Millions of people around the world suffer this debilitating phobia, yet shockingly few people seem to know what it is.
If you dont already know what emetophobia is, I wont be explaining it here; so as not to trigger any fellow emetophobes. It should take seconds to search on Google though 🙂
I’ve suffered from it since I was around 7 years old. They say it can usually be traced back to one particularly horrific experience. For me, I’m almost certain it was the Christmas my Dad under-cooked a turkey.
For those who cant understand, whatever I am about to write will probably confirm whatever judgements you may have made about me being out-of-the-ordinary. If you happen to think my anxious habits strange, then I totally get it, I do. Heck, I have always stressed myself out over it, but it is part of me now. And I wont apologise for being me, just as no genuine, good, considerate person should – without our uniqueness the world would be a pretty boring place!
Anyways, instances of the phobic variety cause any emetophobia sufferer to go into panic overdrive. No amount of disinfecting, hand washing, starvation or self-isolation seems enough protection. It’s a guarantee an emetophobe will take weeks if not months to recover from being in the vicinity of an incident, regardless of the fact they almost certainly weren’t to experience it themselves. Should anyone around appear to show any sign remotely related to the instance that sends we phobics into a full-power nervous breakdown, we will not only keep our distance – we’ll also obsessively clean ourselves, often avoid food just in case our already anxious stomach is upset to the point of no return, and even lock ourselves away from the outside world for 24-48 hours, until we’ve satisfied the emet-demon that we’re safe from catching anything sinister.
As you can imagine, this makes virtually every activity an anxiety attack risk. Travelling in the car or public transport there’s a chance fellow travelers become a cause for concern – whether on the side of the road or within our immediate breathing space. Going clubbing, or for nights out, or house parties involving copious amounts of alcohol consumption never end well – the resulting effects are usually a source of hilarity for everyone else; whereas it’s the complete opposite for us. Going on holiday and trying new, exotic foods is terrifying enough to put us off going away in the first place. And don’t get me started on the agonizing strength of anxiousness experienced when attending or working in an environment surrounded by children – the majority of whom don’t seem to have a decent grasp on hand hygiene, and tend to find foul happenings funny. Watching films, especially in the cinema when relatives and friends haven’t been able to ‘vet’ it for you first, is a white-knuckle experience akin to jumping out of an aeroplane if you have a phobia of heights. You become superstitious, afraid to wear the same clothes as the day of any given incident – even if it was experienced by someone else – just in case it’s bad omen.
Emetophobia turns you into your own worst enemy, as you are petrified of your own body. Can you imagine living in this constant state of highly pressurized anxiety 24/7? It’s the reality for emetophobics.
Due to emetophobia, I developed anxiety, OCD and depression. However, after attending my GP, therapy (CBT didn’t work for me unfortunately, though I was thankful it helped me understand the phobia a little better) and going through some rather challenging times, I learned that any traumatic experience has potential to be a trigger for emetophobia. For me, being bullied in school, then sexually and emotionally abused as an adult, had a devastating effect on my mental health due to the added strain of living with this life-limiting phobia. Occasionally to the point I wasn’t sure how I could continue to live in this state of constant torture (I have my horses, dogs, family and friends to thank infinitely for helping me save myself).
Over the years I developed many habits a normal person would certainly consider odd. Whilst in school, I’d change my clothes and shower at least three times a day – wouldn’t allow any of my school clothes, bags, shoes etc. to ‘contaminate’ anything related to the rest of my life (most namely that which I considered precious, so primarily anything to do with my horses). If Mum expected me to leave school and go straight to the stables without showering and changing my clothes, I’d have a meltdown. I went through a phase when starvation seemed the best way to avoid the risk altogether. Since I was being bullied anyway, I figured losing weight whilst preventing any threat to my ‘safe’ existence would be a win win. So, I would eat as little as I possibly could. My lunch would end up fed to the seagulls hanging around the high school playing fields, and I’d do all I could to avoid mealtimes – my parents rarely allowed me to leave the table without at least a few mouthfuls of dinner. Even then I’d only eat bland food. I would spend as long as humanly fathomable at the stables, exercising off as much ‘fat’ as I possibly could, content in the knowledge I was safe from my phobia, as well as from bullies. I was never an overweight child, but I was 6 and a half stone until my late teens.
Once I’d left school I learned to manage my phobia far better. Without skipping by my adult experiences, during the couple of years of fighting continuous phobic tendencies, I ramped up my usual OCD handwashing and personal hygiene processes. I started using excessive amounts of hand sanitizer, to the point I developed severe eczema on my hands. I stopped having to change clothes every five minutes, but I ended up trying out many different stomach settling medications and meditation to try calm myself down. I had a few exceedingly wobbly days and took to the drastic measure of staying awake all night when I believed myself most vulnerable to all manner of horrors – worst of all that phobic instance. Quite sad really, that because I was so focused on dealing with the hellish mental state emetophobia forced me into, I didn’t realise the extent to which I should’ve realised how terrible other realms of my life had become. I daren’t risk getting pregnant, for the crippling fear I experienced just thinking about what might happen to me relating to this dreadful phobia. Perhaps that was why my situation was fraught with frustration; I couldn’t bring myself to provide what everyone so desperately wanted.
Thankfully, that phase of my life ended. Divorced from the shackles of fear controlling my every manouvere, freedom seemed all the more wondrous. It took quite a long time to recover, and I’m sure that perhaps deep down I will always be recovering, but I want to assure you there’s light at the end of the tunnel if you suffer emetophobia.
You don’t have to be terrified of your body every second of every day, despite the fact that’s what we end up being.
I get my bad days like everyone does with this awful phobia-demon, though my protective habits mainly consist of:
* Being vegetarian (I admit my phobia isn’t the only reason I chose to be veggie).
* Keeping my hands clean as possible at all times.
* Always avoid touching my face unless I’ve just washed my hands.
* Carrying extra strong mints with me if my stomach does feel a little off (which tends to do the trick by settling such sensations).
* Taking great comfort in learning that the only real cause for a phobic instance is poisoning (even then it could manifest in the opposite direction; through pregnancy or catching something it isn’t a necessity either) – there are people who have genuinely lived their entire lives without remembering an instance.
* Reminding myself that I’ve survived many awful episodes surrounded by phobic triggers, and I’ve been absolutely fine once I’ve looked back – which makes it feel I’ve wasted time worrying and overthinking.
* Working as a vet receptionist and having to repeat trigger words literally hundreds of times a day, means I can say trigger words without experiencing a spike in anxiety levels.
* Having an amazing boyfriend/wonderful family/fab friends who keep an eye out for phobia triggers in films so I know when to avoid them. I’ve improved to the point that I’ll even watch films with phobic instances in, provided I cover my ears and close my eyes until the offending scene is over – something I’d never have done even two years ago (I’d have avoided watching the film at all).
I’ve also been following some Instagram pages that review films and post whether they’re ‘safe’ for emetophobes or not. In fact, I decided to do something to help others in my situation, using the fact I was noting TV programs and films as being ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ for fellow emetophobics as a sort of self-therapy.
If I get enough of a response, I may well post what I managed to list if I can find it. I may even start adding to it again if there’s demand…
I do really feel it would be worth having films, TV shows, books, magazines, even plays marked with logos such as the following. It would make life a heck of a lot more bearable for those of us with emetophobia – what do you think?
<- Image Copyright 2020 ©D.E. Kendall
(I’m aware it’d be virtually impossible to roll out, as there are countless phobias that could be triggered by any of the entertainment vessels mentioned above, but it may be a consideration for a particularly ambitious collective to create some sort of listing for anyone with varying degrees of different phobias, to make consuming entertainment more comfortable for everyone.)
Now you’re fully aware of my idiosyncrasies, I hope I’ve helped you feel a hundred times better about yourself – regardless of whatever mental health issue(s) you’re dealing with 🙂
Please know that you are never alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re struggling. We are all stronger than we believe – the fact we’ve fought our fears up to this very moment prove that; we have no reason not to continue being courageous.
You’ll be fine <3