Something today, I dont know what, triggered my emetophobia in ways that I have not experienced in a long time. Whilst now I like to think I am much better, it is times like this which remind me how horrendous emetophobia is. For anyone who has not encountered the word before, emetophobia is a fear of vomiting or feeling sick. It is actually an extremely common phobia, although I think it can be overlooked because, well:
“Noone enjoys being sick.”
Emetophobia, for me, is not just a dislike of being sick. It is a conscious and relentless need to avoid all potential hazards within the external environment that could cause me to begin vomiting. It is relentless because it does not matter if it is a person that I love dearly, an activity or hobby that I am passionate about, or a place that means alot to me, I need to remove myself immediately if there is a possibility that I will feel sick. This means often offending or hurting people, but my emetophobia tells me not to care. It tells me that if I do not remove myself immediately, I will be sick. However then in comes anxiety, which reminds me that I have just really upset and offended a friend of mine and made them feel shitty. Then the emetophobia answers back, and the anxious voice inside my head is persuaded by the emetophobic voice, afterall I’ve avoided the sickness havent I? And that’s the main aim. But what if I was around them long enough to catch it after all? The mutuation may well be airborne. Then comes the voice of depression; everyone hates you and thinks you are crazy, noone understands emetophobia so everyone thinks you’re rude and annoying.
I am better at this now, but when I was younger until I was probably about 20, I couldn’t even say the word ‘sick’ without experiencing overwhelming feelings of anxiety. It sounds ridiculous. I know it’s ridiculous, but anxiety is ridiculous. Emetophobia I think stemmed from intense anxiety, particularly social anxiety.
This kind of thing is not easy for me to write in prose, because it has affected my life so hugely that I couldn’t form a coherent timeline of when it started, when it became worst, and when it got better. I just do not know the answer to these things.
So, instead I’ll present a list of how emetophobia has affected my life:
- Mum’s 30th birthday. I was 9. Social anxiety and emetophobia really isnt a great combination. I cried for the whole party, telling my mum I felt sick. My aunty told me off and said I was ruining my mums birthday – Dont worry, my anxiety had told me that many hours before, but that day my emetophobia was too strong.
- Sitting on the end of a row in a cinema or theatre, incase of a quick exit.
- Scolding my hands under hot water to kill any bacteria.
- Using hand sanitiser religiously, only to realise it doesnt kill norovirus.
- Enduring a freezing cold bedroom, because germs grow and multiply in warmth. Then realising that the cold air may be bringing germs into the room.
- Bleaching your toilet twice a day and not letting anyone else use it.
- Restricting alcohol intake to virtually nothing through fear of vomiting.
- Year 5: Assembly. Sitting on the front row of the hall, when the exit was behind and would require a humiliating 30 second walk, so instead crying every monday morning and turning to your friends to say you felt sick.
- I DID feel sick. I did.
- Not going on rollercoasters with friends at theme parks incase they made you feel sick.
- Christmas 2014: Saw facebook status’ of people with bugs, spent the whole of christmas day crying and having panic attacks.
- Checking every piece of meat you eat for anything pink.
- Seeing pink in chicken so moving to check if its the lighting, deciding its not and not eating anymore.
- Feel an overwhelming anxiety of food poisoning so that you can no longer eat your meal, but the lack of understanding by others means you have to lie and say you’re full or they’ll say you’re pathetic.
- Thinking eating fruit is safe, only to remember when you ate too many strawberries and vomited.
- Taking travel sickness tablets before any journey, just incase.
- Sitting at the front of the coach on any school trip, just incase.
- Chewing gum all the time, because peppermint settles your stomach. Similar for ginger biscuits.
- Refusing to go on exciting trips because it requires a car journey.
- Getting too hot and beginning to sweat in car journeys, feeling trapped and have to ask dad to pull over. Only thing that makes it better is laying on the cold, wet grass.
- Pressing your thumb into your palm, because you read somewhere that pressure helps sickness.
- Placing a bin right beside your bed before sleeping incase you wake up feeling sick.
- Counting the number of hours since you ate meat, before relaxing that you havent got food poisoning.
- Asking at least 3 people to check meat is cooked before eating.
- Asking mum over and over again if I look ill, because she knows.
- Having panic attacks in the doctors waiting room because someone in there could have a bug.
- Having anxiety attacks before going to voluntary work in schools, because children are susceptible to bugs. Same for old peoples homes, and especially hospitals.
- Avoiding sleepovers incase you dont feel well.
- Always noting an exit route wherever you are incase you feel sick.
- Wanting to cry because sometimes that emotional release stops the feeling of sickness, but not being able to cry.
- Trying to go to sleep, but every toss and turn makes you worried its because you feel sick.
- Triggering everytime the news informs you that a ward is closed because of norovirus.
- When someone says they are ill, your heart immediatly leaps incase its sickness and you’re stood talking to them.
- Checking food hygiene ratings before going anywhere, and then still ordering the vegetarian food, even though you like it much less.
- Severe anxiety before getting on a boat, because you know some people get sea-sick and youre not sure if you do.
- Anxiety on trains because its hot and theres lots of people and someone may have had a bug.
- Not holding onto stair banisters in public places because germs are on them.
- Having to avoid someone who has had a bug for 2 weeks, because the 48 hour rule they implement at schools and work is actually insufficient. Bugs can be caught from the moment the person begins to feel symptoms, and up to 2 weeks after theyve stopped vomiting.
- Eating meals you’d much rather have meat with, but just eating potato and vegetables because its “safe”.
- Worrying that your tuna sandwich or your chicken pasta has got too warm between taking it out the fridge and lunchtime, so not eating it at all.
- Not eating a salad bowl because you dont know how long the food has been out.
- Not drinking fizzy drinks when out for a meal and sticking to water, because water is good for sick.
- When feeling “sick” (the feeling my brain has created for feeling sick, which is actually probably quite inaccurate) having compulsive thoughts: If i dont get up the stairs in the next 5 seconds, I’ll be sick.
- Having an anxiety attack and needing to leave, but being too anxious of judgment to tell who you are with that you’re having a panic attack, so just silently crying and hoping they notice you need to leave.
- Searching constantly for reassurance: Is this cooked? Are you sure it wasnt a bug you had? Would I be able to have eaten this cracker if I felt sick (looking for someone to tell me my feeling sick is in my head)?
This list contains probably less than 25% of the things that I have done/considered/thought in my past. There are so so so many things, but I actually cant continue writing the list because it’s reminding me of all the precautions I previously took and making me question whether I should take them again.
And why? Lack of control. Perfectionism. Fear of judgment. Anticipation. Fear of the unknown.
Please dont roll your eyes at me, say im pathetic, irrational, ruining things for other people. I know all these things, and I want it gone. I really, really want it gone. I am so much better now, but it is still very much there within me, and sometimes it becomes unbearable again. The majority of the thoughts and experiences I have listed about were constant in my past, but rare in my present. For this I am so so grateful, and I dont know what it is that has made me better, but I cherish it because my quality of life has improved dramatically.
I think I’d really like to tell my family, friends and anyone who I’ve annoyed/offended/embarrassed/inconvenienced through my emetophobia that I am so truly, truly sorry. I am so sorry. If I felt I could stop the thoughts, that I could immediately stop feeling “sick”, that I could just relax into the environment and be carefree, I absolutely would. I dont enjoy the misery, and it breaks my heart that this emetophobia causes me to upset my friends (if I have to stay away from them) and limits what I feel I am able to do. If I could ask one request, which is ridiculously selfish of me, it would be please could you not tell me I’m pathetic, and ruining other peoples’ day/event, and that I’m ridiculous and irrational? I dont ask you not to say them because they are not true, they are true, but my sense of self worth is already pretty rock bottom and I don’t think I’ll get any better if people tell me how wrong I am. I dont know the answer to this, so I am genuinely asking: would it be too much to ask people to accept my emetophobia as rational and so deal with it as if I did feel sick? I think that would help, because I wouldn’t feel like I had to hide this anxiety and if I can stop hiding it, and instead address it with the help of my friends and family, I think I’m more likely to beat it. Is that right?
So mum, I’m so sorry I ruined your 30th birthday party at the Henny Swan. I feel guilty about that to this day, but I promise you I did not feel well. I just didn’t know at the time that it was resultant of severe social anxiety and a fear of vomiting. To my middle school friends, I am so sorry that you had to constantly reassure me every monday morning that I wasnt going to be sick in assembly. To my friends now, I’m so sorry if I literally run away when you tell me you’ve had a vomiting bug. Mum, Dad, Grace, I’m so sorry that you’ve had to put up with me constantly searching for reassurance: both that i’m not going to be sick, and just other general anxiety issues.
To myself, I am sorry that I’ve scolded my hands, I’m sorry that I’ve not eaten the foods I would like to eat, I’m sorry that I can’t properly relax into a night out with my friends, I’m sorry that I allow the winter months to destroy my quality of life due to the prevalence of vomiting bugs, I’m sorry that as a child I cried in almost every social situation because I “felt sick”, I’m sorry that I allow my heart to race, my palms to sweat and my head to spin everytime I overhear the word “sick” in any conversation. I am sorry that my head is wired wrongly.
If someone asked me the worst part about my experience of mental health issues; of depression, anxiety, emetophobia and OCD, I would say this: The reason my mental health issues very nearly destroyed me, is because the thing I fear the most is within myself, and you can never escape yourself.