EMETOPHIA. FEAR OF BEING SICK

HEALTH, MENTAL HEALTH

As a fellow Emetophobia sufferer I relate to this list ALOT. But the downside is that even writing the intro to the subject of being sick is making my palms sweat. Instead I am going to hand over to Emily McEvoy to share her experience:

  • No one likes being sick right? 

  • It’s not great to witness it either…

  •  I’m sure most of us have had to listen to a friend, family member or even a passer-by talk about that bug they just got over also

  • But do you know how it feels to have an overwhelming fear and paralysing anxiety about those things? 

  • I do. 

  • I have done for 10 years

  • I don’t know how it started or why

  • I wish I did

  • When I was 16, I developed an irrational phobia of vomit, in many different forms, that I now know is called Emetophobia.

  • I don’t remember how it came about or a time when something suddenly changed but I know that in the 10 years since then it’s drastically become more engrained in me. 

  • In some ways, with age and knowledge I have learnt ways to combat it slightly and ways to cope

  • In other ways, and in some instances, it can be more out of control than ever

  • I am lucky enough to have not been a very ’sicky’ person.

  • Unlike friends of mine who are regularly sick, I have probably been sick 6 times in my life, which is pretty minimal comparatively to some. 

  • The first time I remember it being an issue was around the age of 14. I was on holiday in Spain with family and had to wake up in the night to vomit.

  • I remember it so clearly and since then, during particularly stressful periods, I convince myself when I wake up during the night that it’s because I’m going to vomit.

  • My body even knows how to trick me into feeling nauseous or having saliva in my mouth as if I am about to be sick.

  • Whenever this happens, and lo and behold I don’t vomit, I am always shocked at how your mind can alter your body’s physiological responses.

  • I remember around the same age of 14 having my first anxiety attacks. I didn’t know why I was having them or even really what they were at the time, but I know I didn’t like them, and it felt scary and horrible. I wanted them to stop

  • But they didn’t. They got worse and more pronounced throughout my teens and in my early twenties.

  • I was careful about how much I would drink so that I wouldn’t ever have to experience vomiting from being too drunk, so I usually ended up the ‘Mum’ figure of the friendship group, looking after other people instead.

  • I never took a drug as I was scared of what it would do to me – I did not want to be out of control. 

  • I realised over time that this phobia might not have come out of the blue. I realised that my Mum had the same phobia all along but had tried to hide it from me. 

  • But on some level, I must have picked up certain behaviours.

  • Checking meat thoroughly that it is cooked through and making sure everything is within a sell-by date. Washing all food thoroughly. Washing my hands thoroughly. Going to great lengths to avoid someone if they have been sick recently.

  • The phobia was amplified when I started working with children. Now I really couldn’t avoid it if a child was sick near me. In fact, quite the opposite, I had to clean the child and the vomit up.

  • If this ever happened/happens, I cope at the time, I can be professional. But I won’t sleep at night, I will lay awake and convince myself I’ve caught the bug and for days after I will be waiting, feeling like my body is a ticking time bomb and I am going to start vomiting at any second.

  • During more stressful periods in can massively affect my sleep, in turn making the anxiety worse as I’m tired. I lay there, clock watching, restless, crying, having heart palpitations and trying to take deep breaths to steady myself. 

  • After uni I had a few drunken experiences where I was sick. This time was different. For some reason it was the feeling of impending doom that I felt when nauseous before it happened that was unbearable. So instead, I made myself sick, rather than waiting. 

  • Those were the first time I was sick in front of a significant other, something that I really had feared and still do. 

  • When I am thinking rationally, I can see that my partner has seen me vomit, multiple times and he still loves me, still finds me desirable and probably hasn’t thought about it since. 

  • When I’m thinking irrationally, I imagine that if he sees that he will leave me, or he will find me disgusting. 

  • I know the fear is completely ridiculous and irrational but sometimes it feels viscerally terrifying and totally real. 

  • My partner has a name for my anxious self, the side of me that rears its ugly head from time to time. He calls it ‘Emlyn the Gremlin’. He knows that when I start talking with a sense of fear, start to panic or sees me take deep breaths to control panic – he tells me “This is just Emlyn, get that naughty gremlin out of your head!”.

  • Over the last few years I’ve noticed my triggers more:

  • Being around someone who has recently been sick

  • Going to a restaurant that I think looks unhygienic

  • Listening to someone nearby speaking about themselves recently be sick

  • Hearing the sound of someone vomiting

  • When people describe themselves as “feeling so sick” after eating a big meal

  • Using public toilets

  • Being on a train, tube, plane or bus

  • Eating certain foods that make me think of a particular experience when I was sick

  • Certain times of year, sadly. (We celebrate Thanksgiving as a family, and in 2016 I was sick and couldn’t help cooking the meal or eat any of the food. Since then, every year when we celebrate, I feel on edge and worry that I’m going to catch something again)

  • Being in a country that has lower levels of sanitation 

  • Being in a restaurant that I haven’t researched or heard of

  • When I feel hungry

  • When I feel extremely tired

  • When I feel excited

  • When I drink alcohol

  • When I’m dehydrated

  • When I watch someone vomit in a film or TV show, I then think I am going to catch it. 

  • At times when things are more stressful, the anxiety and phobic thoughts and feeling are so incredibly palpable I just don’t want to do anything. I just want to stay in the comfort and safety of my own home, in my bed and shut the world out. 

  • I find it incredibly hard if I’m feeling particularly anxious to go on public transport. I feel trapped and the thoughts race through my mind as I scan the train or tube for where the best place to have to vomit would be.

  • Sometimes if I really can’t handle it, I just get off and walk. I would rather be in the open and be able to vomit someone where I couldn’t be seen.

  • Sometimes I carry a bag around with me so that if I had to be sick on public transport, I could use that. 

  • Coffee is an absolute no-go. A few of my worst anxiety attacks have been brought on by a strong coffee. 

  • I had one a few months ago at work because of having a coffee. I couldn’t stop crying, was hyperventilating and again tried to make myself sick (to no avail). 

  • I missed work once because of a horrendous anxiety attack on my way to work.

  • I’ve learned more about hormones in the last year and how much stress is intertwined with my hormones and periods. I’ve gone months and months without periods when stressful things have been happening. 

  • From March to July I didn’t have a period because we were in the process of buying a flat. The same thing happened again in the lead up to starting a postgraduate this September. A 66-day cycle. 

  • Now I know when my period is on its way it massively affects my anxiety levels and so it can make the phobia feel worse at that time. 

  • I feel deeply sad and angry at myself when I think of some of the experiences, I have let this phobia ruin. 

  • In September of this year I visited Ghana with my best school friends. We stayed in the home of my best friend who I’ve known for 16 years. We have always spoken about taking a trip there.

  • But every night, the same fear would creep in, that I had picked up an illness or bug from touching something, that I had eaten something unsanitary, that the malaria tablets would make me vomit… 

  • I had numerous small anxiety attacks, then one bad one, the worst I’d had in a very long time on the final night of the trip

  • I couldn’t control my breathing, I felt like I was going to pass out, I was shaking, hysterically crying, did not want to eat because I was convinced that I was going to be sick if I ate anything. Eventually I ended up trying to make myself sick in the toilet as I was sure I was going to be sick anyway. But nothing happened. I still couldn’t calm down.

  • It felt like a massive cloud fell over me, and I was so angry and upset that I’d let the trip end in that way. I felt guilt that my friends had to deal with me and that it made me look like I didn’t appreciate the trip. 

  • My friends tried to cheer me up by saying uplifting and beautiful things about me as they knew how I was feeling

  • They kept it secret when they had to be sick on the trip, but a part of me knew they had been. I still appreciated their sensitivity towards me. 

  • My partner has been trying to get me to try CBD oil for a couple of years now, but I was initially quite fearful about it

  • I was offered beta-blockers by the GP a few times but wanted to try a talking therapy. In February 2019 I was put on the waiting list for CBT on the NHS

  • I started taking CBD and after 6 weeks felt a bit like the symptoms had lessened. I continued to take it for a further 4 weeks then ran out and after a few weeks without it felt back to the way I had before. 

  • Finally, in November I heard back from the CBT referral. Now I am having the sessions to hopefully help break the cycle of this phobia. 

  • I want to understand more about the root of the phobia, and am trying to learn by self-reflection and trying to understand my thought patterns

  • I have learnt how much I desire control and how comforting I find it to be in a routine

  • When I was younger, I moved houses and schools a lot, I wonder sometimes if it’s a reaction to lots of changes that were out of my control

  • I also can feel the change in my anxiety levels if I have a change in my schedule or routine. I find it unsettling and stressful to have a busy week or few weeks that has lots of unpredictability and different plans than I am used to – even if they are lovely, positive plans. 

  • I use a meditation app now when I find it particularly bad, especially when trying to get to sleep. I also do breathing exercises and write in a journal during these times. 

  • I hope that it won’t affect my future. I’ve always wanted to have a baby and I really do not want it to affect me during pregnancy, labour or when raising a child. I don’t want to pass it on to them. I want to make peace with it, understand the roots of it, find better coping strategies and retrain my brain.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Kate chambers January 15, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    Hey, I’m exactly the same!! The things you said really resonated with me. I’ve just had another session of hypnotherapy today, and she connected separation anxiety with my phobia, this is the first time (and many therapies) I’ve ever known the root cause. I feel optimistic I’ve been given some ways to deal with bad thoughts. I also have considered CBD oil. Only time will tell if making sense of the root cause will help my phobia, but do know you really aren’t alone with this very annoying and limiting phobia!

  • Reply Josie January 15, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    Same, like exactly the same except I can’t make myself sick. EMDR started to help but had to fire my therapist… Good luck with CBT. Would love to read another list with an update on your journey.

  • Reply Amy January 15, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    Please look at Thrive’a emetephobia workbooks. I did it alongside one of their consultants and am just a few weeks away from finishing the course. I have had this phobia for as long as I can remember (I’m 34) and while I’m not completely over it yet, I’m about 70% better than I was when I began and have no doubt that I’ll get completely over it in the coming weeks. It’s been an absolute game changer in terms of how I manage my thinking (and I had tried everything before: CBT, hypnotherapy, NLP, etc)

  • Reply Nat March 8, 2020 at 8:36 am

    Having children really helped me, I was really bad with my eldest (11) and even chose pain relief in labour on what wouldn’t make me sick! Since having my second child (22months) I have been much better I suffered with morning sickness this time round and there’s still foods that triggered it that I can’t eat 🙁 but luckily like you I’m not a ‘sicky’ person! I now work in a job where I see and have to deal with lots of people being sick, luckily my regular colleague knows and will take over if I’m struggling, I still get really anxious over my kids being sick but seem to be able to distance myself when it’s at work!
    Good luck in your journey xx

  • Reply Angela March 8, 2020 at 9:29 am

    This is so interesting. My emetephobia has controlled so much in my adult life. I have not been physically sick since I was 8 yrs old and am now nearly 50, I first became worried by vomit from my Mum and then a bad experience on a school bus and then 7 years at Boarding school cemented the issue. My phobia is much more focused on other people being sick near me and me having no control over that. I have had full panic attacks in public over it many times. I have stopped myself being sick multiple times, especially during my Uni days and pregnancies. I have never had any help but have essentially cured myself (having children helped!) I am not there yet and have some major wobbles but can cope much better than I used to. I would get help now if I was younger and I will certainly look into the CBD Oil for help with the anxiety. Good luck to all and I hope you can manage this better as time goes on.

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