I suppose I’ve experienced just about every kind of Anxiety Disorder at different phases of my life. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder complicated by moderate Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder and OCD. I haven’t yet experienced PTSD, but hey…there’s still time right? (Just so you know – I’m also a pessimist.)
On top of all that, I struggle with specific phobias too. Big surprise eh? I am terrified of spiders, struggle with horrid anxiety about driving and last but certainly, not least I have Emetophobia.
Emetophobia is an intense fear of vomiting. And when I say “intense” I’m not just bumping my gums! I’m struggling with it right now as I write this blog. I figured it might help me to articulate what it’s like right while I’m in the throes of it.
Last night while my husband and I were watching TV he started to rub his stomach well not his actual stomach but rather the abdominal skin which conceals his stomach. He then casually mentioned that he felt a bit queasy and had the chills while continuing to watch his show.
What was my reaction to his statement? My stomach went into an instant knot, my mouth started watering, my heart started racing, and I started trembling. I felt the need to get up and flee the living room but tried to hang in there and show some compassion. (Emetophobia can turn you into a jerk.) Then, I remembered that we’d been passing a bag of caramel corn back and forth between one another earlier that evening while we watched TV together. That took my anxiety up another notch, and I immediately figured that because of that I was most certainly doomed.
“Why, oh why had I eaten out the same caramel corn bag as he had?” I remember even being hesitant about it because in general I’m pretty much hyper vigilant about germs from other people’s hands that might go into my mouth, but last night I had bravely thrown caution to the wind.
He continued to express that his stomach hurt while still managing to stay engaged with his program because apparently, he doesn’t go into full speed ahead freak out mode about stomach aches as I do. I really wanted to stay in the living room with him and show some support, but it was all just too overwhelming for me.
What if he ended up vomiting and I heard it?
I knew that would make me feel ten times worse. So I asked him if he’d be okay with me heading to bed because it was nearly 11 p.m. and, without any hesitation he replied “of course,” because he knew why I had to leave but it made me feel like the most horrible wife in the world.
So I went to the bedroom with my cell phone, switched on my white noise machine at the highest setting and put my earbuds in and found some YouTube downloads of guided imagery which are supposed to help assuage anxiety. Just before I did that I checked on him again and said, “if you need me, you can come and get me” – even though I hoped – desperately that he wouldn’t need me. I felt awful because I didn’t want him coming to bed with me, but he knows how freaked out I get so he stayed in the living room. Poor guy!!
As I listened to a bunch of guided imagery downloads, I’d start to drift off and then wake with a start and a sudden feeling of nausea. I knew it was my anxiety making me nauseous because it ALWAYS does but the possibility that I might be wrong and I might actually be coming down with the bug my husband might have was consuming me with dread. I think I finally drifted off sometime after two a.m. but woke up one more time with a horrible Panic attack. And even though I’ve had nocturnal panic attacks for many years, some of them are so intense that at that moment, I feel that I might not actually recover from them. I’ll either die or go completely insane with no hope of recovery. I sat up on the edge of the bed, gasping for air, ears ringing, heart nearly bursting through my chest and started working on slowing my breathing: In slowly count to five, pause, and out slowly, count to eight, repeat, repeat, repeat. When I was finally able to think, I’d had it and got up and went into the kitchen to take a stupid Xanax. I apologized to my husband for stirring him and muttered something about hating myself. I don’t really hate myself, but I hate how little control I have over this stupid Emetophobia.
My husband didn’t vomit, (so hard to type that word), but later on, in the morning he had a few bouts of diarrhea and had some body aches. I had to go with my folks for an important Dr. appointment and then was scheduled to clean their house for them, and I was welcoming the distraction. Before I left, I took a couple capsules of activated charcoal, just in case and a teaspoon of a viral health tonic that I keep in the house during cold and flu seasons. I forced myself to eat a small breakfast too because I knew that low blood sugar also makes me nauseous.
The appointment went well with some really good news about my Mom’s health so that perked me up considerably. The cleaning and taking time to visit with my parents were definitely good distractions but the whole time I was with them, there was another part of my brain which was preoccupied with the fear that I might still come down with whatever bug, if it even was a bug, that was plaguing my husband.
I called to check on him later on, and he reported that he was feeling some better, was heading outdoors for some fresh air and do a few chores and that his diarrhea had stopped after four bouts. Now one would think that all of that would be comforting to me – NOT! Instead, my thoughts were, “what if I get a different version of this possible bug that he has and in a couple days end up puking my guts out. (So hard to type words like puke, vomit, wretch, etc. UGH!!) Please, Lord, don’t let me get sick!”
I suppose I only thought about getting sick maybe three hundred times or so throughout the day. It was always lurking in the back of my mind like a ghostly specter that could leap into action and make me sick at any moment.
So what are the things which make me so scared of vomiting? Did I have some sort of horrid experience like severe food poisoning which has traumatized me? Nope. I don’t think I’ve ever had food poisoning, but I’m terrified that I will and won’t eat certain foods like chicken salad, things I think have been left out of the fridge to long on a hot day and any food that has gone past the “purchase by date.” Am I prone to vomiting more than other people? Nope. Since adulthood, I vomited once when I was pregnant with my first child even though I had severe nausea throughout most of the pregnancy and couldn’t smell certain things without gagging, or even look at a McDonald’s bag without feeling like I’d hurl at any moment. It was horrid, and I could barely eat until the very end of the pregnancy. But vomit? I fought that tooth and nail. Then I vomited again when I got a bad stomach virus while in my 7th month of pregnancy with my second child. Then I went another twenty-seven years without vomiting until I threw up a couple of times while undergoing a colonoscopy prep. I was on the bathroom floor in a pool of sweat and at that moment I think I may have actually felt a pretty high level of hatred for my gastroenterologist for putting me through such trauma. By the way in case you’re wondering I somehow managed to survive and thrive after all three, yes all THREE of these nightmarish episodes. I know what you’re thinking: “Man what a big baby!” And, I suppose you’re right. But it’s not about the pain. I had all three of my kids without the aid of any pain meds. ala natural if you will and trust me it took forever, and it was excruciating, but I never made a peep and trudged on to the finish line. Oh, and I had a major muscle spasm in my upper back and neck at the age of fifteen and wow did that hurt. I was twisted out of shape for several weeks unable to even get dressed without aid but I was as tough as nails through that too.
So what is it about? To be honest, it’s been very hard for me to actually put my finger on it. I only know that I dread it and that right now given a choice between vomiting and holding a tarantula I’d opt for the tarantula and like I said I’m absolutely terrified of spiders. And given the choice of having to drive on the highway for ten minutes while having my usual panic attacks and vomiting, I’d pick the driving. (Wait till I write about my driving phobia!) I absolutely dread the thought of vomiting. If one of my grandchildren says, “Grandma, my belly hurts. I feel like I’m instantly transported into a horror movie as the main star. Crazy eh?
So these are some of the thought I have about vomiting, “where and when will it happen? How many times will it happen? I won’t be able to stand it! I’ll die if it happens in public! What if I can’t make it to a toilet? It’s the most disgusting/revolting thing on the planet! I can’t hear someone vomit! I can’t see someone vomit! I can’t have someone see me vomit or hear me vomit.
It’s all very bizarre and horrid at the same time, and I can’t seem to control my anxiety when my Emetophobia is running the show. If you are vomiting and needing help, instead of my sucking it up and helping you I will probably run as far from you as I can. Like I said a phobia can turn you into a jerk.
I know that my social anxiety plays into this. I know that the fact that any time I have any kind of anxiety I’m nauseous so anxiety triggers nausea and nausea triggers anxiety for me. I know that the idea of losing control of my body plays into this. I know that an extreme level of disgust and grossness plays into this. And it’s also very likely that my OCD plays into this, but I just don’t know why I feel like I can’t vomit without the world coming to an end. I know, I know, I know it’s absurd, but knowing that does nothing to remove the severe anxiety and dread that I’m feeling right now and will continue to feel for the next four days or so when and if I feel that I just might be in the clear and dodge the bullet.
Meanwhile, I’ll barely eat, only small meals and soft foods; the kinds of things that won’t be so hard to throw up – just in case.
So that’s my Emetophobia and me. It makes me feel like a freakish anomaly just like all my other anxiety disorders do, and I wish I could just be normal, rather than being overwhelmed by something so insignificant. But I’m sure that there are others out there who know just what I’m feeling, and I want you to know you’re not alone. We’ll survive and good days will come again. Meanwhile, we can’t isolate ourselves, we have to press through the anxiety and do the best we can to work on this phobia just like we have to do with all our other anxiety “issues.”
Anxiety in all its forms pretty much stinks! Can I get a witness?!
Ineke van Rijnbach – Inkenhaag
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“Pretty much stinks” for sure! My biggest phobia is bees. I have great difficulty controlling my reaction when they come around though “logical” people tell me not to worry! My mom used to tell me when I was a child that I WOULD die if I ever got stung, not “might die.” I was severely allergic to mosquitoes so she assumed bees would kill me. I have only been stung twice, as an adult, and I am still here. Doesn’t matter though, I still freak out.
(I don’t even have to see one. If I THINK I hear one, all talking ceases, all fans etc are turned off, until I can determine by silence that I was just imagining it)
My daughter has a bee phobia too. She really struggles with it. I’m not real fond of yellow jackets but because I do a lot of gardening I’m pretty calm around most bees. The only time I’m not is if they come in the house. It seems so much scarier to be trapped in a room with them.
Hi Mitzi, I have another question for you. It’s related to your other posts. You say not to engage the religious ocd in any way, to leave it alone. I guess that also means not talking to a counselor? Do you think talking & getting counseling about it magnifies it and i should just try to forget it? I was thinking about going to a biblical counselor but not sure about that.
Please accept my apologies for this super late reply. It would be pretty rare to find a Biblical counselor who really understood how to treat Religious OCD obsessions. But if you found one who also had a doctorate in psychology and was up to date on how to manage OCD and well versed in how to apply ERP therapy then you could have a measure of confidence about their ability to help you. Otherwise, I’d stick with a professional who understands OCD. Biblical counseling certainly has it’s place in our spiritual struggles and in our painful afflictions but just as you wouldn’t go to your pastor to help you manage a heart condition or diabetes you cannot expect a Dr. of theology to know how to manage mental disorders. Hope this helps you make your decision.
Thanks Mitzi. Is there a forum in which we could communicate? Is there a way i can give you my email address to communicate? I’m going through a difficult time with this scrupulosity. I have some questions for you if you wouldn’t mind.
Hi “LoveHIM1. Here’s a link to a closed FB group which you may find very encouraging. There are a lot of folk in this group who struggle with this form of OCD. I founded the group but no longer act as moderator. I participate when I have time though and there are lots of people in group who are very knowledgeable about this form of OCD who I know would be of great help to you. I apologize for my late reply, life is full lately. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/424477494383675/
I relate to this so much and as awful as the topic is and as hard as it is to deal with it’s comforting to know I’m not the only. I’m sorry you have to deal with this, I understand how frustrating it can feel. I always feel guilty when I say to someone “will I be sick? ” I must ask this question at least 30/40 times a day and I know deep down there’s no logical reason to be sick but my mind is constantly in the state of “well what if”. Emetophobia makes me a very selfish person. I’m glad you wrote about this, it takes courage to do so:) I’m proud of you, thank you for this, it’s helping me a lot :)x
Thanks so much. It comforts me to find other people who struggle with this too. And the feeling of being “selfish” is something I experience a lot. One thing I’m trying on my own is to learn how to do a thing called NLP. You can google it on Youtube as to how it’s used for specific phobias. It’s taken the edge off but I’ve been kinda lax about it lately. It’s just a way of training your brain to have a different perception or response to the phobia. It’s kind of interesting. I don’t know that much about it but I’m trying to learn. Just thought I’d mention it. Emetophobia is awful!
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Well, I’m two years late to this, but I wanted to thank you for writing this. I’ve had emetophobia for over 20 years now (I’m 42). As a Christian, I deal with so much guilt over the fact that I allow this phobia to overwhelm me and drown me in fear. The Bible tells us God is not the author of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. Yet, here I am, completely overtaken by fear. I try to pray about it, but I just can’t seem to conquer it. So frustrating and exhausting. I must ask after reading this, you mentioned getting sick in your 7th month of pregnancy with your second child, and then 27 years with no vomiting?? Did your children never get stomach bugs growing up or did you never catch them? I have a 7 year old son who is autistic. He gets sick often which is making my phobia just spiral out of control. I’m so afraid that I will catch a bug he brings home. It’s making me miserable and I don’t feel joy anymore…just dread. Lord, I want to be free of this! Thank you for writing this. Helps to know I’m not the only Christian struggling with this nightmare of a phobia.
I’m sorry to hear that you go through this. Yes, I have caught many stomach bugs. Typically, my fear of vomiting is so strong that I am able to stop myself from actually doing it. I can’t stop matters at the other end though. I have read that this is common for a lot of emetophobics.
I have learned a bit about a technique called NLP which has helped me somewhat with this. You could Google that and see what you think of it.
I find that when my overall anxiety disorder is flaring up, my emetophobia is also worse.
This isn’t a Spiritual issue, it has to do with faulty wiring, not faulty thinking so don’t beat yourself up about it.
A “sound mind” has to do with having sound doctrine and the fear that Paul was talking about had to do with Timothy’s weakness and trepidation about taking on the ministry of teaching the Gospel when there was so much opposition and even persecution to be faced. This is a passage about the contrast of our weakness and inadequacy over against the power of Christ in us which gives us the power to be a witness for Him to a lost and dying world. The apostle Paul spoke of how bad his anxiety was when he first went to Corinth. to bring the Gospel to them. He said he was shaking all over with fear. Then, he goes on to say that it was a good thing because he didn’t come or speak in His own power, but God provided those things for Him.
Hope this helps ease your guilt over the experience of living with an anxiety disorder. It’s not your fault. It’s an affliction. God Bless!
I did a Google search and this was the first thing that came up. And I’m so glad for that! I can relate so much! I am here because I have the same severe phobia. A few months ago, I was away camping with my husband and got a call in the middle of the night that my 5 year old daughter was vomiting non-stop. I felt like an awful mother because I wanted to comfort her but honestly I was so glad that I wasn’t there and I was afraid to go home. Thankfully I have an awesome mother in law who took care of everything. But when I got home I was terrified for 4-5 days that at any moment my other daughter or me or my husband would get sick. We didn’t. I heard that the night my daughter got sick she had spaghetti for dinner. She has acid reflux but I thought, there’s no way she could be sick for over 12 hours from acid, right? So she must have been sick. But due to paranoia, I hadn’t made spaghetti since, just in case. Tonight I was exhausted from starting a new job, had nothing else on hand, and decided to try to overcome my anxiety by making spaghetti. Around bed time, my daughter started complaining of nausea. I about lost my mind. I thought for sure, it was the spaghetti!! This is all my fault!! She’s going to be puking for 12 hours again because of me!! Ugh it was awful. But right now it is 1am and she is peacefully sleeping. Hoping that I’ve escaped facing my worst fears for the time being. I have to say I was a little discouraged to read that you have grandchildren now and still feel the same way. I feel that I cannot live if I continue to feel this way. The fear is too intense. But I trust in the Lord and am beyond thankful that I can know a day will come when I won’t feel this way anymore. Thank you for sharing.