I’ve heard it all before.
“Nobody likes throwing up though.” “You’ll feel better after.” “It’s just sick, grow up.”
And I totally get it. Having a phobia of sick does seem quite ridiculous. That is, unless you actually have it. Then, it becomes a crippling battle. This battle disregards sick being the body’s protector and essentially creates an ongoing nightmare of panic.
It has been 8 long years since I first became effected by my phobia. It all started after I contracted food poisoning from KFC. I haven’t actually been sick since – touch wood, but the experience has still made me deeply fear the thought of it.
Flash forward 8 years and now my Emetophobia controls my life, with there not being a single day where I don’t feel anxiety about being sick. It’s gotten worse over the years. Now, I can’t watch TV/Films with a lot of sick in and avoid using words like “puke” and “vomit.”
I closely monitor everything that goes into my body.
I don’t drink in excess. I avoid reheating foods. I don’t eat eggs. I don’t cook chicken. And I won’t touch out of date food.
I also have a strong routine with my meals. This is something I do get mocked for. I enjoy eating the same meals every week. I like the stability and the knowledge that I am eating a meal that has never made me sick. I live at home so the majority of the cooking falls to my mum. I panic if she comes back from the food shop and presents me with a dinner I haven’t had before. Even if it’s just a new type of sausage. That’s because my brain automatically assumes that the new food will make me sick.
Eating out turns me into a ball of anxiety. Even if I completely trust the restaurant, I will still convince myself that I have food poisoning and will be sick. This is even if I order the veggie or vegan option.
This usually happens when I am alone. I will sit up in bed all night, with my brain working overtime to convince my body that I feel sick. This sometimes results in me actually feeling symptoms associated with throwing up – when in reality, there is nothing wrong with me. I’ll go dizzy, get the shakes, develop a fever and work myself up into a panic with no way of calming myself down.
Bugs make me feel guilty.
If a family member, friend, or even my boyfriend has a sickness bug, my first thought isn’t “I hope they are OK.” It’s, “What if I catch it?” I sound selfish but it’s true. My brain panics and I begin to try and justify why that person is being sick and how I can avoid it.
I can’t go near family members who have bugs and avoid situations where I will be exposed to bacteria and germs. I once didn’t see my niece for over a week because she had a 24 hour bug. It’s ridiculous.
I also wash my hands relentlessly. Sometimes, I do this until they crack and bleed.
I make associations with being sick and they can be pretty trivial.
The pyjamas I was wearing. The duvet set. The book I was reading. The TV Channel I was watching. All of these things will “influence” me being sick, when really they had nothing to do with it.
Yet, I also blame foods that had nothing to do with the panic feeling. I haven’t eaten roast potatoes since I was 6 years old because I felt sick after a Sunday dinner. I wasn’t sick but I felt it and that’s enough for me to avoid eating that specific food again. Even the thought of eating one now sends shivers down my spine.
My Emetophobia has resulted in me getting severe panic attacks. My first panic attack was after I had been to a house party and drank excessively. Since then, I have not drank in the attempt of getting drunk and will limit myself to 3-4 drinks.
The worst panic attack I have had was on a family holiday to Butlins when I was 17 years old. We were all in one of the entertainment rooms when I noticed that two kids had thrown up at the table in front of ours. I immediately panicked and went into a crazed state. I went dizzy, my vision blurred and I couldn’t catch my breath. My dad, alongside the help of some staff, carried me outside and supplied me with water, a bowl and a bag to breathe into.
How I Cope
I have devised numerous ways to cope with my Emetophobia. For one, I am a part of an online support group which has actually worked wonders. The members remind me that I am not in this alone and that my brain is, most of the time, playing tricks on me.
I also eat mints like they are going out of fashion. Mints help a sore stomach. I have increased my knowledge on foods and now understand which foods can combat the feeling. I recommend; ginger nuts, bananas, dry toast and potatoes if you feel sick.
Taking photographs of my food when eating out has also helped to combat the worry. By Instagramming my food, I am reminded that my Emetophobia is irrational and that it is completely normal to eat out – and to enjoy it.