Last week, I found myself confronting my biggest fear: vomiting. For years, I have done everything in my power to avoid throwing up, but sometimes washing my hands and chewing Tums doesn’t work. My job at a daycare leaves me very susceptible to stomach bugs, and last week I was struck down by one.
Many people don’t realize that Emetophobia is a thing. I didn’t even know there was a name for my years-long fear until I looked it up to write this article. In fact, I never knew other people shared my fear until my mom read aloud a sentence from an article she was reading. As she put it, the subject of the article was even more neurotic than me. She read me his long list of fears, and right after she read “fear of throwing up,” I stopped her and told her I had that. It was the first time I ever admitted to having this fear.
In the back of my head, I always knew I had a huge fear of throwing up, but I didn’t admit it until I realized that there were other people like me. I thought I was absolutely insane to fear vomiting as much as I did, but I’m not! While most people are disgusted by, or greatly dislike, throwing up, some of us harbor an actual fear of it that some psychologists classify as an anxiety disorder. Women tend to have Emetophobia more often than men, but it can affect anyone.
Emetophobia (which can also mean the fear of vomit) is often the result of a childhood trauma, so I tried to figure out if that was the case for me. Like countless other kids, I once threw up at school. I was in third grade and getting ready to leave the school library (is no where sacred?) when my stomach turned on me, and it was definitely one of my most embarrassing moments. Even though my classmates assured me that no one saw what happened, I was scarred. I remember the exact outfit I was wearing that day. It was pajama day, and I wore my favorite satin pajama bottoms with a Limited Too hoodie. After that day, both of those were pushed to the back of my dresser, never to be worn again. I thought that outfit was the reason I got sick, and if I wore it, surely I’d be sick again.
I knew it was ridiculous to think clothing was the reason I threw up, but I couldn’t risk it. A few months later, I had a dream that I was sick in the nurses office. In that dream, I was wearing a blue sweater and my favorite glitter jeans, and the next morning I decided my dream was predicting the future. To stop that incident from happening, I never wore a blue sweater with my glitter jeans.
My habits to prevent vomiting went further than my attire. The morning I threw up at school, I was watching an episode of The Wild Thornberrys that involved polar bears. I never watched that episode again. If it came on, I changed the channel. I did the same thing with an episode of As Told By Ginger the next time I caught the stomach bug. I took note of everything I did before I threw up, and I made sure to never repeat those actions.
Avoiding certain outfits or television episodes makes Emetophobia seem simpler than it is. For many, myself included, Emetophobia makes it nearly impossible to socialize when a stomach bug is making the rounds because we fear everyone we talk to has the bug and will either get us sick or throw up in front of us. Everyone handles their fear differently. In some cases, people with Emetophobia will develop anorexia because they become afraid of food. A lot of people with Emetophobia probably haven’t even read this far because I used the word “vomit” and its variations too many times.
There hasn’t been much research done on Emetophobia, and most of what we know about it comes from people sharing their experiences. For me, the fear of throwing up is more than just a fear of reliving an embarrassing moment from my childhood. Many of my anxieties come from my fear of losing control, and I feel like throwing up is the ultimate loss of control. One thing I know I can control is what I eat. Knowing that my digestive system can turn on me and expel what I chose to eat from my body is terrifying.
Last week, I had the stomach bug. It sucked and I hated every moment of it, but it only lasted a day. During that day, I kept reminding myself that it would eventually pass. Eventually I would feel better. Everyone eases their Emetophobia in different ways. Some people go through exposure therapy (which will not involve making yourself throw up!) or hypnosis. I’m trying to get past it by understanding it. I’m realizing that a lot of my behaviors come from that fear, such as avoiding boats and my need to carry around security items.
I’m not going to stop wearing my polka dot pajamas just because I got sick last time I wore them. I won’t blame Clueless for being on my television screen when I had to bolt to the bathroom, and I won’t blame BJ Novak just because I went to his book signing the night before. I threw up because I work around children and caught a virus from them. I could quit my job to reduce my chances of catching stomach bugs, but I would never do that. I can’t let Emetophobia control my life, and the more I understand it, the easier it is to move past my fear.
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