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My Story Of Living With Emetophobia


*Trigger Warning!*

In this post I will be talking about emetophobia. If you’re easily triggered by talk of vomit or other words I may use instead of vomit (because honestly, using that word is going to get boring and I’m going to bring in some synonyms to mix things up), skip this post and read one of my other happier ones.

What Is Emetophobia?

Some of you may know what emetophobia is. But some of you might not. Here’s a hint:

“Emesis” comes from the Greek word “emein,” which means “to vomit,” and “phobia,” obviously means an irrational fear.

Put "emesis" and "phobia" together, and what do you get? Emetophobia, the fear of vomiting.

I suffer from emetophobia. It started when I was around 11 (we’ll get around to the story soon, I promise), ruled my life for many years, but is now lying dormant, just waiting for a stomach bug. It’s an awful fear to have, because as gross as barfing is, it’s very hard to avoid it. Sometimes you get sick, sometimes someone else gets sick. Sometimes you even throw up because it’s your stomach’s own defense mechanism if you eat something bad for you or possibly poisonous (aka the dreaded food poisoning!). Basically, puking happens in life and you can’t avoid it forever. Unfortunately.

Emetophobia can be being scared of vomit or vomiting, and of being around others who vomit. The sight, sounds, or even the thought of vomit or vomiting can send a person with emetophobia into anxiety or a panic attack (or both!). I mean, no one likes throwing up (it’s super gross and awful, we can all agree on that!) but people with emetophobia will avoid all situations that can in any way possible lead to vomiting. Mention of the stomach flu? Avoid! Food that’s been in the fridge too long or near or past its expiration date? Throw that out! Going out drinking with the possibility of blowing chunks? Nuh-uh! Not gonna happen!

I didn’t always know that emetophobia had a name or it was an actual thing. I didn’t even know that other people had it! I honestly thought I was the only one in this very awful and exclusive club. I just knew that I had a strong and extreme fear of vomiting. It hurt my life for many years and led me to avoid so many situations and experiences just because I was scared of the possibility I might vomit. Because of this, I want to share my experience with all of you in the hopes that I can educate people about this phobia and hopefully help someone out there who reads this to know that they aren’t alone. (Because you aren't!)

It’s taken me a really long time until I discovered the Twitter community to realize that other people had this emetophobia thing too. I was inspired by Naomi over at Inching Forwards, to write about my own experience, since she wrote about hers, and I was so grateful that someone else understood. She also has some great tips and resources in her post (much better than mine), so please check out her post.

But my journey to emetophobe (aka a person who suffers from emetophobia) began with what I call "The Pizza Incident."

The Start of My Fear of Vomiting, or "The Pizza Incident" 

It all began, like I said, when I was 11. My mother is a great at making homemade pizza, and we’d have it often. So for lunch one day, my mom made an extra good pizza and my older sister and I chowed down. My sister has always been able to eat more than I have, so I felt a little like I was competing with her to eat as many slices as I could. I remember having several pieces and feeling rather full. But the pizza was yummy so I honestly didn’t mind.

A little while later, I started feeling a little sick. I wasn’t quite sure if it was my stomach or intestinal discomfort, but all I knew was that I felt very queasy. I decided the best thing to do was to plop myself down on the toilet (I know, TMI) with a book and just wait to see what would happen. Whatever end it came out of, I’d be set! (Listen, TMI again, but all bodily functions are gross and we all do them, so let’s just get over it, okay?) But the longer I sat there, the more queasy and sick I felt, and the more my heart started to race. I started sweating and thinking, “this hurts so much! What’s wrong? What’s going to happen? Why is this happening???” I felt so scared and confused. I didn’t realize it, but that was my very first panic attack. And the next thing I knew, I grabbed the trash can next to me and threw up into it. I remember my mom and sister coming in to check on me in the bathroom, with me sitting on the toilet, pantless, shaking and crying.

Even I could figure out what happened. Emetophobia usually comes after a traumatic incident involving vomit or vomiting. I knew that my first panic attack was connected to the idea of barfing, and they would forever be connected. Worst of all, I couldn’t eat pizza again for years. (If that doesn’t tell you how awful this fear is, then I don’t know what else will convince you!)

From there, the panic attacks would start and sneak up without warning. I remember waking up one day, early, and feeling panicky and nauseous. I wouldn’t eat anything, since I was afraid of throwing up again. I never wanted to feel that panic again. My mom would coax me with smoothies and gentle foods she promised wouldn’t upset my stomach. I eventually started eating again, but that fear remained and to be honest, I ate a lot less in case I overate and got sick. And continued to do so for many years to come.

The Peak of Fear

I had become obsessed with not vomiting. Or being around vomit. Or seeing vomit. Or hearing someone vomit. I even become obsessed with the idea of barfing and puke in general, despite the fact that it scared me so much I would obsessively check the labels on food to make sure they weren’t spoiled or else I would get food poisoning. I couldn’t watch any movie that had a puking scene in it. You know that one iconic scene in The Sandlot? I used to be able to watch it and laugh, but just the thought of it would make me go crying into my room. Even comedic scenes with throw up in them would send me in a blind panic, making me pull out my hair. I took to checking a website for parents that reviewed all the inappropriate things in movies to check for scenes of vomiting to make sure I could watch the movie in peace.

I ate less and less- just in case. When my acid reflux acted up, I carried about a plastic bag in my purse just in case I needed to puke when I was out. I flinched and freaked out when the words “vomit,” “barf,” or “puke,” (words I’m using now in this post) were even mentioned casually. I never tried alcohol as a teen because I was afraid just a single drop would make me hurl. I insisted on having food with any medication, just in case the medication shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach. My life was consumed with not barfing, seeing vomit, or anything that had to do it. It was physically exhausting and emotionally draining.

This lasted for many years and coincided with a dark depression that started when I was around 12. I went to therapy. A lot of therapy. A lot of medications. No one I saw had any great ideas to help me with my Extreme Fear: Vomiting Edition except for talking about it. Which in all honesty, didn’t do too much, since we weren’t making any progress. Looking back, I was just wasting my parents’ insurance co-pays on substandard therapy sessions. Also, in retrospect, those therapists sucked and had no idea how to help me.

Eventually it got a little better when I was around 18, but unfortunately, another traumatic experience involving the idea of vomiting sent me on another dark route that I won’t get into now (or maybe ever, on this blog. Sometimes some things are too personal to share). But after many years of suffering, crying, hair-pulling, panic attacks, and anxiety, finding the right medications, and therapy, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. An unexpected, horrible light that would kind of really help.

The Thing I’ve Been Fearing the Most Happens (And It Kind of Helped)

Like I said earlier in this post, puking is kind of hard to avoid in life. Unfortunately, even if you have an irrational fear of it, it’s going to happen to you. It’s not like a “normal” fear, like of being murdered, where the percentage is incredibly tiny. Vomiting is going to happen to you at some point. And it finally happened to me.

After years of avoiding the regurgitation monster, it happened. I remember one night I got really dehydrated, and ended up getting very sick, gastrointestinally speaking, in the bathroom (we already discussed bodily issues earlier, so don’t get grossed out. You know it’s happened to you, too!). My body was losing a lot of water and I was feeling shaky and sick from all the trips to the bathroom. It was early morning and I thought if I possibly had a cracker (pita chips, to be exact) and a drink, it might settle my stomach.

It had the opposite effect. Being dehydrated can cause nausea and guess what happened after I ate? I threw up! For the first time in so many years, my worst fear happened to me. But it was so quick I almost barely registered it. Afterwards, as my mom helped me clean up the couch (sorry, couch), she smiled at me, hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “you did it.”

And she was right. I did do it. Well, technically, my stomach did the work for me. If I could have avoided barfing, I would have. But that’s the thing. Sometimes the thought and anticipation of throwing up is worse than the actual act (not that the actual act is pleasant. It’s the total opposite). Because the anticipation is really the fear of the possibility of throwing up. It’s that fear of losing control that somehow forms and clamps onto something physical that is really the problem. And I finally faced that fear without intending to!

Where I Am Now With My Fear

I can’t say that I’m “cured.” I don’t think there really is such a thing as being cured from a lot of things, especially mental health issues. I know people use the word “recovery” a lot, but I actually like the term “remission” better. I feel like a lot of my mental issues will always stay with me, but they will ebb and flow (more on the ebbing side, I hope!), and I feel that way about my fear of throwing up.

But after my unexpected hurling session happened, I learned that I could survive my worst fear. It didn’t destroy me. There wasn’t total blackness after it happened like I always expected there would be. I was still here, I made it through. Was it a horrible, gross experience? Of course it was. Again, no one likes throwing up. It just proved to me that I could work through my fear and survive something that is gross and scary, but not let that fear take over my life again.

Am I still scared of vomiting? Heck yes! I still panic when I hear a family member barfing, but I’ve come a long way. I’m able to pull myself together. Even though I do try to avoid the situation, I force myself to put that fear aside and focus on the person and what they’re feeling, not the act of barfing itself. I’ve even cleaned up some puke. Talk about self-imposed exposure therapy!

So for now, I try not to think about myself barfing unless I actually think I might. My current (and wonderful) therapist told me about anxiety is that there is no point in worrying if nothing has actually happened yet. After years of living with this and suffering from it, I feel like I sort of have a handle on it. But I’ll update you the next time I throw up on how it went! (If you really want to know, you twisted freaks. I’m kidding. I love you all. Thank you for reading this!)

Where to Find Help for Emetophobia

If you suffer from emetophobia, I highly recommend you find a therapist to help you deal with it. A therapist who deals with phobias and anxiety is the best option (not like the ones I went to who just wanted to take my parents’ money!). It will be incredibly hard to do, I’m just warning you, because the last thing you want to do when you have a fear of something is to talk about it and learn NOT to avoid it. But it is really worth it, if this fear is keeping you from living your life, like it did for me.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are a few ways that therapists can help you face your fear of throwing up. I never did exposure therapy officially, but in a way I made myself face that fear by watching movies and videos with vomiting in them and dealing with barfing family members, as mentioned above. I’ve even heard some people say they’ve found websites or books to help them with their fear. All of these can help and have helped people (or so I’ve heard), but I would definitely try to find a therapist to help you instead of doing this all by yourself (I’m sure you can still use the books or websites along with therapy). I wish I had had that support back then, but hopefully you can have that support now.

You can get help with your fear. Don’t let it hold you back from all the good things life has to offer you! I missed out on so much because my anxiety and panic attacks influence me so much and I let my fear rule me. No one should live like that. I can’t promise that you’ll ever be “cured” (like I said, my status is currently “in remission”), but getting a hold on emetophobia and not fearing the vomit or the idea of puke can really change your life (and honestly let you watch more movies!). So with the help of a mental health professional and support from family and friends, you can learn not to let this fear rule your life. I promise you that it will be worth it!

Because guess what? Pizza and I are on good terms now. Take that, emetophobia!

This was a very emotional and hard post for me to write. I feel like most posts regarding my mental health are! Sometimes it can be painful to go back to such dark times. But I’m so glad I wrote it if it helps educate and help someone else who may have emetophobia. Thank you to everyone who reads this for listening and understanding. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve ever dealt with emetophobia or you’ve even heard of it before! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Stay Weird,
Emily

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13 comments on "My Story Of Living With Emetophobia"
  1. For the first time I heard for emetophobia and I can tell you that you are very brave and strong enough. Some days will be harder, some days will be better but I faced your biggest fear and it didn't destroy you, so that mean that you can survive everything.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading! I know it's not something a lot of people have heard of, so I just wanted to educate people about my experience. And thank you for the such encouraging words! They really mean so much to me! <3 Thank you for your amazing comment. I really appreciate it xoxo

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  2. Oh my goodness. This sounds extremely awful. I get sick A LOT so I'm extremely thankful it's not a phobia of mine. I'm sorry you have to go through this

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    1. Hi Tanya! Thank you so much for your comment! And for reading too. It is really awful! And a very annoying phobia too! It's okay, it's just one of those annoying things in life. I'm just glad it's not as bad as it used to be! Phew! If only it would be away completely, haha.

      Thank you again for reading and commenting. It really means a lot! xoxo

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing your story, I really relate! I've had emetophobia since I was around 6 years old and had a variety of different treatments. During early adulthood it got so bad that I was diagnosed with contamination related OCD in 2016, and by this point it wasn't just vomit that caused me distress, it was all illnesses. After an intense course of CBT I'm like you and like to say that I'm in remission. I feel as though emetophobia is still dormant in me, and even the mention of stomach bugs will set me on edge, but compared to how I was when I was younger, it's much better. I totally agree it's the thought of vomiting that's so much worse than the act, I've had hangovers before where I've been so scared that I'll puke, but actually when I have, the act itself has actually made me feel better. I think it's a phobia that's much more common than people realise, people are just so quick to fob it off with "no one likes throwing up!" Thank you for sharing and raising some awareness 😊

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    1. Hi Amy! Thank you so much! And thank you for sharing YOUR story! It's so nice to know that I'm not alone in this fear. But I'm sorry you've suffered with it for so long. I feel the same way too about my emetophobia. I still get a little sketched out at the mention of barf or movies where there's vomiting in it, but it's so much better than it used to be. That's how it was for me too when I finally threw up! I just wish I could have that mindset all the time, not the fear. Exactly, that's how people react when I tell them. Or they just think it's a very bizarre fear to have in general (like clowns aren't a bizarre fear to have??). Thank YOU for reading and commenting! It makes me feel so much better that someone else who understands and gets it read my post and could relate. It really validates the fact that it was a goo topic and post for me to write (I was worried about being judge when I wrote it!). So thank you so much! Your comment meant the world to me!! <3

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  4. I hadn't even considered that people with a fear of vomiting might obsess over making sure their was nothing wrong with their food, like it being out of date. I kind of saw it more like a fear of sharks, basically not an every day problem because you're not likely to see a shark, just like you're not likely to vomit.

    Learn something new every day

    Https://UnwantedLife.Me

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    1. Hi there! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! And if I didn't have emetophobia, I honestly would think like that too! But like most things, it's way more complicated than we realize. I'm just glad I'm not the only one out there who's suffering/suffered from it. It's nice to know we're not alone in something, right? :) Thanks again! And always happy to inform, haha.

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  5. My friend at work has this, it effects her everyday life because she is soooo careful with food etc. I'm glad you faced it, you got this girl :)

    Soph - www.thecoffeelawdiary.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Sophie! Does she really?? I'm sorry she suffers from it, but in an odd ways it's kind of nice to know I'm not alone with it! I hope she's doing okay. And I totally get that about food! I'm the way too :) And thank you!! You're so sweet and amazing! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! You're the best xoxo

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  6. Thank you SO much for writing this (and sorry I took so long to get around to reading it). You capture what this fear feels like so well that I honestly feel like I could have written this post. I really hope people going through the obsessive, all-consuming dark bit of emetophobia find this and take some comfort in it. It was super brave of you to write it xx

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    1. Hi Naomi! Oh, no worries at all! I'm just so flattered that you read it! :a And thank you so much for saying that! I honestly never thought I'd really write about my experience until I actually read YOUR post and was inspired to do so. So really, your bravery is what made me be brave enough to write this, so thank you! <3 And your comment really means the world to me! Thank you so much for taking your time to read this. <3 <3 <3

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Hi and thank you for reading! All comments will be moderated and spam comments deleted. Rude comments will be kept if I find them hilarious. And if you're a fellow blogger, please leave your site/link in your comment so I can leave you one back! <3

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