It Has A Name

Emetophobia – 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.

In one of my very first posts on this blog I spent a lot of time describing my experience with anxiety. In that post I mentioned a deep seeded fear of vomiting that I attributed to two traumatic experiences I had as a child. I alluded to this fear entering my everyday decision making process, but I didn’t elaborate a great deal. Some of the impacts of this fear I have barely admitted to myself let alone put into print or said aloud. Here is a partial list of the things I have or haven’t done as a result of this fear:

  • When in High School I used to tell my girlfriend that I wanted to get take-out and go eat down by the river rather than eat inside a restaurant. I used the river as “romantic” alternative to eating in a dining room, when the truth was I was afraid of getting sick in the restaurant.
  • I avoid places with large crowds because bathrooms are either hard to get to or filthy dirty should one have to hang their head over a toilet. When I do go to a concert or show I want to sit on the aisles so I can make a quick and subtle exit if I have to.
  • The biggest reason I don’t drink alcohol is fearing of being made sick
  • When I enter a new building I am sure to identify the locations of the restrooms and any trash cans in case I need a quick place to puke.
  • I adhere strictly to expiration or use by dates on food.  l also will not eat leftovers or cold cuts that have been in my refrigerator for more than a few days.
  • I never burp. I can’t distinguish between the sensation of burping and nausea. It all feels the same to me. Of course the inability to expel the gas from my body adds to and prolongs my discomfort. I have memories as a kid of leaning over the toilet thinking I was going to be sick. I could feel it coming and when I opened my mouth nothing came out except the noise and gas.
  • Periodically I will awake from a deep sleep and leap to my feet convinced I am about to vomit and rush to the bathroom. I will often fall back asleep on the bathroom floor or if I return to bed I will put an empty trash can near my bed.
  • My wife is a school teacher and when she has sick students in her class I am in full on freak out mode at home. Likewise with my 3 year old son I am paranoid of being around him when he is sick. We have been lucky thus far that he has not had a real stomach virus, but I know the days is coming and I dread it.
  • Feelings of nausea will often leave me sweating and shaking. Sometimes my mouth with salivate heavily as if the act were about to happen though it never does.
  • It has without question directly affected my professional life. I really don’t want to get into details here as it is the most painful truth, but I have worked on airplanes and boats so it shouldn’t take much imagination to see the magnitude of that problem.

Much of this list has been spoken to therapists and various shrinks, but I have never presented the entire list together. In my last experience with talk therapy a couple years ago it was brought up in the more detail than ever before, but still this word, emetophobia, was never mentioned. For years, decades actually, I have been suffering with this, living with coping mechanisms in place and I didn’t even know it had a name. I always thought it was just a personal oddness. There was no way a significant number of other people had a similar problem. If I had a nickel for every time somebody looked at me trying to be helpful, but sounding condescending, and said “Nobody likes to get sick” I would be a wealthy man.

The discovery of this word, emetophobia, came as a result of some recent personal realizations about the level of anxiety in my life, and wondering at the source of my true problems. Am I depressed which causes anxiety or am I anxious which makes me feel depressed. It feels like the classic chicken or egg scenario, but having spent some time with little to no medication in my system, and being benzo free for seven full months I am beginning to wonder if there may actually be an answer. Maybe the docs have just never asked to right questions. I want to write more about this, but it feels like a different post. For now I am just going to consider what it means to have a name for nearly thirty years of torment. Emetophobia. There is power in a name.

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6 thoughts on “It Has A Name

  1. I have emetophobia as well. Not to your extent–I don’t structure my life around it–but I am terrified of vomiting because I always end up in the hospital when I do. I lack a shut-off switch once I start puking, and my body does not stop. (i puked 60 times in 2 hours once) And I always seem to puke with the migraines. The salivating that you wrote about? Me. If one of my girls starts vomiting I start cleaning the house and methodically washing my hands, not eating…thinking I’ll be sick, getting anxious and scared. Working myself up…refusing to go out, wiping down surfaces in public like shopping carts fearful that I’ll catch the virus…replaying my last ambulance ride, puking all the way, in my mind…In a very small way, I relate. That’s why I mentioned mood stabilizers in a former comment here. It started to feel to me that depression may not be your primary issue. You know I’m not a shrink. But situational depression can arise from feelings of helplessness. Longterm anxiety and “what if” thinking will destroy a mind and our peace paving the way for depression. That may not be your experience, but it has been mine. Anyway, I’m so glad that you have language around your experience. That’s a big deal. Truly.

    • That idea about the long term impact of an anxious mind is something I hope to find some time to write about soon. It took so long for me to get proper help the first time that I wonder if any depression I was feeling them wasn’t just a symptom of the anxiety problem. Coming to terms with the real impact of this vomiting fear is part of that realization. Anxiety has been part of my life for a very long time.

  2. The name certainly changed my life. It enabled me to find support groups online and so on. But when explaining to my mother years ago I got the ‘but no one likes being sick what makes you spevial’ thing and it tore me apart. It’s not an easy thing to admit and the worst thing someone can do is look at you with such disbelief. X

  3. Your post sounds hopeful and positive. Love the image, too! Putting a name to your anxiety and recognizing the specific phobia is progress. I never knew there was such a phobia. And I can see how being on boats and planes could cause extreme anxiety in a person who suffers from emetophobia. I wish you well as you begin to explore all of what this means for you.

    • exploring what it means is the big question now. It makes it somehow easier to live with, but does litle to change the day to day reality unless I do something with it. What that something is remains the question.

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