Kelly Hendrick and her daughters Amy and Lucy
Kelly Hendrick, 36, from Ashford in Kent has been scared of sick since she was a child. Now mum to Amy, seven, and Lucy, two, she tells Parentdish about the heartbreak of not being able to comfort her children when they are ill...
"I've been afraid of vomit for as long as I can remember. There isn't a moment I can pinpoint when it all started, when I started having panic attacks and going out of my mind with worry every time someone near me was sick.
"Even my mum has no idea where my fear came from. I can remember being about eight or nine and hearing my brother throw up on the carpet outside of my room. My mum started cleaning the carpet, and the horrible scraping sound of the cloth against the carpet freaked me out. That's one of my earliest memories of being upset and panicked by vomit. Growing up it wasn't really an issue, I just avoided friends and family that were ill, so I just got on with life. But you cannot avoid it with young children, and becoming a mum threw up all sorts of problems.
"Strangely enough, I'm not scared of being sick myself. I was lucky and didn't have any morning sickness with either pregnancy, but as soon as I gave birth to Amy, I knew my fear was going to affect my life as a mum.
She's now seven, and understands that I don't like it, but of course still needs me when she's ill. Lucy is only a toddler so has no idea. If they are sick, I cannot deal with it. I have to get my husband, James to clean it up while I go and sit in another room. It breaks my heart as I just want to give them a cuddle and make everything OK, but I just can't get past my fear.
"Hearing and seeing someone throw up gives me a panic attack. I get short of breath and start to shake. I have to leave the situation and do something, anything to take my mind off it. James works nights, and each night without him I go to bed paranoid the girls will wake in the night ill and I will have to help them, something every mum should be able to do.
"I once had to ring James to leave a shift early to come back as one of the girls had thrown up. I just couldn't deal with it. If one of the girls has been feeling poorly or says they have a tummy ache before bed I do not sleep. I can lie awake listening for a sound from them every minute of the night until James comes home.
I dread one of the girls padding into my room and coming to the side of my bed in the dark. I dread them needing me when I know I won't be able to help.
"My fear is definitely worse at night. I think the dark makes me more paranoid that something is going to happen.
Kelly with husband James and older daughter Amy
"That's the worst part. The guilt when I can't comfort and hug Amy and Lucy when they are ill can be overwhelming. I have to leave the room, and not see them again that night. I go downstairs and sleep - well, try and sleep - alone.
All I want to do is comfort them when they need me most and I just can't. Lucy hasn't been ill for some time, but Amy threw up quite recently and it was awful. Luckily James was there to take control, and if I need help, my mum lives just up the road. I have been known to ring her to come and sort the girls out.
"I haven't been diagnosed as having Emetophobia, which is the fear of being sick, but I know I have deep rooted fear of vomit, and would love to try hypnotherapy to see if I could pinpoint where it stems from.
"I'm determined not to let it affect the girls, and my worst fear is that they will develop the same phobia, and think being ill is not normal. Amy is now starting to realise her being sick upsets me, but I would hate for her to think she couldn't tell me when she's feeling ill. My girls are my world, and are my responsibility. I'm just doing the best I can for my family, and being the best mum I can be."
We asked Christopher Morgan-Locke, medical hypnotherapist with parenting help service Greatvine.com for some tips to help Kelly, and other parents and children in her situation.
"Fear of others being sick around you comes under the diagnosis of Emetophobia.
The good news is it can be treated quite easily.
"Those who have a fear of other people being sick, but not themselves, can be treated using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or by using Hypnotherapy, which is usually quicker.
"It is quite common for people not to be able to identify the origin of any phobia and there are techniques that can help. If after taking a comprehensive case history we could not identify the origin, we would do a Diagnostic Regression, which is very gentle and straight forward.
"Using a gentle form of hypnosis we would ask the unconscious mind to flag up when the origin of the phobia occurred. Having determined that, we would then use an age regression to go back to that year and then access the incident that started the problem.
"There are a range of wonderful and very effective techniques to help people with panic attacks and any form of phobia. Often the first thing we would consider is installing a "safe place" in your mind - a place where you immediately feel calm and safe.
"Then we would get to work on the origins of the panic, probably using one of several techniques - hypnotherapy, visualisations or Neuro-Linguistic Programming - all of which re-frame a feeling of panic to a feeling of calm.
If a panic attack occurs around young children, it is important the children understand that although mummy is distressed, she is OK and is not in any danger, as sometimes children think their parent could be very ill or may even die.
"Giving the episode a friendly name can help so you can quickly put a child fear to rest, for example, "Don't worry darling, mummy is just having one of her 'silly moments'. It will be over very soon."
"If you explain it to a child they will not worry as much as if you say nothing and run away leaving them with another carer.
"If your children are suffering from a phobia, there are a range of simple treatments similar to those for adults but adjusted to take into account their age. For example if the child is eight years old we would use visualisations that they would relate to, such as their favourite fictional characters or someone who is a role model.
"If your child is scared of something that brings on panic attacks there are a few things you can do to keep them calm. In the first instance, reassure the child so she knows these feelings (don't use words like attacks) will not harm her and will pass. Get the child to start breathing deeply and slowly as this will help them calm down. If they keep having the attacks it will be best to get professional help before the problem escalates.
Have you or your children suffered from a phobia? Did you find an effective treatment?
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