Life living with Emetophobia
Emetophobia is the name given to the phobia of sick. This can be: being sick, feeling sick and seeing sick. It's something that causes anxiety and panic for sufferers and leads to avoidance in many situations.
I have had Emetophobia for almost 18 years. The phobia formed when I was six and it's been with me ever since. It started from catching the standard bug that goes around school before Christmas. I woke up in the night and the anxiety that flooded me because I knew I was going to be sick sent me into a panic attack. It's been that way ever since. There was also a lot of trauma regarding me being sick when I was little and in turn lead to this phobia being so strong.
My fear of sick takes me on journeys that most people don't need to worry about or not to the extent that I do. The fact I have OCD on top of this makes it a whole lot harder. I have a fear of being sick and feeling sick. Over the years I have created tactics that I believe help me not to be sick but sometimes, if I'm really ill they don't do sod all and I'm met with my biggest fear.
For me the biggest problem is eating out away from home. I have my way of doing things in the kitchen such as, making sure all the sides are germ free before cooking and that all the utensils are clean. I make sure my food is cooked over and over before I eat it. When I go out to a restaurant or someones house I'm haunted by the fear of being ill. It could be that they are not as hygienic as me while handling food or that they haven't cooked it or it's gone out of date! When I'm out and eating I pick at my food to check it's cooked, I'm talking meat and fish here. The thing with meat is, I'm scared of getting food poisoning, thus being sick. I think it's easy to say my meat "fear" is chicken. Chicken terrify's me. At home I can't chop chicken because I'm scared I'll get it under my nails and as I'm an obsessive nail biter, I worry I'll get it in my mouth and be sick. I have to get my husband to chop it and it's followed by everything, including him being sprayed with Dettol. If I'm out I wont order chicken unless I think the place has a good rep but even then I'm cutting it open looking for any signs it isn't cooked. I'm the one sat at the back with a piece of chicken on her fork waving it about in my husbands face asking him to look for blood! If I'm over someones house or with other people and they serve chicken I feel I have to be more tactful because I don't want to offend anyone. Most of the time I'll leave it and pretend I'm full or I hide the fact I'm checking for any signs it's off, not cooked or contaminated.
My fear of sick doesn't just fall under the sick it's self but the feeling of feeling sick, you know, when your tummy hurts and you feel hot and, well, sick. Food and this come together because if I get full I feel sick but that feeling makes my anxiety rise and then Mr OCD starts. I find it hard to keep myself calm at this point and if I'm away from home it's even worse. I find I have to hide in the bathroom as I'm close to the toilet and because I don't have to have a front on. There have been occasions where I have had to leave, just in case I'm sick. Most of the time I never am but I can't risk being sick away from home because I then obsess I will keep being sick and get stuck there and people will see the mess I get in.
If I think I'm going to be sick the panic that comes with it is beyond me. I end up walking up and down the flat, crying or asking for constant reassurance. It always gets to the point that the state I get in makes everything worse. Most of the time, when this happens I'm met with intrusive thoughts of being sick and my mind starts drifting back to food. This my friends is called a viscous circle, where it keeps going round and round. What ever I ate that day becomes a food that I associate with sick and I wont eat it again until it feels safe.
For me, going out I have to have a pack that makes it easier for myself. I carry hand gel and also anti-sickness tablets and my beta-blockers. I wont leave the house unless I have them with me and knowing they are there help me massively.
My Emetophobia controls so many parts of my life. I can't drink alcohol when I'm out in case it makes me feel sick - if I do I can only have a small amount before the thoughts start. When I eat I can only eat so much or I have to leave bits here and there because if it makes me full I might be sick. Sometimes it looks like I'm being fussy with my food but in all honestly, I'm scared I'm going to feel sick. I plan my food like no tomorrow and if I eat out I know what I will be eating in advance, even if I fancy something else I stick with what I planned. I control what I eat in a day so things don't mix that might not be considered "safe" in my eyes. I can't order chips if the meal is big because they fill me up and I can't take the risk.
OCD and Emetophobia go hand in hand for me but you don't get one because of the other. Many people just have OCD and many people just have Emetophobia. For myself having both is just the icing on the cake.
- Avoiding Doctors, Hospitals, Pharmacy's
- Throwing food out in case it might be off
- Continued washing of hands
- Not eating out or only in a way that feels right to you
- Checking if people "look" ill
- Not watching TV shows that contain images of Sick
- Doing rituals to advoid being sick
- Cleaning food obsessively
- Overcooking Food
- Avoiding people who are ill
- Eating only one type of food to prevent illness
- Avoiding Travel
- Eating foods with the right texture
- Asking for reasurance that you wont get ill
Emetophobia can be treated with CBT and ERP. It takes time but it can be done. I have tackled mine with it and it's honestly so much better (considering this post it can be hard to see this). Talk to your GP if you are worried you may have this. Remember this is a phobia and there is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Talking to friends and family about what is going on can help you understand what is going on and gain the help you need.
If you know someone who has this phobia please be mindful of what you are saying. A phobia is an extreme fear and what they are doing/not doing to avoided sick is very real to them. Being mindful of everything is important because the pressure to be "normal" with this phobia is very strong. They might not eat or drink like you, so what? Don't point it out. Also the line "well, no one likes sick" doesn't really work against a phobia.