Since about age 5 I have dealt with a semi-debilitating phobia that at times has influenced my life in very negative ways.
It's called Emetophobia.
Emetophobia is an intense, irrational fear or anxiety pertaining to vomiting. This specific phobia can also include subcategories of what causes the anxiety, including a fear of vomiting in public, a fear of seeing vomit, a fear of watching the action of vomiting, or fear of being nauseated.
Why is it irrational?
How many people do you know that have died, or have been even injured by vomiting or seeing someone vomit? I mean you hear of heorin-addled musicians and actors who died from choking on it after a heavy night of partying. Usually a Xanax/alcohol cocktail is somehow involved. But 99.9% of us have never even heard of a friend of family member who has been seriously affected medically by the act of vomiting or being around someone vomiting. So essentially we are afraid of how it makes us feel psychologically instead of the actual act itself.
It's happened to all of us. There I was in Kindergarten. We had "calender time" every Monday morning. We would sit cross legged around the calender and the teacher would talk about the week's events. Then I heard that tell-tell noise behind me. I look over just in time to see a little boy vomiting all over himself and the floor. It was gross. We went back to our desks, the janitor came and cleaned it up.. we went on with our day. All the other kids finished the day as normal. Maybe a little grossed out, but nothing more. I, though, could not stop replaying the incident over and over in my head like a broken record player. Something inside me felt different. And it affected me way more than it should have. In fact I had trouble going back to school every day that week. I was terrified it would happen again.
From then on things changed. If I saw someone holding their stomach I wanted to run away. And I did. I would find anyway I had to to get out of the classroom and go hide in a bathroom stall for 30-45 minutes. If someone did get sick I would put my hands over my ears and close my eyes as hard as I could until the situation had passed.. and then after that the rest of the day was ruined for me. And then going to school the next few days was so hard to do, because.."what if it happens again".
Things have not changed much. I am engaged with a future step-daughter. Last week she got sick. I stayed away from my fiance's apartment for two days after she was better. Then I got sick anyway. I threw up for a few hours one morning. All my hiding didn't help me. And now my fiance is sick with it too.. And I am doing what I can to avoid her. Avoiding someone who is sick is not necessarily a bad thing, they need their rest, and leaving them alone helps stop the spread of germs. However, why am I absolutely terrified of seeing her get sick, seeing my future step daughter get sick, or getting sick myself?
We all agree that throwing up is not fun. Nobody wishes to get sick. But once we get better we move on. But for me it affects my habits, it affects my relationships, it affects where I go, and how I act in certain places. The aftermath can even bring on some slight depression and lots of anxiety.
I took my step-daughter to school today, and passing little kids in the hall made me anxious. It's like I see them as potential time-bombs just waiting to vomit. Especially this year when the virus is going around so bad.
Why does this happen to us?
If you are reading this and you are an Emetophobe, you have no doubt experienced people laughing at you, telling you to "suck it up", "quit being a baby", ect.. But it doesn't work that way. Sure we can fight through the anxiety.. but it still affects us.
Here is my theory on why vomiting is such a life changing event for us. First of all.. there are three types of Emetophobes:
1.Some only fear seeing someone throw up, hearing, smelling, touching, and being around that person or the vomit itself.
2. Some people are deathly afraid of throwing up themselves.. The act of vomiting scares them to the point of total avoidance. Some even to the point of anorexia because they fear having food in their stomach. I have read about some who say they will never have children because of fear of morning sickness, and the inevitability that their child will one day vomit. (Ironically a vast majority of these people rarely vomit, if ever. They will actually psyche themselves out of vomiting even if they have the stomach flu.)
3. Some fear both of the above.
I am more of the first one from the above with only a slight fear of the second one. I vomited last week. It wasn't so bad.. The lead up to it isn't fun.. but when the time comes you are so ready to get relief.
Why are we scared of something that is, in itself, absolutely harmless? Here's my theory..
It's simple: Control.
We see ourselves as being in control of all things that pertain to us. All good things and bad things happen because of my actions. The internal thoughts and ideas shape the world around me.. It's an actual theory called the "Locus of Control".
Wikipedia explains it better than I can: Here
Dr. Angela L. Davidson et al. conducted an experiment where it was concluded through various surveys that people suffering from emetophobia are more likely to have an internal locus of control pertaining to their everyday life as well as health-related matters. A locus of control is an individual’s perception of where control comes from. Having an internal locus of control means that an individual perceives that they have their own control over a situation whereas an external locus of control means that an individual perceives that some things are out of their control. She explains how this phobia is created through the locus of control by stating, “Thus far, it seems reasonable to stipulate that individuals with a vomiting phobia deem events as being within their control and may therefore find it difficult to relinquish this control during the act of vomiting, thus inducing a phobia.”
So what is the answer?
* If you are a Christian like I am, it is hard to swallow the idea that you have control issues.. because we know that God controls all things at all times. However I read all throughout the Bible of men who feared lots of things. Godly men who knew better. Peter was standing in the presence of Jesus in person and he all of a sudden was afraid of his surroundings. So just losing a fear based on my faith is easier said than done. But that IS the answer. If someone is going to vomit, and it is God's will.. all my fear and running cannot make it go away. The answer is giving up. Accepting.
* If you are one who fears vomiting, know that you will be 100% fine. In fact you will feel instantly better. It is a natural process that your body is going through for a specific purpose. As gross as it is, when you think about it, it is actually quite an exquisite thing. It is the body working on your behalf to save you from a much worse outcome. This is why when you get food poisoning you throw up as your first symptom. Your body is saying.."Hey there is something in here that can hurt you..I'm going to get rid of it for you. I got this!" It is the build up that is so scary and so rough. It can literally feel like you are going to die. But you will not die. You will throw up, it will be gross, and then you will feel better. Trust me.. I had it last week.. I threw up.. and I remember thinking right after "That was not near as bad as I had remembered it being." I did not think "Oh that was fun, let's do it again." No.. I hated it. But I survived it quite easily and without any harm. So if you are going to throw up.. JUST DO IT!!
* Do your best to walk into the lion's den. Stop running. Avoidance breeds avoidance, and eventually can lead to isolation, and agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house). The more you run.. the more you will keep running forever. If someone gets sick at school or work, go back the next day even if it is killing you inside. Make yourself uncomfortable so that you can function. Trust me, when you go home you will smile, and you will be elated just that you did it. You faced it and survived.
* And just praise God that you are alive and that you get to experience this life in all it's glory. All it's beautiful and sometimes unpleasant glory. And think of people who work in hospitals and police stations who see this day in and day out. That might also make you appreciate your surroundings and even overcome some of your fears.
Lastly, go online and talk to others who fear the same things. Remember some have similar fears, just about different things (fainting, falling, dizziness, etc..) talk to those people.. help them, or let them help you. A great place to do this would be emetophobia.org