TW: phobias, vomiting, eating disorders
What’s emetophobia I hear you ask… It’s the fear of being sick, being around sick and just sick in general. It can be debilitating and can cause other serious health problems like anorexia. As a very young child, before it was discovered what was wrong with me, I was in and out of an outpatients clinic while they tried to work out if my constant unease and nausea was due to allergies, migraines or a gastrointestinal problem.
Living with any phobia is hard and everyone’s experiences will be different but these are my experiences of growing up and living with my phobia. (Now that little disclaimer-y bit is out of the way, let us begin.)
For as long as I can remember I’ve been scared of being sick. I have a vague memory from childhood of either choking and making myself sick as a result or choking while being sick but both my parents say it never happened. Regardless of the reason behind the phobia, I find the whole thing terrifying. So terrifying in fact that my body fights the urge to be sick. This has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because *touch wood* I’m rarely sick. I haven’t actually vomited since my early teens. A curse because sometimes your body actually needs to be sick and it does more damage by not getting the nasties out of your system. A couple of years ago I ate some bad potato salad and I got food poisoning. Somehow I managed not to throw up but now have inflammatory IBS as a result.
Emetophobia is a misunderstood phobia. When you tell someone that you have it , the chances are the first thing they will say to you is that nobody likes being sick. This, in part, is perhaps due to the way we, as a society, trivialise phobias. Phobias are genuine mental health issues but if you ask a group of people if they have a phobia the majority of them will say they have one and it’s something like spiders or snakes. Sure they may be scared of those things if they are in the vicinity but in the majority of cases they are probably not worrying about coming in to contact with those things on a daily basis. A phobia in its true sense can take over your life. (I’ve lived with someone with a genuine fear of flies/insects that make a buzzing sound and that can get pretty intense.) You develop coping techniques to stop yourself getting in to situations where you may be exposed to the thing you fear even if that means missing out on important life events/occasions.
For me this was most evident when I was at secondary school. This was when I started needing to be near exits at all times and aisle seats became a must. There were a few times where I went home from school because I genuinely thought I was sick. I struggled with eating to the point that I barely ate at school a lot of the time, or snacked on small sugary things to stave off hunger. This was because I’d made myself believe is my stomach was empty I couldn’t be sick or at the very least it would buy me some more time to get out of the classroom. (At this point in my life the fear of being sick in public was even greater than just being sick). Needless to stay my body was desperate for food and this is when I developed a habit of binge eating after school in the evenings. In many ways my phobia stopped my eating disorder becoming more serious because, despite sometimes feeling the need to, I could never manage to make myself sick after bingeing.
My phobia, still to this day, has a big influence on my diet. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t eat meat; in my head meat is highly likely to make me ill, I’m very fussy about where I go out to eat; although nowadays I’m much more relaxed about it going to a new restaurant will normally give me at least some anxiety and I definitely waste more food than the average person due to my paranoia about things in the fridge not being cold enough.
Since I left home the majority of the time my phobia is manageable on my own. When it becomes less manageable is when I feel genuinely nauseous or having a panic attack masquerading as nausea. That’s when people may received a panicked phone call from me in the early hours of the morning or people have had to walk with me/go for me to the 24hr shop to get me juice (coca cola) and chewing gum, my own little cure for nausea.
Having a phobia like emetophobia provides fuel for my Generalised Anxiety Disorder. While many people feel like they can’t breathe or that they’re dying during a panic attack, I feel like I’m going to be sick. Over the years I have managed to talk myself down from this by telling myself it’s only anxiety and I’m not going to be sick but it’s still a battle every time the feeling crops up.
Do you have any phobias? How do you cope with them? Leave a comment below.