Here at our house we are recovering from a particularly bad stomach virus. It's been circling around hitting every family member, and even coming back to visit me twice.I know that's not typically how viruses operate, but somehow this one seemed to, which was particularly horrifying for me. You see I have this fear of vomiting called.emetophobia.
So, what is emetophobia, and what is it like to live with it?
I can only speak for myself, and from what I have read, and learned from others that I know who also have it. Truth is, I have done only a small amount of research about it. I would never join a group online, or anything to that effect, because just reading about it all the time would raise my anxiety. I don't even like to think about throwing up. Just being reminded of it is a trigger for me to start to become anxious, and worried.
There is a lot of names for the act of vomiting. All of them raise my anxiety, except for the term 'throw up'.I can handle calling it vomit, but I don't like it. I know that doesn't make much sense, but I form strong associations with words, so it does to me. I will be referring to the physical act of getting sick as throwing up through this entry. I apologize if you have emetophobia, and that term upsets you.
From what I gather there are a lot of different types of emetophobias. A person might have an intense fear of throwing up, or someone seeing them throw up. They might also, or only fear seeing others throw up. Like any other panic type disorder there are also different levels of severity. I consider mine at this time to be mild to moderate. This phobia can be so severe that a person won't leave their house for fear of contracting a virus that might make them sick, or due to feeling like being away from home might make them too vulnerable to getting sick in public.
Though there are different levels of severity with emetophobia one thing that I know is that it doesn't include just disliking getting sick. No one likes to throw up. Some mind it more than others, but most everyone avoids it if at all possible. Emetophobia is about much more than that. It is an intense fear that that manifests itself in a person's life in such a way that it limits them from their daily activities. It must limit your ability to function in some way whether that be attending social events, employment, or completing everyday tasks.
How might that look to someone who has emetophobia?
It can be really varied from person to person depending on what type they have, and how severe it is. Some symptoms of emetophobia, and places, and activities someone who has it might avoid are:
* Avoidance of anyone who is sick or the emetophobe even thinks might be sick. I instantly panic when I think someone is sick, or they say something about one of their family members being sick. I will go way out of my way to avoid any contact with someone who has been sick, or has had recent contact with someone that has been/is sick. This means canceling appointments, and whatnot. Anything I have to do to avoid being near perceived germs.
* Panic when someone near says they aren't feeling well. I will bother them with tons of questions trying to ascertain whether or not they're sick with something contagious, or if it's just a stomachache. As soon as I hear stomach complaints from someone near me I will begin to feel anxious, and begin checking my body for signs of sickness.
* Restricted diet. Some people will restrict their food intake so much they may meet the criteria for anorexia, but that is in only the most severe of cases. I will begin to not eat/eat very little in the event I know for certain someone around me is sick with a stomach virus, or suspect I am coming down with one. The less I eat the less I can throw up, is my misguided idea on the subject.
*Restricted activities: Some people are so severely affected by their anxiety that they won't leave their house. Some will, but become a agoraphobic in the way they don't like to leave their home, and do so only when they have to, or under certain strict circumstances. Others will just avoid certain situations, and locations. When I was younger I almost never would eat at buffets, or at any restaurant that I thought might not have quality food management due to fears of germs, and food poisoning. I still get pretty anxious at buffets, but can enjoy a meal at one. I however, will not go to a restaurant that is not usually busy, or at off times. I am afraid to get old food, and cannot get past that rule I have made for myself.
I also get seriously anxious at places like children's museums, and fast food play places. I cannot even go into a play place, and almost never allowed my kids to, either. It's just too risky, and gross. Some of this is not just related to my emetophobia, but also to my general fear of germs. I don't touch rails on escalaors, or stair wells. I do all I can to not touch door handles, and any other public surface others have touched. It literally is almost always on my mind, and I carry my these fears with me wherever I go.
* Ability to almost never throw up. This one seems odd, but to some degree it really is mind over matter. There have been times where I have not been able to control it, but most of the time I am able to keep it in, and not throw up even during times where it would seem impossible to do so. Morning sickness during pregnancy included. I have spent my life perfecting techniques to help me control it. If I am still enough, and control my swallowing, and breathing I can almost always accomplish not throwing up.
Those are just a few of the examples of how emetophobia manifests itself in my life, and restricts my daily living. There are a lot more than that for some people.
I am sure there are some people who can get over this phobia, but I have not been able to fully recover from it. I can, and have been able to manage it quite well, though. It causes minimal anxiety for me to my daily living compared to what it used to. Part of that is having to take care of my kids when they are sick. Especially my severely autistic son Beans. He is unable to understand what to do when he gets sick, and always makes a mess everywhere. he is completely vulnerable, and depends on me to care for him. I have (like so many of my other fears) had to put my own fears aside to care for my kids the way they need me to. This has been a gradual (we don't get stomach viruses very often) exposure process. I am able to get past my fears for their sake. Though, being exposed to situations where others throw up is not the same as getting sick myself. Emotophobes are almost never helped in any way when they have to be exposed to throwing up themselves. It only makes us more fearful, and traumatized. We can learn how to manage the anxiety that comes with the event of throwing up.
In closing, I have noticed that the majority of people I know who are on the autism spectrum have emetophobia, especially women. I am not sure what causes it in the first place, much less why autistic women might be more affected by this phobia than non-autistic. I have seen a lot of theories that it is linked to fear of losing control. That may well be it. I know I hate feeling out of control of things, especially my body.
Do you have emetophobia? Leave a comment! I'd like to hear about your expereinces!