Emetophobia in times of Covid-19

In this moment we are all experiencing unprecedented times filled with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. In just a few months the world as we know it suddenly vanished leaving space to previously unknown concepts such as quarantine, isolation, remote working and social distancing.

We might find ourselves obsessively washing our hands, opening doors with our elbows, standing at a “safe” distance from other people, eating only home cooked food, and most of all barely getting out of our homes.

Most of the world’s population is living with a constant anxiety of catching this invisible killer virus and the growing fear of the unknown. Most of us are not used to experiencing life through a peephole and yet some of us might find all this too familiar.

I, as a recovered ‘Emetophobe’ (this is what I call myself, or suffered of Emetophobia), am painfully familiar with the isolation, the obsession with food and hygiene and the inevitable social anxiety that goes hand in hand with this mental condition most people still know too little about. My struggle with Emetophobia lasted for 30 years before I finally got the help I needed to start working on my recovery.

This irrational and yet fully tangible phobia of vomiting had kept me a prisoner of my own mind. My fear was so intense that I gradually came down to a shadow of a person; eating only a handful of foods and therefore being severely underweight, fearing any social contact, having tremendous panic attacks at the very attempt of leaving my house, and silently planning what would have been the end of my suffering, but also the end of my life.

Luckily, my husband persuaded me to give life one more chance. So I did. I reached out for help and decided to give it my all, considering it was the last chance I had in me to give.

I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it was all so worth it as it gave me something I had barely ever experienced, life. I gained not just any life, but a life where I was free to eat a whole variety of foods, to go for long walks in the forest or road trips with my family, and most of all the freedom to finally breath without the fear of the “what if”.

Just as I was finally starting to experience this beautiful world of ours in a blink of an eye everything changed. As soon as the Covid-19 crisis started hitting the world I quickly noticed the uncomfortable amount of similarities between life in lockdown and life with Emetophobia. The two seemed to have so much in common that they could easily blend together into one big threat.

The recovery part of my journey with Emetophobia was still quite recent so I quickly recognised these new circumstances as potentially detrimental to my recovery. So I did what I do best, I wrote a list. I listed all the things that lockdown life has in common with life with Emetophobia and I was in genuine shock when I saw this lengthy list of identical effects causes by two completely different circumstances, a health crisis caused by a pandemic and a mental condition often triggered in one’s childhood by a traumatic event.

Once I saw them on paper, side-by-side, it was suddenly obvious what makes these different circumstances have the same effect. They both have the same underlying fear that fuels them, the fear of a virus. In the same way that everybody is currently afraid of getting the Covid-19 virus, Emetophobes are deadly afraid of what is most commonly knows as a stomach bug, which is coincidently also a virus. And, as much as most people couldn’t imagine the two having the same dreadful effect, only Emetophobes know how terrifying and paralysing it is to live life while fearing things most people used to take for granted, such as food and social environments. And the interesting fact is that those same things are suddenly not taken for granted anymore, by anybody.

I am aware that this health crisis we are all experiencing is particularly difficult for people suffering from Emetophobia as the effects the Covid-19 is having on our lives is very similar to the ones caused by Emetophobia, and therefore can be triggering. I am very aware that my anxiety has been raised in the recent times, mostly because I am not able to challenge my fears on a daily basis by confronting them and therefore breaking the spell of fear.

So I decided I had to find ways to help myself within the limits of the lockdown in order to prevent myself from slipping into old habits of fear and avoidance.

Being aware of the similarities between the lockdown life and life with Emetophobia was the first step of finding ways to act upon them. The things I have found astonishingly similar in both cases were the following:

  • the obsession around hand and food hygiene, the compulsive need to monitor the body for any signs of illness

  • the fear of going out and being around other people and the consequent isolation within the four walls of our home

  • the strong belief that contact with other people is dangerous

  • the crippling anxiety of not knowing at all times whether we have been infected

  • the paralysing uncertainty of what’s to come.

Most of us can identify with some or all of the above to a certain extent. In a weird way I have felt that the world is finding out in the worst possible way what it means to live with Emetophobia. Being aware of how the circumstances of this pandemic are triggering our Emetophobia by mimicking the same anxieties and fears is the most important thing as it gives us the opportunity to distinguish when we are triggered by our fear of vomiting or when we are simply anxious about following the strict sanitary rules that have been imposed upon us.

Once we can distinguish the two we can then start challenging our Emetophobia fears in every possible way, in order to prevent them from increasing further and taking control over us. Challenging my Emetophobia looked different a couple of months ago, going out every day, putting myself in social situations and crowded places, eating different foods in different restaurants, going for vacations far away from home and constantly finding new challenges to face head on.

All this has suddenly become impossible so I had to adapt and find ways to challenge my Emetophobia within the safe rules of the lockdown. A few examples of ways I have continued to challenge my fear include:

  • I have made it a point to order take away food a couple of times per week, in order to keep exposing myself to different foods cooked by someone else and not having the constant control over every ingredient I eat.

  • I started going out with my dogs every day, choosing forest paths where it’s more likely to run into a deer or a rabbit than another human being.

  • I kept going to the supermarket at least once per week exposing myself to some kind of social environment while still obeying all the safety rules of social distancing.

  • I have also pushed myself to become more experimental with foods at home, exploring new recipes and trying new ingredients.

All these things may appear quite simple, but what matters the most is doing them consistently. I am aware some of these things may be impossible to some Emetophobes but we all have to get creative and find alternative ways of challenging our fears and by doing so keeping our Emetophobia at a safe social distance.

This pandemic shall pass too, and my hope is that the aftermath of it will bring a higher level of awareness, compassion and kindness towards anybody who is suffering from an illness, whether physical or mental, as the effect of the two can be incredibly similar, if not the same.

This pandemic shall pass too, and my hope is that the aftermath of it will bring a higher level of awareness, compassion and kindness towards anybody who is suffering from an illness, whether physical or mental, as the effect of the two can be incredibly similar, if not the same.

#emetophobia #Fearofvomiting #covid19 #coronavirus #SPOV #phobia #Phobiaofvomiting #Mentalheath #covid19 #mentalhealthawareness #emetophobiaawareness

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© 2017 Emetophobia no more

All the material on this website is provided for your information only and should not be used as medical advice or instruction. The purpose of this website is to promote knowledge, understanding and awareness about Emetophobia. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you think you might be suffering from this condition it is highly advised to seek professional medical assistance.