Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Irrational Mind of an Emetophobic

It's not often here at The Busy Broad that I get serious....but I feel like it will be therapeutic for me to write about something that has held me back from alot in my life and just get it out there. Even if nobody else reads this...I think it will just feel good to piece things all together and have it in one little spot in the blogging world.  Perhaps somebody else will read this though....and maybe they will relate.  And if you do......PLEASE BE MY FRIEND!   ;)

I have emetophobia which is the fear of vomit. I've never been diagnosed by a doctor.....but it's a pretty safe self diagnosis.

It's one of those things that when you say it to people, they generally don't take it too seriously at first.  When you say "I hate throw up"  most peoples reaction is "Oh, me too!"  Because let's face it......unless you are part of the cast of Jackass or Tosh.0 most people don't see vomiting as a spectator sport or a favorite past time.  That's when I say to them "No I mean like I HAAAATE it"  Like hate hate.

Most people still don't get it until they are with me when a "scare" occurs and then when they see the shear terror in my face.....that's when they get it

Backing it up.....I've tried to pinpoint where it all started.  The first distinct memory I have of this terror was in Kindergarten.  My class was in PE and we were in a giant circle playing a game when all of the sudden a boy began throwing up right there in our circle.  I don't really remember my initial reaction....but I do remember lunch time that day.  My mom came to eat lunch with me since she was already there volunteering at the school.  I remember sitting at the picnic table and crying to her that I was too afraid to eat my lunch because a boy had thrown up in PE.  That's when she basically forced me to eat some pretzels telling me that if I did throw up I would want to throw up more than just "stomach juice" as she called it.  So there I was...cheeks full of pretzels, choking them down while tears rolled down my face

If that instance in Kindergarten is what planted the seed, it was my second grade experience that most definitely pushed me over the edge in to full blown phobia mode.  I started off this particular week so happy because I was given the job as Classroom Runner.  That meant I got to leave the classroom to deliver the attendance folder to the nurses office, pick up the lunch tickets, and sent to deliver notes to the other teachers.

Welp.....the excitement about this little job came to a screeching halt one afternoon.  A girl in my class quickly pushed back her chair during math and told the teacher she thought she was going to throw up.  The teacher sent her straight outside.  A few minutes passed before she came to me and told me that as the runner my job was to go outside and check on her and then lead her to the nurses office.  Completely terrified, I slowly made my way outside.  What I found will forever be scorched into my memory.

There she was, hands on her knees, hunched over COVERED in her own vomit.  I'm not sure what sort of god forsaken snack her mother packed in her lunch that day....but it was bright freakin blue....and made her vomit seem extra sticky.  I couldn't understand what she did to be sooooo covered in it.  It was EVERYWHERE.  All over her dress, in her hair, and on her hands.  If I hadn't come out to see her with her hands on her knees I would have thought that she had rolled in was that bad!

In complete panic mode I began to lead her towards the nurses office....of course with a safe distance between us.  At one point she reached out her vomit smeared hand and asked me to hold it.  Obviously now as an adult I realize she was a scared little kid in need of comfort and holding hands was what she wanted at the time....but all I could think of was how there was no way in FUCK that I would touch that nasty ass hand of hers.  Harsh?  Maybe.  But who really wants to touch somebody elses vomit hands? That was when I put my hand out in a stop sign fashion and yelled NO!!!!!! 

Soon after we arrived at the nurses office.  I walked in and in one lightning quick run on sentence I said "She threw up, I brought her, and I need to go!"  And I was outta there! 

From that moment on I have never been the same.  It is ALWAYS in the back of my head.  My family of course is aware of my phobia, but I don't think they, my own husband included, quite realize how much it consumes my everyday life.  Not because they don't pay attention, but because I try not to let on about it.

Any kind of splashing noise will make my entire body go stiff in fear.  I distinctly remember being lined up with my class in the 6th grade.  All of the sudden I heard a splashing noise and I took off running....yes....running.  My teacher had to call me back over and wondered what in the hell I was doing.  Turns out it was just a breeze that had picked up leaves and was scattering them across the concrete....that was the splashing sound I heard that I was so convinced was one of my classmates getting sick.

People bending over freaks me out....people stopping suddenly while walking.....or putting their hand to their mouth in any way.  In my wacked out brain they couldn't possibly just be bending over to pick something up, stopping to look at something, or burping. mind goes straight to "Oh shit they're going to throw up" 

I guess it worked out nicely for my parents though because this kept me far away from any sketchy house parties in high school.  I never even stepped foot into one....not even for 5 minutes.  The risk was far too great.  Especially considering young kids who don't know their limits and will drink themselves into an oblivion.  I heard the stories on Monday mornings and those were enough to make me sweaty and shake...and I wasn't even there!
It creates a sort of distrust with people.  For the 4 years I have been with my husband I have only seen him throw up once but that one time was enough.  It's not his fault of course....he's human.  But because of that one instance I now have recurring nightmares of him throwing up in our bed.  He never did throw up in our bed....but I was asleep when it happened and it woke me up so I think that my subconscious relates the two.  It's as if my mind is trying to remind me that he broke that "trust" by letting me see this that it could happen again at any moment.  Every time I have these dreams I wake up with guilt because I'm always so mad at him in my dreams.  I hate that.

Another time I woke up from a dead sleep and sat straight up, like I knew something was going to happen.  Suddenly I heard shower water on full blast...and I knew it.  He was about to get sick. I put my fingers in my ears (no joke) and tried to run to the furthest part of the house from the bathroom as possible, but I could still hear it.  I sat and rocked myself with my fingers still in my ears and I remember so "No..No!" over and over.  How pathetic is that?  It's such a childish reaction

After I thought it was clear I went and knocked on the bathroom door.  He said "Yeees" in a funny voice.  What a sweet man he is.   He was trying everything in his power to keep me protected from what was going on with him. First by turning on the water to try and muffle the sounds, and then by trying to act as if he was just in the bathroom and nothing was wrong.  Answering me in a funny voice to sound as normal as possible.  I so appreciate that now, but at the time all I could say was "I know what you're doing, I HEARD YOU!!!"  

I'm leery of pregnant women.  Does that make me a bitch?  Possibly so....but I can't help it.  My brain is incapable of looking at a pregnant woman without the words MORNING SICKNESS practically flashing in big red lights in my head.  You become a hazard for me to be around....your a baby growing puking machine in my irrational mind. 

I think I am normally very comforting and nurturing ....but once vomit is involved I am a totally different person.   I become a selfish bitch and can be downright mean. I really despise this aspect of my phobia.  I go into self defense mode and couldn't give two shits about the other person.  Just recently at work a friend of mine started choking on a caramel candy.  He stood over the trash can coughing, choking, and gagging.  I ran to the other side of the kitchen.  When I realized it was safe for me to come back I walked up to him and started saying "How could you do this to"

Isn't that just terrible?  The poor guy was choking and I was wondering how HE could do that to ME.  It doesn't get more selfish than that. But when the phobia sets in all logic completely goes out the window.  Once I calm back down the extreme guilt sets in....I feel like a piece of shit.

I cry sometimes over how guilty I feel over the fact that so many people have taken care of me when I have been sick or in need of help....but I can't possibly return the favor.  That makes me feel so horrible.

My mom had polyps removed from her nose a few years back.  When she got home from the hospital I was supposed to be the one to take care of her.  Apparently though, she had ingested alot of blood which was causing her to throw up.  There was my poor mother, nose stuffed with gauze, fresh out surgery, and drugged out of her mind....and yet she was still more worried about me.  She yelled "Whit GO!!!" in time for me to run away while she threw up buckets of blood.  I called my husband (then boyfriend) hysterical telling him how worthless I felt.  I was supposed to be caring for her and I was failing at it.  It was such a helpless and hopeless feeling

People ask me allllll the time.  "What are you going to do when you have kids?"  I try to make it light hearted and make a joke.  My reply is always, "Oh I don't know....lock them in the bathroom until their father gets home?"   I may joke, but in all honesty I am terrified.  There are many reason why we don't have kids yet....we want to buy a house first, we want to be more financially stable, and have you seen the price of daycare these days?  It's outrageous! Ain't nobody got the money for that.   ;)  But I would be lying if I didn't say my phobia was a big part of it as well.

I really don't know what I would do.  People always say it will be different when it's your own kids....but how can you be sure?  I don't want to find out the hard way that I react just as badly as I do now.  I also don't want to live every single day of motherhood in paralyzing fear of them getting sick...cuz let's face throw up.....ALOT! I don't want to be a basket case of a mother.

I feel like I have always been a very hands on auntie with my nieces as they grow up and took care of them as babies.  I love them like they are my own.  I adore my niece Elsa...but one incident with her really makes me nervous.  I was 16 and staying with my sister for the summer while her husband was deployed.  Elsa was just a little baby at the time...maybe a year and a half old. She was eating her dinner when she suddenly began choking on her food.  She stood up in her high chair as my sister held her hand and she began to projectile vomit getting the food out.  My sister kept repeating my name over and over " Whitney, Whitney, Whitney!"  like she was asking for my  help....and do you know what I did?

I ran out the back door, into the backyard, and hid in the bushes on the side of the house. How could I leave at a time like that? How could leave a little baby and her scared mother alone like that.  I want to believe that it's because I was young....or maybe because I ultimately knew my sister was there and it wasn't all depending on me....but how can I really know?  I don't know and that's what scares me. Like I said before, all logic is gone at that point and I never know how I will react to the situation.

I'm hoping I can figure this out within the next couple of years so I can consider having children someday.  This is no way to live and I need to be rid of this stupid phobia.  I know there is desensitization therapy out there....but what person in their right mind really wants to voluntarily show up to put themselves in that situation.  I don't.  

I've heard that hypnotism has worked for some people and I would most definitely be willing to go that route first before the therapies.  

If anyone out there with emetophobia has ever sought treatment I would LOVE to hear about your experience!

Well...that's my crazy mind for you. Even if you don't suffer from this disorder, I hope it will help some people see what does go on in our brain.  And if some people do seem standoffish in some situations, don't rule out that they may have a paralyzing phobia and that they aren't just a heartless asshole.  You never know what a person is going through.

**Note:  I had been writing this post off and on for a week.  I was starting to feel a bit more confident about my maybe it was getting a little better.  That was until just yesterday at work I had another "episode"  I was in the work restroom (single stall room) when I heard someone try to open the door, followed by some coughing and the splash sound I am so terrified of.  Then I heard them go into the other single restroom right next door.  I went into complete panic mode. Even though she was technically in another room, the walls are so thin I could hear every single wretch she made.  I wanted out of the room so badly so I wouldn't have to listen to it anymore, but getting out meant I would have to step over a pile of vomit on my way out.  I probably only debated what to do for 30-40 seconds but man did it feel like FOREVER!  I finally got the nerve to run out and hop over it.  I ran into my coworkers and ran straight for my "Work Mama" 

 I was shaking like you wouldn't believe.  I was in full on freak out mode.  I couldn't stop it.  It took everything in me not to burst into tears...and that attempt to not cry turned into an odd nervous laugh a couple of times.  

I finally calmed down...but since my reaction was pretty close to a full blown panic attack it left me utterly exhausted the rest of the day.  I felt as if I had run a marathon....but I guess an adrenaline rush like that will do that to you.  

It was so disheartening because I really thought I was improving, but at least now I know that I have a ways to go before I am better.


  1. Hey Whit, I just wanted to say that I've experienced pretty much every single thing you mentioned in some way or another. I've suffered from emetophobia as long as I can remember. I should write a similar account of my history, but I'm afraid it would be pages and pages long.
    On the plus side, I can honestly say that at the age of 34, I am better now with my phobia than I've ever been before. I can handle things now that would have terrified me five or ten years ago. I can also say in all honesty that having a child changed some things for me. I wasn't better with sickness, but I was better with HER sickness. I was able to handle it when she didn't feel well, and her dad was willing to step in and take all the responsibility when things got hard. It sounds like you're already on the road to making some progress, the key is to start challenging yourself.

    1. Like I said in the post, countless people have told me "It's different with your own child" but it is very reassuring to hear from someone who also suffers from this fear say that they are able handle it with their children. Thank you so much for giving me a little hope. :)

  2. {{Hugs}} A friend of mine (who also suffers from emetophobia) posted this on Facebook, and I can totally relate. My BIGGEST fear, I've found, is that I'm afraid *I* am going to get sick, so contagious stuff freaks me out way more than, say, morning sickness (although any vomit at all still freaks me out... like amusement park rides, I'm always terrified someone is going to throw up on/near me).

    I have three kids and... well, I've found that you do what you gotta do. I'm able to suck it up when it happens because there isn't really another option. But once when my daughter threw up at my parents' house, I ran from the room and freaked out. My dad was right next to her when it happened so I knew she was taken care of... he was appalled at my behavior, but my mom was really understanding. Also, there is a wonderful anti-emetic medication called Zofran (generic "ondansetron" I think), so if one of my children vomits or tells me they feel like they're going to (it's really helpful when they old enough to KNOW before they're going to get sick!), I give them Zofran and it USUALLY prevents further episodes (I also am very strict about diet when they're sick).

    I still have a very hard time with it. Like... I'll take care of them and clean up and everything, but then I retreat to my room battling horrible anxiety over it all. I keep meaning to talk to a counselor about it... but yeah, that's where I'm at right now. I think I've gotten a little better about it since being forced to deal with it with my own kids. I know the first few times my kids were sick, I just felt like OMG what was I thinking having kids? I never should have had kids! I posted to an online forum I'm on with other moms, though, and found that I am FAR from alone in being a mom who is an emetophobe. Some of them rely entirely on their husbands to handle vomit, but my husband is military so sometimes I'm on my own. But it's more common than you probably think. Knowing that other people feel the same way has definitely at least helped me feel like I'm not losing my mind. I sure would love to not have this phobia anymore though... I have anxiety about it daily.

    1. I'm always happy to hear from mothers who say they have manage it. It gives me hope!! The part where you said that your father was appalled at your reaction....that's exactly the type of thing I'm afraid of. People thinking less of me for not being able to help my child.

      " I know the first few times my kids were sick, I just felt like OMG what was I thinking having kids? I never should have had kids! I posted to an online forum I'm on with other moms, though, and found that I am FAR from alone in being a mom who is an emetophobe."

      Those are the thoughts I already can I possibly be a mother like this? But all you women who do it are my inspiration.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It really helps me so much =)


  3. Hello!

    I can totally identify. I am in my thirties and married for a few yrs with no kids. I keep my phobia a secret and only told my Husband. I dare not tell my family, even my closest friends as I am so ashamed of myself.

    And to make things worst, I have some form of stomach issues that makes me nauseous and have build up of gas. Which makes me feel shitty very often.

    I live in Asia, where this phobia is extremely uncommon and people won't understand. There isn't even therapy for it. It is so uncommon here that people haven't even heard or know about it

    Which makes it even more terrible for me. It was so bad that I contemplated sucide. I am a total scardey cat and I really don't know how to survive day by day. Let me know if things are better for u already