“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” -Marcus Aurelis
How do I follow that? Those words moved me, reminded me of a valuable lesson I’ve been instilling into my mind for three years. It reminded me that through the anxiety, the panic attacks, and the conflicting emotions (do I run, do I help?) that I had control over my situation. It reminded me to be strong.
have had emetophobia: the irrational fear of throwing up. Sounds silly right? Well, people obviously think so. There’s nothing worse than telling someone you have a phobia who just doesn’t understand what it’s like. You get a variety of responses.
There’s this one: “No one likes throwing up, so I totally understand where you’re coming from.” And then this one: “Oh, I’m squeamish too!” Lastly, there’s this phrase: “What’s so scary about throwing up? Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s not life threatening.”
Yes, no one likes throwing up, and neither do I, I just really can’t handle the thought.
It’s not a matter of being squeamish because the subject of blood and puke doesn’t make me feel sick - just very anxious.
It’s uncomfortable not just because it’s unpleasant, but because I’m not in control.
This fear of throwing up struck me from all sides. I was personally afraid of getting sick, which meant I did everything I could to avoid putting myself in those kinds of situations. I avoided sick people like the plague and I rarely ate out at restaurants I wasn’t comfortable with in fear of food poisoning. I was also afraid of other people getting sick, which meant that I never went to parties (not that I had a huge urge to attend one anyways) and I avoided going out to places that would possibly put me in an uncomfortable situation. For example, doctors and hospitals were almost completely off limits. I also dreaded finding out that my college roommates caught anything and everything that went around. Being healthy was a mandatory requirement for me.
But the worst part was I spent 19 years of my life not knowing what was causing me the anxiety, the fear and the panic. I spent many stomach flu’s locking myself away in my bedroom with a can of lysol and clorox wipes. I would pick at my food at dinner and anxiously watch the clock, telling myself, “Just 6 more hours and I’ll know I’m okay. I’ll know I won’t have food poisoning.” I stopped babysitting out of fear of young children secretly carrying a super virus that would cripple me for days. I would run away crying with my ears clogged at the sound of a cough. It was that bad.
I knew I feared throwing up and other people throwing up, but I didn’t have a name for it. I felt alone, like I was the only one who understood what I was going through. It started to create problems with my husband (at that time it was boyfriend) and my family members, and it created problems with me attending class and hanging out with friends. I was slowly becoming a recluse and I realized I needed to fix it.
It was the end of my sophomore year in college and I remember admitting to my (now) husband, “I think I have a problem.” He didn’t think it was an issue, and when I brought up possibly seeing a counselor he said it wasn’t necessary and I was fine. But I went anyway. After two visits, all this counselor could tell me is that I had a phobia of some kind, but which one he wasn’t sure, and I was still lost.
That summer, I told my mom that I had seen a counselor over my fear of throwing up. It wasn’t until I told her that I had an answer: emetophobia. I was a textbook case. I had checked off every single item on the check list. I finally had a name, I finally knew I wasn’t alone.
From that point on, I was on a difficult road to facing my fear, to making myself realize I had control. I saw a counselor once a week to help me learn coping mechanisms for my fear and anxiety. I learned that my phobia wasn’t something I couldn’t control and that it was incurable, like diabetes. I struggled, cried, had anxiety and panic, took two steps forward and three steps back, but I finally had a break through.
I was sick with a sinus infection, a bad one at that, and the feeling hit me very quickly. I felt very sick to my stomach. As I walked to the bathroom and leaned against the wall I realized, at that moment, there was nothing I could do. I was going to get sick and I couldn’t change it. That was my lightbulb moment.
As soon as I realized I couldn’t control how I felt, I knew I could control my phobia.
This meant I could go out to Outback, order a meal, and finish the entire plate. This meant I could go to class and not be concerned of who sat there last, or what they might have be carrying on their dirty hands. This meant I was free. At least as free as I could be.
Since then I have been virtually unafraid. I feel normal for the first time in a very long time. I no longer fear going out to eat, I can listen to someone say they were sick with a stomach bug and not immediately run for the door. I can handle the idea that I could possibly get sick at some point in my life, and I would survive it.
I had spent all this time thinking I was controlling my surroundings and avoiding throwing up, but in reality, my phobia controlled me. Now, three years later, I control my phobia and I recognize I can’t control my surroundings. It’s such an uplifting feeling.
So why did I tell you this? Why did I open up my personal life and spread it out on the internet for you to read? It wasn’t for pity, because I don’t want or need it. I’m a stronger person and I barely notice the phobia anymore.
It wasn’t so that you could censor yourself or treat me differently, because I promise that isn’t going to help me continue to face this fear.
I did it because I want someone to find this, read it, and realize they aren’t alone.
I want someone to find this blog and realize that there’s at least one other person out there who was battling the same problems and suffering through the same anxiety, depression and panic that they are. When you discover that what you are struggling with has a name, has a face, has a group of people behind it? It’s such a weight lifted.
And this goes for every person suffering from a phobia. You are not alone and some where out there at least one person also has the same fears, the same anxieties, the same questions you do. All it takes is trying to find the answers.