As I write this, I can still see in my mind the two events that many of my therapists believe was the catalyst to my emetophobia; or my fear of vomiting. I can see the six-foot frame of my dad, laying on the sofa in our old house with me sitting in an armchair across the room by the fire. Next to him was a square orange sink bowl that was used as the 'sick bowl.' I even remember that it had a round melted area on the side that was a result of someone getting it too close to something hot.
Later that day, my dad went into the hospital for what was to be the last time. It had come to be, from what my mum said, a regular occurrence over the past ten years or so, as he had suffered 12 previous heart attacks. On this occasion, however, when we went into see him, he suffered a final severe heart attack and died while we were at his bedside.
For most people, this would have been a logical and maybe inevitable ending for someone who had such bad heart disease. However, for my seven-year-old mind, it only saw that my dad was at home being sick, then went into the hospital and died. Those two events, became welded together so that every time I felt sick, my mind would panic and think I was going to die.
Having a phobia of vomiting isn't quite as simple as straightforward as it sounds. You also develop a fear of anything that can cause vomiting, such as germs, food because of food poisoning, and people because they carry germs. You would be amazed how intricate an anxious mind can be when trying to risk assess a situation. I even contemplated what would happen if I had been a woman, I eventually convinced myself that I would never have children because of the morning sickness.
I still worry about school bugs that are constantly circulating at my daughter's school. Even someone innocently mentioning that they feel sick, is enough to start a tsunami of anxiety washing over me that can last for hours. They have no idea how much it affects me, and why should they? If I do mention it, I get the usual 'well, no-one likes being sick.' I agree that no-one does, however, my extreme reaction to it has caused me to avoid many things in my life, such as alcohol, social events, and hospital visits. I have a close relationship with hand gel, and I try not to touch door handles.
After my dad had died, I started not to want to go to school and worrying about any illness I had. It went on and got worse until my mum and I were sent to the Maudsley Hospital in London. There I saw Professor Yule, who I know I saw a number of times, but the details of which, I can't remember. I have seen many therapists since then, and they have all agreed that I have what is now known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder and emetophobia. They also agree that having had these problems for 36 years, they won't go away.
Over the years, I have had good and bad spells, usually governed by my general health. On one of the rare occasions I have been sick, my anxiety got so bad, that I lost three stone in weight because I wouldn't eat and I lost a lot of time at work because I didn't want to go out. I had avoided taking medication until a few years ago because I worried about side effects, but in the end, it became so bad, I had no choice.
The past couple of years has been fairly stable on the medication, although I still carry a menthol inhaler and a fidget cube as my countermeasures to a panic attack. After all these years, I feel as though my anxiety and emetophobia has become part of me. Like Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk, though not as muscular.
I have survived, and I am still here, thanks to my family who have supported me even if they haven't always understood my odd behaviour. I have also met more people with emetophobia since I started writing than I ever thought I would. Many of them have the same issues I have and making me feel that at least I am not alone.