I can still remember every single time I have been physically ill. Weird, right? That isn’t really a pleasant memory, nor is it something that people can visualize daily. Unfortunately, I have been so blessed as to develop a serious affliction with vomiting. It’s called Emetophobia.
My emetophobia sticks it’s gigantic nose into my every day life. It is always begging for my attention. Going out for a drink with friends? Let me make sure I remind you that you didn’t eat a big lunch today so if you drink too much you’ll probably throw up. A kid at work comes up to you holding their stomach? Wash hands approximately 10 times. Feeling anxious? Let me help! I’ll make your stomach feel even worse, and then I’ll tell you that it’s because you’re sick.
Living with emetophobia has been, and continues to be, a journey that just doesn’t want to end.
For those of you who don’t know or are unsure of what emetophobia is, emetophobia is a phobia that causes overwhelming, intense anxiety pertaining to vomiting. It doesn’t matter who is doing the throwing up; it could be me, my boyfriend, my best friend, a baby, an adult, a stranger I pass on the street, even sometimes a dog, you can probably find me running with my eyes closed, and ears plugged. The thing about emetophobia is that it isn’t all geared towards whether or not I’m going to be sick. While that is a huge, and I mean huge, part of the fear, it is also about whether or not I’m going to be so lucky as to experience someone else throwing up. Everything about it is awful; the sound, the sight, and my favorite, the smell. There is nothing, absolutely nothing inside of me, that is able to reason with the fact that it is a normal, bodily function, that has to occur sometimes in order for us to remain healthy. Most of the time, I would rather die.
It all sounds dramatic. I know. Growing up, I seriously thought I was as crazy as crazy comes. I used to walk around the house, paralyzed in fear because someone in school went home sick. My parents would be asking me about my day, and I would blurt out, “DO I LOOK SICK?!” I asked this question multiple times a day, every day of the week. My parents were patient with me, and tried to understand that of course, no one wants to be sick. But what they didn’t understand is that while they thought I was taking a normal shower, I was actually following a strict routine that could not be broken because if it was, then I would get sick.
I made it through the rest of grade school, moved on to middle and high school, and graduated. It seemed as though my fear of vomiting had subsided in a way. While there were instances it would pop up, it didn’t pervade my every thought as it did when I was a little kid. I went to college and everything was great. No signs of freaking out about throwing up. Until I got home for my winter break. This was my breaking point. I attended a high school friends wedding, and the reception food was Little Caesars (don’t ask). Everything was normal, until twenty-four hours later when I was lying on the bathroom floor awaiting my doom. I had never been so besides myself. That was the first time, as a late teen, I had been sick like I had been when I was a little kid. Everything about it sent me completely over the edge. I recovered in less than 24 hours, and was back on my feet, but something was off. I found myself buying hand sanitizers and keeping them in my purse. I was using Clorox wipes on my phone, computer screen, door knobs, and surfaces I had touched throughout the day. Every time I walked into a bathroom, I avoided looking directly into the toilet bowl. It all continued at school. My emetophobia and I weren’t taking ourselves out to parties as much anymore, for fear of catching something or witnessing someone get sick. The summer after my first year of college was total agony. Being home made me think, that because I had gotten so sick over winter break I was going to get sick like that again. It was hard for me to eat some days. It was hard for me to reason with myself. I was borderline agoraphobic that summer; I didn’t want to leave the house.
Thankfully, I knew that there was something more than just a silly little superstition or fear. In fact, it had a name! I looked it up on the internet and was completely blown away by what I found. There are emetophobia forums, blog posts, steps to overcoming the phobia, and therapists who specialize in helping people with emetophobia! I finally began talking about it. First to my therapist, who reassured me that every thought I have about throwing up is completely normal. My parents came next, and while they tried to understand but couldn’t at first, have been a huge help to me. I think that my friends were the most supportive out of everyone. They assured me that I wasn’t weird or annoying for asking whether or not I look sick. My friends shared their own very real, very normal phobias that they struggle with as well. I became determined not to let emetophobia define me.
I’m still here, and I still hate vomit. Every day brings on a new trigger, a new reason to worry about getting sick. However, instead of sitting around becoming consumed by the fear, I have found ways to cope. Emetophobia doesn’t yell at me for hours on end anymore. Sometimes it will yell, and it will be loud. Other times, it just shuts right the hell up, and I’m thankful for that.
Reading about emetophobia, and talking about it with other people helped me to legitimize one of my biggest sources of anxiety. I know people now who struggle with the exact same phobia I do, and it’s a huge comfort. It’s also a huge comfort to know that the fear is real, irrational, and yeah, completely and utterly terrifying. I will be completely honest: writing this was not easy, by any means. Not because I’m embarrassed or anything, but because it forced me to actually think about the act of getting sick. But, I made it to the last sentence and my hands are only a little sweaty.