet I feel fear, fear of regressing when it comes to food. When a doctor tells you it’s not only okay but recommended to not eat at a restaurant for months it’s hard to not let myself get back into the thoughts of avoidance as being okay. My phobia does all it can to tear me down and I do all I can to not let it.
Throughout the years my phobia has ebbed and flowed in its intensity. Through times of intense change, like starting work or doing this elimination diet. I know to keep an eye on that corner of my brain. I keep a watchful eye on the monster for warning signs of an attack. Making sure to do my best to not allow my stress threshold to boil over. Every day is a fight, and I plan to win. No matter how long it takes.
Emetophobia is a very common phobia but it’s not one that’s talked about often. When I started to have these uncontrollable thoughts I felt very alone in the world. If you or someone you know has emetophobia please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone whether that be a good friend, a professional, or even me. I would love to meet you and hear as much of your story that you are willing to share.