My Struggle with Emetophobia as a Highly Sensitive Person
Chances are you've never heard of emetophobia. If you have, likely you or someone you know struggles with it. Long story short: It is an intense fear of vomiting. Even sitting down to write this article gives me a sense of anxiety.
I still don't know the exact age or reason that my phobia developed. Yes, I've been sick a few times in my life and it could perhaps have stemmed from a time when I was very young and sick and hallucinated from being so dehydrated and had to get a shot in my butt to make me stop throwing up.
In elementary school, my anxiety would kick into high gear whenever someone got sick in class. I remember a specific time in music class in 2nd grade. I think after that was when I would cry every summer before school started again. I didn't want to go there. Kids are very germy and I was in constant fear to see or hear someone get sick. I remember watching "Matilda" in school and I started panicking because of the characters is forced to eat chocolate cake and I thought they would show him get sick. Even as a kid, I knew this panic and fear was irrational. I thought people would make fun of me or dismiss it, so I wouldn't give anyone a true reason why I was so upset. Looking back, it just made everything so much worse and I looked that much crazier.
At 27, yes, I am a fully-functioning adult, but this phobia follows me every day of my life. I scrutinize my food and have been made fun of for being picky with food. In reality, I have "safe foods" that I tend to stick with. At times I try new foods, eat something I am unsure about or eat out at restaurants, but then I have to deal with the anxiety that comes after. What if I get sick? What if that food was bad? What if someone who handled it carried a germ that will make me sick? Most of the time it is a low level anxiety that no one really knows about, except me. Most of the time it is me bargaining with myself to just eat something and then being hyper focused on my body for the next few hours, only feeling "safe" until I get hungry again.
Sometimes though, it turns into a panic attack. I am extremely aware of how my body feels. Whenever something feels off, especially my stomach, cue anxiety again. I'm not sharing any of this to make you feel bad for me or give me advice or anything... I am sharing in hopes I can make others who suffer feel less alone. It is a very scary thing to be essentially terrified of one thing that goes along with so many things... other people, food, my own body, etc.
A while ago, I spent a lovely afternoon with a few friends. One of them told me she was ill the next day. The three of us were in close proximity and ate at the same restaurant that afternoon. Cue panic... I immediately started panicking and crying, fearful I would get sick too. I had pretty bad anxiety for about a week until I realized I was fine and didn't catch anything from her. Funny how you start making up all these rules in your head... what are safe foods and what aren't, safe restaurants, how long until you can relax after being around a sick person, etc.
So for all of the people who have judged me over the years... no I am not anorexic nor have I ever been, but this is why I am a picky eater, why I generally burn food (especially meat) when I cook and probably why I'm so anxious all of the time. For most of my life, I didn't know I was experiencing a phobia with a name that other people experience as well. I just thought I was crazy and learned how to hide it.
You never know what someone is going through behind closed doors or what goes on in their head. I hope that I can reach someone else with this horrible phobia to make them feel less alone. Unfortunately, even with all of my self-development work and learning to embrace my highly sensitive ways, I still experience trouble with this phobia and anxiety on a daily basis. I routinely have nightmares or flashbacks about it. But hopefully one day I will be free of it. Whatever you're going through, I know you can get through it too.
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