Emetephobia, for those who don’t know, is a fear of vomit, vomiting or witnessing others vomit. It could be the sound, the motion, the waiting for it to happen, or all of these things that trigger a reaction. It is actually one of the most common phobias and can be really debilitating. I know this because I have it, to a degree.
Like with every phobia there are varying ways in which it affects people and their every day life, some people can’t even stand hearing the word but, although that isn’t true in my case, I’m going to tell you how it has affected me.
I first remember having this fear at around age 4 or 5 and it has plagued me in many different ways ever since. I can pretty much remember every time I have ever been sick or witnessed someone else be sick which is a super lovely way to take up brain space!
I remember a fair many times my brother was sick. Once on the rug in the hall which I then jumped over for about a year. (My mum did wash it by the way)
As a young child I would worry about going on school trips incase someone was travel sick, journeys in general with anyone other than my immediate family would worry me. The thought of being trapped in a car with someone throwing up was just hellish, the thought of no escape, no way of being able to satisfy that ‘flight’ response you’re prone to in moments of fear… terrifying! Unfortunately this put a dampener on many exciting events like, for example, going on holiday. Planes are a particular fear as you have absolutely no control over who you’re sat near. I remember one particular plane journey I sat forward from my seat the whole time worried the person behind me might be sick. Not only was this not very comfortable, I also probably looked a bit strange to those sat around me!
I also remember another plane journey with my husband, boyfriend at the time, where I faced the window the whole time as the person sat on the aisle seat next to us looked a bit peaky. Things that other people just wouldn’t notice, like him taking out the sick bag and placing it at the front of the pocket, would be picked up on my radar immediately.
If someone was ever sick, either in the car or in a different situation I would basically have a panic attack. Shaking, crying, my heart would race and it would basically render me pretty useless. It took a little while for people to realise that I wasn’t just being a bit pathetic and that it was a genuine fear. I mean, nobody really likes sick, it’s disgusting. Even the bravest most carefree person would turn away, pinch their nose or even throw up themselves. So this makes it hard to distinguish a mild aversion to a life gripping fear that takes up all your thoughts.
Growing up it has affected me in different ways. I was never one of those teenagers that went to the park and drank vodka from the bottle, or went to house parties and passed out in the garden. Not because I was being particularly sensible, or boring as it probably seemed to my peers, but because I was petrified someone might throw up! I myself, have actually only ever been sick through alcohol once, though I’m pretty sure my drink was spiked that night so I’m not claiming responsibility for it. Luckily I didn’t come to any harm.
Also as I got older I really worried how it would effect my relationship with my own children, could I even cope with having my own children? At the same time I became a primary school teacher and worried daily about children vomiting in my class. This was a job I’d previously pretty much ruled out, because of my emetephobia, but for some reason I decided to put myself in the line of fire. Maybe it was a subconscious decision? As it happens I was lucky not to experience a child vomiting in my class, but I had contingency plans in case it did. Basically I just told everybody, most importantly my TA’s, about my fear and made them agree to deal with it if the situation did ever occur! Bet they loved me!
As for having children, I’ve been lucky that my two haven’t been sickly in the vomit sense. Don’t get me wrong they can both produce a pretty impressive amount of snot, and we’ve faced various virus’ and infections but those things don’t bother me apart from worrying in the normal motherly way.
Actually after having Flossie, as I have mentioned before, I had a really quite intense but luckily short lived, period of PND. Before this point my phobia had diminished to a point where I didn’t think about it on a daily basis and, having coped with a couple of sickness bugs, I felt confident I could handle it if it happened. Unfortunately, as well as feeling really low and anxious in myself and my ability to parent my newborn and 2 year old, the nasty old PND re-awakened my loathing for puke.
It was like I’d woken up suddenly and I had two children to care for who could throw up at any minute and I really didn’t know how I was going to cope. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for fear of ‘that’ sound. We all know that sound.. the slightest cough from the other room would send my heart into overdrive, racing so fast and taking an age to slow down. I spent nearly two weeks feeling like I just wanted to run away from the responsibility. Not the responsibility of being a parent but just that one aspect of parenting. I felt I was a failure because I didn’t know how I would look after them if they were sick and all they’d want was their mummy!
This 2 weeks coincided with the time I started taking medication for my anxiety. The doctor did warn me that I might feel worse before I felt better, but I had no idea it would dredge up all these feelings that I had so well controlled before. After about a week and a half I felt glimmers of my old self reappearing, moments of the day where I didn’t worry about someone being sick, or me catching it! This of course was the medication working its magic. Forward on about 8 months and I’m feeling in a really good place with emetaphobia. Henry recently had a tummy bug and, as strange as it sounds, it was just what I needed to remind myself that I can cope with it.
I’m lucky that my case of emetephobia has been relatively mild I think, in comparison to some. Some people with this phobia find it hard to leave the house, look after their children, eat! It’s not a phobia you can really avoid unlike something like heights or flying, so it’s something that is so hard to escape.
In my opinion the only way to truly rid yourself of this fear is to face it, or face the situations you most fear it, to make you realise that although it’s definitely disgusting it’s not as terrifying as you think. Of course those who fear it most are going to feel that that is the very last thing they want to do. So it is a very soul destroying cycle to be in.
I also think the medication has helped me ten fold. It’s basically just made me more level headed, things that would have triggered this phobia before I can now brush off as being a bit irrational. You quite simply cannot do that when you are in a desperate state of mind. I can confidently say that, during Henry’s last bout of illness, my heart didn’t race even once and it was a massive achievement!
If you are reading this and you are in the midst of that desperate, soul destroying cycle of gripping fear that I know so well, I urge you go to your doctor! There’s no shame in it, it’s just the way your mind is wired but there are definitely ways to re-wire it and get back to some sort of normality. I am living proof 🙂 I have no doubt I’ll have moments in the future where I relapse a bit, but knowing I’ve got through it before will help me get through it again!