Almost everyone I know has some sort of irrational fear that to most is laughable, but for them, can serve as their own personal hell. I know this because I have emetophobia; a fear of vomiting and it is an irrational fear that constantly prevents me from living a normal life. I have had this fear for as long as I can remember and yet, I did not have any sort of traumatic experience that can explain it. Unfortunately, the older I get, the worse the fear gets and now that I’m a mom, it’s at a peak. Sadly, it’s difficult to find support, because when I tell others, the reaction I get isn’t one of sympathy or understanding, it’s one of skepticism and amusement.
I am honestly shocked that I was able to even type out the word defining it. I hate that word and will subsequently not type it out again in this post—I will simply refer to it as “my fear”; the fear that either I will do it, someone else will do it, I will see it, or I will hear it. Anything that has something to do with it, creates unprecedented levels of fear and dread inside of me.
If I start feeling nauseous or if someone else tells me they are, I FREAK OUT. My palms get sweaty, my heart starts racing, and I get terrible tunnel vision. My anxiety gets to levels that it probably should never get to and I have no idea why; hence irrational fear.
When I say emetophobia is a life debilitating fear, I mean it. I cannot go one day in my life without this crossing my mind. I cannot go on long plane rides, go to amusement parks, drink too much alcohol, or even eat foods outside of the tried and true selection. I sanitize everything throughout my house and I keep top of the line hand sanitizers, hospital grade cleaners, and similar products in my house, car, and travel bag. I won’t even tell you how expensive that gets. Now that I have young children, it’s even worse. I’m hesitant to let them stay in the car for too long in case they get carsick…God forbid my toddler tells me she has a tummy ache.
Here is where the mom guilt kicks in…if my toddler gets sick, I am a wreck. If it’s just me and her, I will do what I need to do, but if my husband is home I hand her off. I feel AWFUL. I know all of the triggers for when she is not feeling well, so even If she lays her head on me, I immediately think she is going to be sick. If she does not want her favorite snack; same thing. I sometimes convince myself that she is going to be sick just because I want to try to be prepared. In retrospect, it is ridiculous, but in the moment, it is so incredibly real. When these sorts of situations occur, I count down the minutes until my husband gets home and rescues me from my fear.
There is absolutely no way you will find my kids playing in the play center at a mall. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I let my toddler play in a fast food restaurant, BUT even then, it was first thing in the morning right after they had cleaned it and she was the only one there. Afterwards, I sanitize her hands, change her clothes, and give her a bath if we have time. Going to the library or places where kid’s hands are all over everything gives me major anxiety too, especially during flu season.
Pregnancy is arguably what ruined me and made this fear 100 times worse. I was extremely ill with both of my pregnancies to the point where I was hospitalized, received a picc line, and had an in home nurse. I am 5’8” and when I was in my second trimester, I was under 100 pounds. I was so terrified to eat because of the fear that I would not be able to keep the food down. Looking back, I honestly have no idea how I went through multiple pregnancies. All I remember are the good times, while the bad times seem to be a blur. All I know is that I will NEVER do it again.
Everyone told me that having kids would desensitize me to my fear since they do it so often, but instead, it made the problem worse. I’m terrified that I am going to pass this fear down to my children because I’m sure they can see that something is wrong, but I am doing everything in my power to make sure that does not happen. I would literally do anything to get rid of this fear. I have tried so many things and nothing has worked.
Fortunately, I learned that I am not alone. One day, I decided to look up a support group and there are multiple on Facebook! I read through some posts and started crying because I knew I was not alone and other people were suffering just as much, if not more than me. I connected with a few people who’ve told me they’ve had abortions and even considered ending their life due to emetophobia—all because they would rather die than get sick. While I personally would not end my life over this, I can understand where they are coming from since it stops us from doing so much day to day.
I have seen this fear ruin relationships and marriages more times than I can count. Most women with this fear refuse to get pregnant which can be a huge deal breaker in a relationship. My husband is a pretty good sport luckily, but even he shakes his head in disapproval when I overcook chicken because I’m afraid that I or someone in the family will get sick off of it. I literally check each bit of chicken under a light before taking a bite no matter who cooked it—even a slight oddity in the texture will make me spit it out.
It has gotten to the point where I have stopped eating all together because I felt so off. I have “emetophobia friends” who have been hospitalized for the same thing because they got so thin and fragile and refused to eat anything so they had to have a feeding tube. It is terrifying. Let me be clear though… emetophobia is not an eating disorder. I have been called anorexic and (ironically) bulimic throughout my entire life, which could not be further from the truth. I do not think I am fat by any means and naturally I have a small frame, but it is very easy for me to have self-control when it comes to food because my safe foods tend to be pretty healthy and plain.
Yes, I have been sick before and I block it out of my memory. If I start to think about it, I will start freaking out. All I know is that in the moment I think to myself, “everything is going to be okay and this is not as bad as you think—you can overcome your fear!” About a day later, I convince myself that it was the most agonizing and traumatizing thing I have ever been through, so my fear gets worse, even after the fact.
There is a workbook for “emets” and I have tried doing that…but it didn’t work. My next step would be therapy, but everyone tells me it has not helped them, making it not worth it. Exposure therapy is not even an option that I will entertain. I guess I am not alone in that because after doing some research on people with emetophobia, we would all do ANYTHING to get rid of this fear EXCEPT exposure therapy, even if it worked.
This is something I live and deal with daily. It effects the people around me and everything I do in life. Some days are better than others, but ultimately, it is an awful fear to have and I would not wish it upon anyone. Believe it or not, I wish that I enjoyed the act instead of fearing it, as messed up as that sounds. My biggest dream would be to wake up and NOT wonder if I or anyone in my family is going to be sick.