It might sound overdramatic or simply unrealistic to say that anything can consume your mind all day, every day but when it comes to emetophobia, that’s exactly what it does to me.
If you’re unfamiliar with what emetophobia is, it’s described by Anxiety UK as a “fear of vomiting or seeing others being sick”, which although perfectly summarises what emetophobia is, doesn’t even begin to touch on the severity of this phobia.
Emetophobia is more than a fear of sick. It’s not a phobia you can put to the back of your mind while you get on with your day-to-day life. In my experience, emetophobia is all-consuming. It dictates my life and takes over my mind every second of every day.
I can honestly say, as unbelievable as it may sound, that there is not a moment that goes by in my life where I don’t think about sick in some sense, which, in itself, is pretty horrible.
Feeling or being sick is not a pleasant experience and certainly not something you want to spend long periods of time thinking about in great detail, so just imagine for a moment never being able to escape that thought, because that’s what myself and others with emetophobia are battling.
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There truly isn’t any activity in my life that doesn’t bring with it challenges in relation to my fear of sick. I’m not just talking the obvious situations such as eating out or drinking alcohol, understandable scenarios that may make you feel on edge if you’re scared of being sick but basic, everyday activities that you couldn’t possibly think would cause anyone any kind of anxiety, especially not to do with being sick.
From the moment I open my eyes in the morning to the second I close them again at night, feeling and being sick is at the forefront of my mind at all times.
My emetophobia dictates everything I do throughout my day. From the foods I choose to eat to the amount of time I leave between meals, the glasses I’ll drink from to the cutlery I’ll use, every decision I make is down to an underlying voice in my head telling me that the decisions I’m making will dictate whether I am sick or not.
Emetophobia has manifested in my brain over many years and is now the reason behind a number of obsessive behaviours and severe anxieties I suffer with. From compulsively washing my hands after coming into contact with certain substances to making me feel not physically able to drink from a glass or mug in a coffee shop or restaurant, it’s my fear of being sick that determines how I do basic, everyday tasks.
Emetophobia leaves me feeling as though I have no choice but to protect myself from things that could cause me being sick at all costs, even when the rational part of my mind is telling me I’ll be fine whether I take action to protect myself or not – emetophobia is always a louder voice in my head than any other.
My overwhelming phobia of being sick stopped me drinking alcohol for many years and still weighs heavily on my mind now when I do drink, forcing me to stop consuming alcohol before I maybe want to because I don’t want to be sick. This cruel fear of vomit stops me being able to care for friends or family when they’re ill because I am simply too scared I may get poorly if I come into contact with them.
This intense phobia is the reason I always have to drink from a straw when out in public, always carry off the shelf anti-sickness medication in my bag and always have a hair bobble on my wrist. Emetophobia is simply overwhelming and completely overpowering, taking over all common sense you may have and making you wholeheartedly believe that you could be sick at any moment and for me, my emetophobia makes me believe that if I am sick, it is my own fault, my own wrong doing.
Even if I’m not performing any of the obsessive behaviours caused by this fear, I’ll still be thinking about it. Whether I’m watching TV, working at my desk or socialising with friends, I might have 90% of my attention on the task in hand but a portion of my mind is somewhere else, it’s being taken over by the thought process that I might be sick at any time.
It’s debilitating, and it’s not an over-exaggeration to say that some days, when it all gets too much, I feel like it’s ruining my life.
There’s therapy available to help battle the complex and cruel thought process of emetophobia but for those of us who aren’t at the stage of feeling mentally strong enough to face the rigorous work involved with fighting this overwhelming phobia, it’s a daily struggle to carry on while living with constant, technically irrational fear.
If you’re a fellow sufferer, my best advice for you is to always take a moment to breathe when the phobia feels as though its taking hold. Always keep a bottle of water with you to sip on and never be afraid to do what feels right for you to help ease the anxiety.
Don’t try and cure your own emetophobia overnight by refusing to give into the thoughts and do the things you know will ease the fear, whether that be washing your hands, having an antacid tablet or grabbing some fresh air. Everyone suffering with this phobia has their own ways of coping and although you don’t want to and don’t have to live like that forever, be kind to yourself and for the short term. Do what you have to do to get by and know that there are ways of permanently helping yourself. The time will come for you to take long term action and get this life-limiting phobia under control.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.
How It Feels is a weekly blogs series which aims to shine a light on people’s stories, covering subjects where voices are rarely heard. If you want to get involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org