Hey guys! For someone who says she’s a blogger, I’ve been rather bad at consistency with actually writing anything. Now if you know me, I’m never one to shy away from transparency, in fact I’m a chronic over sharer when it comes to mental health. But, I haven’t really shared much about this specific mental health aspect yet, so here we go. Today I wanted to explain in detail what it’s like living with a phobia. How all consuming it can be and how it can be co-morbid with other mental disorders like Obsessive Compulsive and anxiety/Panic.
According to statistics, the phobia I suffer from, emetophobia is only prevalent in about 0.2% of the population so, you’ve probably never even heard of it. It’s also 4x more likely to occur for women. (Gosh, we really do get the short end of the stick sometimes, ladies!) People with emetophobia, like myself have a fear of vomiting. And yes, no one likes vomiting, I get that. But what characterizes this as a more serious phobia is the level of avoidance and anxiety that goes along with the thought, sight, or even the word vomit. Here’s a nifty little infographic if you want to learn more. I should also say that I spent about 3-4 months in an OCD clinic trying to get past this fear because it had become so limiting. And I desired a life that was boundless and full of possibilities.
My Experience with Emetophobia
Prior to volunteering for the clinic, I made rules and started specific compulsions to help combat the anxiety and panic I felt daily from the phobia. The funny thing about anxiety and panic is, it can cause nausea. And nausea can cause vomiting. So here I was reinforcing my phobia every day and feeling miserable. The older I got, the more rules I made.
Compulsive hand washing became mandatory in public places, hand sanitizer in every handbag I owned, never touching door handles, and having to rewash if I accidentally touched something I deemed, “iffy”. There was some days I would have to re-wash 3 times before I could leave the bathroom because I accidentally brushed up against a door handle. This compulsion was exhausting, not to mention so bad for my skin. Sometimes my skin would become cracked and red and painful from all of the handwashing and hand sanitizer. And that was just the handwashing compulsion. I also had tons of other food compulsions!
Now looking back, some seem pretty ridiculous. For instance, I used to use the flashlight on my phone to make sure my chicken at restaurants was cooked all the way through. And when that became too embarrassing, I just stopped eating chicken altogether. I paid extreme attention to food recalls and basically had the USDA list bookmarked. I was living a life marked by extreme fear and endless panic that if I didn’t do everything just right, I would get sick. And if I did make a mistake, I would think about it all day. I would wonder if that was cooked enough? I would wonder if that was good? And then by the end of the day, I would be so sick to my stomach that I basically ended up with a self-fulfilling prophecy. This went on and on and on until finally, I recognized that enough was enough.
Therapy for Emetophobia
Starting therapy was hard! Unlearning these bad habits takes twice as long to learn them. And because of their reinforcing nature, when you give up the compulsion, the anxiety sets in big time! Therapy basically consisted of me doing things to challenge my emetophobia starting with less challenging and working my way up to more challenging. I started with something like, touching door handles and not washing my hands before putting food in my mouth. There had to be some level of uncertainty that I might get sick. And eventually working my way up to eating chicken without a flashlight. I finally started to take my life back.
But this is something I will be working at forever. Some days are better than others. Some days I regress and wash my hands 3 times in a row or I sneak a peek at my chicken when my husband’s not looking. But I try to do better day to day and not let the anxiety of getting sick consume me. Do I think that my fear of vomiting will ever go away completely? No. The thought of being pregnant and getting morning sickness still gives me anxiety. But I am learning to downgrade the phobia to just a fear.
So why did I write this?! Mostly to shed light on what it’s like to live closed-in by a phobia or by anxiety. To allow yourself to draw a box around what is safe and what is scary and never go outside the “safe zone”. I guess I’m also sharing because I want you to know that if you have suffered from a phobia like me, whether it be something common like enclosed spaces or spiders, or something more rare like vomiting I totally get what you’re going through and together, we’ve got this! Do you have a phobia? Let me know in the comments