Living with a Phobia

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had emetophobia. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a phobia of vomit. It doesn’t matter if it’s myself feeling sick, someone around me being sick, hearing it, or seeing it on TV, it elicits the same reaction of panic. Now I know what a lot of you are thinking, so what, vomit is disgusting and nobody really likes it. But when you have this phobia, it is so much more than that.  

     When I experience vomit with any of my senses (by feeling it, seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, etc.) or if I think that it is going to happen around me. I get an immediate panic reaction. I’m talking blind panic. Can’t function panic. Loss of cognitive functioning panic. I have a sixth sense about it and can tell when someone else Is sick before they even know it because I’m so hypervigilant due to my phobia. 

     Imagine, if you will, being chased by a murderer who is chasing you specifically and you know that your life is going to end with horrible torture. Not a nice picture, right? But this is the kind of panic I experience every time vomit is around me. My heart rate quickens, my palms get sweaty, all of my attention turns to how I can possibly escape the situation, I’m forgetful, shaky, and feel completely out of control. 

     Sometimes I even have nightmares about it. It is usually the same nightmare. I’m trapped somewhere with vomiting people and I cannot escape. I panic, looking for any way to get away from sick people and not get sick myself. I wake up feeling terrified and exhausted. 

     Additionally, this phobia affects me in many areas of my life, it’s not just a phobia while it’s happening. I have a list of “safe” foods that I will order in a restaurant. Meat is not on that list. I’m terrified of it not being cooked correctly and ending up with food poisoning. I use public washrooms as infrequently as possible because I’m always afraid of hearing someone vomit or having the fear that someone was sick in the stall that I’m using. I panic when I’m in car rides with my daughter or other children for fear that they will get sick in the car and I’ll be trapped in there with a mess to clean up. I keep a bucket beside my bed in case my daughter gets sick during the night (we bed share). I have visions of becoming sick in public situations and not being able to make it to the bathroom. Cold and flu season is full of anxiety because there are always people around me who are getting sick. During the times that I do come down with this illness (or if my daughter or a family member is sick) – I do not eat. I will go days without eating, or eating only toast and drinking coke. This ends up making me feel worse because I have no food to give me energy. These are just some of the areas in my life that I avoid or make changes to in order to get away from my phobia. 

     I find this phobia to be very embarrassing because it’s not dangerous and I try not to tell people about it if I can help it, but I figure it’s time to speak out. A lot of people don’t understand what it’s like and try to make me feel better and say “oh, me too”, but I know that they don’t really get it. You cannot fully understand what a phobia feels like unless you have been there to experience it yourself. Especially when it is something like vomit that really doesn’t elicit any serious danger. 

     I’ve tried many things to help with this phobia. I take a daily anxiety pill that keeps some of the edge off. I often take Ativan when I’m feeling panic, but after taking it for so many years, I need a large dose for it to take any effect. I’ve been in therapy for many years, and we often talk about this phobia and how I can get over it. My therapist has recommended trying to visualize everything turning out fine, and telling myself that I can get through it, no matter how difficult it may seem. I’ve tried this and it helps slightly in certain situations, but it’s not been life changing. I have given some thought to exposure therapy, but my therapist pointed out that it is something difficult to do with my specific phobia because it involves health and hygiene. Furthermore, I’ve talked with my life plan specialist about this and she believes that this phobia may have come from a past life because I cannot pinpoint a situation in this life that caused it, and some of my earliest memories in this life are of vomit experiences (mainly other people). We are currently working on some ways to deal with it, including giving myself more self-love. What I would really like to do, is get rid of the immediate panic sensation, rather than learning to deal with the panic after it comes, but so far, I’ve been unsuccessful. 

     I hope that reading this has helped some of you feel like you aren’t alone. Many people suffer from phobias and they are difficult to treat. If you’ve been successful in treating a phobia, feel free to share in the comments. And WHEN the day comes that I get over this, I will post again with how I did it – because I do believe that this day will come. 

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