Living with Emetophobia
The National Institute of Mental Health for America estimates that 12.5% of American adults will suffer from a specific phobia during their lifetime. To put this in perspective at the time of writing this the US population is 328,508,082.
This, therefore, means that 41,063,510 people will suffer from a specific phobia during their lifetime. There are a huge amount of phobias out there, each with the ability to limit someone’s life.
A phobia known as Emetophobia limits my life. Emetophobia is a debilitating phobia, which affects approximately 1.7-3.1% of males and 6-% of females. A large proportion of people are affected by this phobia, however very few people have heard of it before.
To put it simply the phobia is a fear of vomiting.
However, this phobia is far from simple.
How does the Phobia Affect Sufferers?
When I tell people about how I suffer from a phobia of vomiting I’m often met with the same reply; ‘nobody likes being sick’. I agree it’s not a pleasant experience for anyone, however if you suffer from emetophobia it is far more than just a horrible experience.
Emetophobia is a complex phobia, this means that it encroaches extensively on other areas of your life and can be disabling for sufferers.
We all have a favourite season, right? You’ll rarely find an emetophobia sufferer whose favourite season is winter. The reason for this is that winter has a reputation for harboring nasty stomach bugs. Almost every winter the Norovirus spreads like wildfire amongst the population.
It can be incredibly nerve-wracking to leave the house during this season and the first sight of anyone looking poorly will send a sufferer running home to the safety of their disinfected home.
That’s another thing, emetophobia sufferers are likely to wash their hands countless times a day and their homes will likely smell of bleach and various other disinfectants.
It can be incredibly difficult to diagnose emetophobia as it presents itself in many different shapes and forms. Some people are afraid of seeing others vomit, others are afraid of vomiting themselves and if you suffer from emetophobia like I do you’re afraid of both.
Emetophobia can become entangled with various other mental health conditions, such as; an unhealthy relationship with food, obsessive behavior, the list is endless. More often than not those suffering from the phobia are therefore diagnosed with eating disorders or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
This is neither correct nor helpful in the patient’s recovery. It can also be difficult for those suffering with emetophobia to recognize it.
How my Emetophobia Started –
My experience with emetophobia began at the age of 11. I was misdiagnosed with a phobia of school. Everyone assumed that I was just being awkward and refusing to go to school, even I did not understand the feelings that I was experiencing. During secondary school I would come home at lunchtime to make the day more manageable.
One particular day, I was feeling unwell, my mum also suffers from the phobia and she decided we should pop out to take my mind off of it. Much to both of our horror, I was very publicly sick outside a supermarket.
I believe that I was already suffering from emetophobia, however this particular event brought it out. My family withdrew me from school and decided the best option would be to homeschool me. The phobia was preventing me from leaving the house and I was barely eating.
Over time I slowly began to do more and more but I was a different child. From that day I have been overly cautious about everything. I won’t go near somebody who is ill, I ensure I wash my hands before eating and when coming in from the outdoors.
Following this occasion, I suffered a bout of food poisoning, which led to be becoming a vegetarian. 13 years later I have never eaten another piece of meat.
Life with Emetophobia –
My phobia improved and I successfully got myself through my GCSEs, A-levels, Undergraduate degree and Masters degree.
As I entered the working world my anxiety flared up, I felt trapped in the workplace – what if all of a sudden I felt sick? What if someone in the office got sick? I couldn’t just run out and go home.
This led to me having to quit multiple jobs. I decided I needed to focus on getting myself back on my feet – I had done it once so why couldn’t I do it again?
Four months ago I was hit with Norovirus. I was very sick. Since then my life has been turned upside down. My anxiety has completely flared up to the extent where I’m unable to go far from home. I’m unable to eat out at the moment. I’m slowly getting myself use to relaxing whilst out and about.
I have been making the effort to sometimes visit a café and sit down to have a drink. I try to relax and confront my anxiety. It’s scary but I know it’s something I have to do.
The experience of being ill was not as bad as I was expecting it to be, however, the irrational side of the phobia will not accept this.
The first few weeks after catching the virus I was incredibly depressed, my anxiety was at an all-time high and I was terrified that I was going to be sick again.
I’m still absolutely terrified of catching another bug.
A Final Word…
I know to most people catching a tummy bug is no different to how I feel about catching a cold. You may not understand emetophobia but please be kind to those who suffer from it. Emetophobia is not just a phobia of being sick.
The anxiety that it creates is life limiting. I have learned to accept that the phobia is a part of my life and it is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Acceptance is key to beginning to move on with your life. There are many courses and treatments that claim to cure you of emetophobia but few have solid evidence to suggest that they work. Emetophobia can often lay dormant until an event that triggers it again.
People do not understand it and so it is difficult for sufferers to be open about it. For many sufferers, the phobia is an embarrassing secret.
I hope that after reading this article you understand a little bit more about how a phobia can affect someone’s life and please never tell an emetophobia sufferer that ‘nobody likes being sick’. It is so much more than a dislike.