Today I find myself fighting a battle with Emetophobia, a condition I only recently got to know for what it really is, and yet one I’ve been fighting for most of my life. Now I am painfully aware that if I would have known a long time ago what I know now about this condition, I’m pretty sure my life today would be completely different and maybe even free from this heavy life companion. I guess most of us have things we wish we would have known when we were younger and yet we all know that’s how life goes: you live, you make mistakes and after repeating the same mistakes one too many times, you finally learn from them. Unfortunately, I had to learn, in the hardest of ways, with mistakes that came at a very high price. My lack of knowledge about this condition gave it the time and space to grown, to strengthen its grip on me, to gradually become stronger than me and eventually come to the point of ruling my whole life. It left me powerless and fearful of my own body and mind.
Today I want to use the things I learnt the hard way to try and help someone who’s only starting to feel the grip of this condition and hopefully help them to escape it before it takes control of their whole life. So here are the ten most important things about Emetophobia I wish I would have known a long time ago, which I believe would have made a big difference in my life and the way I lived it.
1.it’s an actual condition : My obsessive and irrational fear of vomiting is an actual condition called Emetophobia. Emetophobia is a condition that presents specific symptoms and therefore requires a very specific type of treatment. I wish I would have known this fact as thinking that any therapist was suitable to help with my problem only led to a long list of misdiagnoses and wrong treatments. As any other specific condition, Emetophobia requires the help of professionals with specialized training, who are familiar with the unique aspects of this condition and the appropriate ways of treating it.
2. I’m not alone: For most of my life I felt like the weirdest person on the planet as I had fears and emotions that nobody else seemed to experience nor understand. Over time this led me to become deeply depressed and isolated as I simply never felt that I fit in. All my life I longed to belong somewhere, to find people who felt the same things and thought in the same way because without knowing other people like me, I felt I was going crazy. By finding out Emetophobia is a real condition, I learnt that about 6% of the world’s population suffers from it, the majority of them being women. Therefore, there were people like me, I was not alone and even though till this day I still haven’t met one of those people in person, I know they exist. I’ve seen their photos, read their articles and found myself in so many of their struggles. I know there will come a day when I will meet one of them, and I already know it will be one of the most emotional days of my life as I’ll finally meet someone like me, but until then I will never feel alone in the world as I’ll know they are out there, fighting my same daily battles and surviving them day by day, just like me.
3. It's not my fault: When you suffer from a condition that people have never heard of, such as Emetophobia, most of the time you hear things like “Stop with that, nobody likes being sick!” or even “Just stop thinking about it”. People often tend to see your fears as your own choice which is completely irrational on their part, as I cannot imagine anybody choosing to feel so incredibly terrified and scared at all times. When you are forced to refuse invitations to social gatherings or trips, people see it as your unwillingness to spend time with them and again assign it to your own choice. And yet none of it is my choice and neither my fault. Emetophobia is a condition that is often triggered by a traumatic incident correlated with vomiting, often going back to childhood, or sometimes even as far as one can remember. It seems that there might even be a genetic influence in the development of Emetophobia. I personally have had several factors contributing to the development of this condition, with more than a few traumatic experiences correlated with vomiting. Therefore, I can finally shed from my shoulders a lifetime of guilt for being like this, for feeling what I feel, for fearing what most people don’t and as a consequence acting in ways most people cannot understand. Emetophobes do not choose to be permanently terrified to death, so do not treat it as if it's their own choice. There is no doubt in my my mind that if we could, we would all choose to be healthy and happy, but unfortunately, life deals the cards and since we are stuck with them, all we can do is try to play the best game we can with the cards we were dealt.
4. It’s NOT and eating disorder: Emetophobia can be severe enough to cause a person to starve themselves because of the intensity of their fear of vomiting. Needless to say, this can often lead to a visibly malnourished physical state. As most people and even most therapists are not aware of this condition the most common misjudgement and misdiagnosis is an eating disorder. Even though the reasons behind Emetophobia are completed different to those of an eating disorder, the misdiagnosis is all too common. Even though a person can repeat a billion times to their therapist that they do not want to lose weight, that they actually hate being thin and weak, very often the therapist’s inexperience and their unwillingness to open their mind and spend some time researching their patient’s real fears, leads to a very quick and easy conclusion that it must be an eating disorder, most commonly anorexia nervosa. Being misdiagnosed and misunderstood can not only lead to wrong treatments, to an incredible amount of frustration and anger, but it can also cause the person to waste precious time which could have been spent treating the condition they actually have and preventing it from developing further. Being misdiagnosed and misunderstood often leads to people isolating themselves from the society and developing other anxiety correlated conditions.
5.other conditions can stem from Emetophobia, especially if it's not being treated properly: Emetophobia can often lead to quite a large variety of anxiety correlated condition as it causes the person to live in a constant state of worry and stress. As the person is extremely scared of being sick they might start avoiding all sorts of situations and develop a series of avoidance behaviours in order to keep themselves “safe”. The conditions that most commonly stem from Emetophobia are OCD, agoraphobia, social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks and panic disorder. Even though these conditions can be treated individually, it’s important to keep in mind that the underlying root cause of the problem is still Emetophobia and that none of these stemming conditions can be solved if the main fear of vomiting is not being tackled and treated appropriately.
6. avoidance is Emetophobia’s best friend and my worst enemy:
People suffering from Emetophobia will very likely develop a series of avoidance behaviours which will inevitably increase with time. It might start by avoiding just a couple of foods that present the highest risk of getting sick, and then it will gradually expand to avoiding more and more foods, eventually coming down to the point of avoiding all foods except for just a few familiar dishes which will be eaten over and over again. It might go from avoiding just a few crowded and overly loud public places, to gradually avoiding social gatherings, family meals, and eventually, avoiding going out of the house at all. Traveling soon becomes a big problem as it presents a whole series of uncertainties such as the type of foods one will have available, the places they will stay in and the general lack of the desperately needed comfort zone which is often reduced to the four walls of one’s home. If a person is not aware they’re suffering from Emetophobia they might start avoiding foods, places and situations not knowing that by doing so they will only be reinforcing their fear beliefs, feeding their Emetophobia and trading their freedom for an apparent and temporary feeling of “safety”. By the time they notice how their comfort zone has been severely restricted and their freedom completely taken away, they would have already stopped living in order to avoid even the most remote possibility of vomiting and the consequences that might come with it. Avoiding difficult situations might seem like a safe choice, but not facing them increases our fears and anxieties and transforms those difficult situation into potentially unbearable ones. The faster we decide to face the music, the faster we'll start weakening the power our fears have over us.
7. I cannot always believe what my mind’s telling me: Learning that my mind cannot always be trusted was the first step towards my recovery. There was a time when I believed every single thing my mind would tell me; all the worst case scenarios it would present me with, all the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘you can’t do this’. I believed it because I never knew I shouldn’t and also, because it was so persuasive that I felt I didn’t have a choice but to believe it. I also didn’t have anybody or anything telling me the opposite. I had to learn in the worst possible way that my mind can be persuasive enough to create an actual physiological reaction within my body, sending adrenalin rushing through me, making me feel I’m in real danger, and forcing me to avoid any similar situations in the future. My mind managed to produce such reactions up to several times per day, reactions known as panic attacks, which would make me feel in danger in situations which were not actually dangerous at all. It made me live in a constant fight or flight mode without letting my body or mind relax at any time of day or night. I’d see dangers in all places except the only one that actually was a mine zone, my own mind. By learning that my mind not only can, but most of the time actually does tell me lies, I learnt that I have to start questioning it, doubting it and making sure that the lies are not a simple illusion of fear. By doing so I can now distinguish a feeling from a fact, which is a great tool in the fight against Emetophobia.
8. Emetophobia is a part of me but does not define me: Even though Emetophobia can be powerful enough to dominate one’s life, that still doesn’t mean that the condition is something that defines you. As I am not defined by the fact that I have green eyes, or the fact that I work with clay, or even the scar I have on my knee, I am neither defined by the fact that I suffer from Emetophobia. These are all parts of me, but none of them individually defines who I am. What defines me more is the way I fight this strenuous battle, the way I get up after each and every fall, and the way I refuse to give up on life even when life seems to have given up on me.
9. Anxiety causes nausea: I've spent most of my life trying to explain to people around me that my fear wasn't irrational because not only did I fear vomiting, but I spent most of the time feeling nauseous and therefore, extremely alert and distressed that the worst might be just around the corner. What I didn't know at the time is that anxiety and panic attacks cause nausea, so just by being anxious and panicky, I'd create the feeling of nausea which would trigger even more anxiety and more panic and end up in an never-ending vicious cycle. Learning that anxiety and panic attacks cause nausea helps remind me in those situations that the nausea is not a sign of an imminent and so feared episode of vomiting, but a mere consequence of my own worry. Nowadays when I feel nauseous I assign it to anxiety most of the time, which doesn't make my fear disappear, but it does help me not to go into a complete panic mode. I do this by reminding myself that nausea is a simple reaction to my own worry and anxiety and that if I can create it, then I can also work hard to make it go away using relaxations methods, turning to art, cuddling up with my pooch or simply putting on some music and singing my heart out. It’s crucially important to engage in any grounding activity that will bring me back to the present moment.
10. vomiting is not dangerous: As much as this might sound silly and nearly ridiculous to most people, to me it's one of those big lies my mind has been telling me for as long as I can remember. Most people experience vomiting as a natural body reaction to a bug or to any kind of substance that might be harmful to the body. Vomiting is in fact one of the body’s defence mechanisms and is therefore not dangerous, but actually strictly necessary for our own wellbeing at times. Emetophobes can have such a control over their body reaction to vomiting that they can stop themselves from doing so even though their body might desperately need it in order to make them feel better. Not knowingly, Emetophobes might be harming themselves far more by resisting to vomit when the body naturally needs it to remove whatever is harming the body. Even though my irrational perception of vomiting is that it might cause me to choke and die (due to a very traumatic event in my life when it almost happened), today I rationally know that vomiting is an instinct and shouldn't deserve as much attention as I'm giving it. I've seen babies vomit and then laugh seconds later showing no signs of any distress. When I get scared I keep telling myself, if babies can do it, so can I. It might sound silly, but believe me, sometimes these silly things can save me from a total meltdown and a full-blown panic attack.