I’ve always had very adverse reactions to the idea of vomit throughout my entire life, but I did not learn that my fear was actually a phobia until I was halfway through college. Not only did I not know there was a word for my greatest fear, but I also wasn’t aware that it was a mental illness. After a lot of reading, researching, and reflecting, I came to the conclusion that my thoughts and behaviors were not healthy, and that I needed help. So, I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few years now, and I’ve made a lot of progress! Here is what I have learned about my illness along the way:
- Because of the extreme fear of seeing or hearing someone throw up, this causes extreme anxiety around situations where vomiting or nausea may occur. The result is often being afraid of public restrooms, bars, amusement parks, concerts, school, or modes of transportation. As a child, this looked like calling my mom and asking her to pick me up from school because we had a dissection in science class. In college, this phobia led me to avoid parties and bars. This phobia can come along with fear of being around those who may have drank too much, fear of others coughing or burping, fear of pregnancy, or fear of planes or car rides with others. Those with more extreme cases of the phobia can even have a panic reaction to hearing or reading words associated with throwing up.
- In order to be diagnosed with a phobia, the person’s fear must interfere with their daily functioning. That is the main difference between the two - a phobia is more intense than a fear, and has debilitating effects. Emetophobia can inundate your thoughts, and create fear in almost any situation. Unfortunately, fear of all of the situations listed above can get in the way of attending school, having healthy social interactions, or holding a job. Some phobics even limit their diet due to the fear of nausea, which can lead to disordered eating.
- Treatment for phobias often involves exposure to the feared situation or object, or reprocessing traumatic memories. This makes treatment very difficult, because the person has to face their fears head on. Exposure therapy can include looking at pictures or videos of someone getting sick, going to feared places, and eating feared foods. For my own treatment, my therapist and I started by looking at pictures of fake vomit, then pictures of real vomit, moved on to animated videos of cartoon characters getting ill, and finally watched real videos of actual people throwing up. For some reason, the internet is full of these pictures and videos to practice on!
I’ve learned a lot about myself through this process of healing from emetophobia and attending therapy, too. I’ve learned that because I cannot control whether I (or anyone else) throw up, I have to be okay with things I cannot control. The only thing I can control in those situations is my reaction. And I am capable of controlling my reaction; I can be calm. Through therapy, I’ve also realized that I am strong because of my phobia - if I can push through this extreme anxiety and fear, I can get through anything.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about something that has affected me and so many others for years. I appreciate you.