*MAY BE TRIGGERING – ALL THESE PARTS WILL BE IN RED*
I never thought in a million years that I’d actually confront my biggest fear, yet here I am today – willingly exposing myself. It’s going to be hard to talk about (I already feel ill) but I feel as though openly addressing my issue may help me to cope with it better, plus it’s an added bonus that I’ll hopefully be able to educate some people that aren’t familiar with/ don’t really understand what emetophobia is, and how it can affect the individuals that suffer from it.
Emetophobia defines as ‘a chronic and disabling condition which is characterised by a tendency to avoid a wide array of situations or activities that may induce vomiting’. It is an anxiety disorder that affects around 7% of women, and only around 1.8% of men. If you, like many others, are thinking ‘Nobody likes to get sick’ – I can assure you that having emetophobia goes far beyond just ‘not liking’ being sick. Professionals believe that emetophobia stems from the worry over lack of control, which makes it one of the hardest phobias to treat. When you’re ill, you simply have no say in how you’re body will respond to the illness, and so they believe that emetophobes have a fear of not being in control of what happens to them – which I can definitely relate to.
I can’t remember when my phobia of vomiting first came about, but looking back upon my childhood, I feel as though it probably originated from my inability to eat curry without being sick. Not just any ordinary ‘sick’ though, I mean violently sick for hours straight. I feel like the fact that it happened at such a young age scarred me – and ever since then, I’ve always steered away from foods that resemble anything that is curry-based: smell, taste, look – the lot. Unlike me, my mum loves a curry and she buys them often, so if we’re in the same room when she’s eating one – I have to sit far enough to block the smell, and even if she offers me the rice that comes with it, I still have to refuse, otherwise it takes me right back to when I was younger, and practically spent the entire night hovering over the toilet seat. The same goes for jelly, as after eating it for the first time – I was violently sick all over the house. I’m not sure that it was the jelly that made be sick, but I’m too afraid to ever try it again and find out.
I remember walking back from school this one time, and I got a message from my mum saying that my sister had been sick in my bedroom. I just recall my heart racing, and then when I stepped foot into my house – a whiff of it caught me, and to make matters even worse for an emetophobe, I had to help my mum clean it too. I think that this is why I have a tendency to get really annoyed/angry with people that are sick, which is mean – I know, but it all makes sense now. I also remember my sister saying that she’d eaten some of those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups before she was sick, and even though I’d already disliked them to begin with, 3/4 years later, I will NOT eat one of them because of what happened. I had a bunk-bed at the time, and I was PETRIFIED that because she slept at the top, she’d vomit again and it would come down over me – so I slept in a different room. For ages afterwards, I’d memorised the spots where she’d been sick and always made sure not to walk too near to them.
If it was just the simple case of me avoiding certain foods, it would be bad enough, but the fact that my emetophobia causes me to physically restrain myself from going places and doing things, is what affects me on a daily basis. I’m so terrified of either someone else or myself throwing up. I’ve always been wary on school-trips, as there’s usually at least one person that has travel-sickness. On one trip, I was sat next to this girl and she straight up vomited on me. Vomit is vomit, and no matter what state it is in – it will ALWAYS rise some sort of panic within, but I was really thankful that her vomit was more watery than chunky (if you get me) because I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if it hadn’t have been. If anyone ever says that they feel sick, I will be the first one to repeatedly ask them ‘why you feel sick?’ ‘have you been sick?’ ‘will you be sick?’, and whenever I hear someone make a vomit-like sound, for example: choking, burping, coughing, gagging etc. I will start panicking, spot out who the person is/ where they are/ how far away they are from me, and get the HELL away. We went on another trip recently to Alton Towers, and I apologise if this is TRIGGERING, but all I could envision was me being trapped on a ride as someone threw up all over me. Some people with emetophobia wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere near the rides, in case someone was sick, but luckily I pushed aside my fear and went on a few that day.
I’ve watched videos of other people that suffer from emetophobia, which is how I first put a name to my fear, and I’m so incredibly grateful that the severity of mine isn’t as extreme as some of those that have told their stories. I think what my issue is, is the fact that I really work myself up and think of all the possibilities of what may happen if someone else, or myself is sick. This is why I get really anxious about being sick/ seeing someone be sick in public. I was in town the other day, when I suddenly began to feel sick, and I thought that this may be due to me not eating that morning. Me and my sister (yes, the tables turned) found somewhere to eat, but when I took the first bite a wave of sickness came over me. I began to hyperventilate because I truly feared the reaction of others seeing me be sick; and as an emetophobe – I knew that if I’d personally witnessed someone else being sick, I’d automatically think the worse things of them. We were also sat in a food court which made everything 10 x worse – cos 1) It made me feel more guilty about being sick and 2) the smell of the food didn’t make it any better. I don’t know if anyone else does this, emetophobic or not, but when I’m about to be sick I need it to be quiet enough for me to concentrate on not being sick; otherwise my train of thought is interrupted, which usually results in me being sick. Apologies in advance if this is TRIGGERING – but I eventually did throw up in my mouth, and because I was too embarrassed to have people notice that I’d been sick, I ended up swallowing it. Again, I’m lucky that it was watery (cos I hadn’t ate) but I obviously hated it.
As someone who studies psychology, I already know that when it comes to mental health issues, it’s far better to deal with them when they first arise – if possible, before they persist and worsen. I knew from a young age that I was scared of vomit, but it was only up until about a year or two ago, when I actually realised that I had an official, listed phobia that could be quite serious if left untreated, as did many other people. Seeking help is not in ANY way ‘pathetic’, but I feel as though if I were to do so for my emetophobia, it would be. I honestly feel like there isn’t much that they would be able to do to treat it, as it’s not as serious as some other cases – thankfully. Yes, I could look into something like CBT if it got worse, but I’m not entirely convinced that it would stop my phobia altogether – I feel like I’ll always have that fear.
The only way that I get through is by reassuring myself that EVERYONE gets sick, and that being sick is actually a GOOD human process. The whole point of being sick is to protect your body from bad and harmful substances, to prevent you from getting more ill later on – and that is honestly the only word of advice that I could give to others that are emetophobic! I also heard that emetophobes are less likely to get sick anyway, because they focus so much on protecting themselves from potentially getting ill- so I guess that helps too.
If you too are emetophobic, below are some videos that I’ve watched, that have helped me to understand and to deal with my emetophobia. I understand that it may take a lot more than watching videos to help with how you’re feeling, but hopefully they give you a bit of advice ❤️💪🏾
MY EMETOPHOBIA STORY | HOW I OVERCAME MY EMETOPHOBIA –
MY EMETOPHOBIA STORY | A MAN’S PERSPECTIVE –
TOM L J WHITE
EMETOPHOBIA – WHAT IS IT & HOW DO WE TREAT IT? –