Living With Emetophobia

Let’s talk about Emetophobia.

Not very often I get on a personal level, but I have decided this year to be more open about me.

I will be posting about anxiety/panic disorder and the journey I am taking with it. Along with Emetophobia.

Emetophobia is a phobia of vomit* (I will say this once, then the rest of the post will be v*).
Either yourself, or someone else doing the deed.

Emetophobia is a common phobia, but not widely talked about for many reasons.

If you are dealing with a phobia, please talk to a therapist to get help.

Generally, living with Emetophobia is embarrassing or people don’t really understand. So I will go over it all throughout the post.

There are quite a few groups and forums dedicated to this phobia with thousands of people on there, expressing their fears and anxiety.
Supporting each other and trying to help one another rationalise when at a very low point.

As you can tell, winter is the worst time of the year because of Norovirus (Stomach bugs) as of course, it is stomach bug season.

I am going to touch up on things we do as emetophobes, things we avoid and what can manifest from emetophobia.

I will section each part to make it easier to read. I will also post my story and how I cope (sometimes). This will be a long one so go grab a brew and put your feet up.

What is Emetophobia?

Emetophobia is a fear of v* in short.

It’s a fear that you can not get away from, it’s in our every day lives and to most it’s a normal bodily function.

It can severely limit a person’s life, stop emetophobes doing things that other people would not think about.
Like going on fairground rides or to a fairground, eating out, flying, going on a boat or plane.

You may think ‘Well no one likes v*’ and yes this is true. But when you are in fear of it, you will do anything to stop the event occurring.
Anxiety, panic attacks and disabling fear are all too known with Emetophobes.

This is why there is many mental health issues that arise from it, as explained below.

Mental Health

Emetophobia can also cause many mental health problems.

The list is endless, but there is a number that is attributed to the phobia.

  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Generally with OCD, this is keeping hands clean (Not just after going loo or cooking, hands can be wasted hundreds of times a day)
Cleaning the home more than required (I mean bleaching several times a day)
Obsessive compulsions like numbers, touching objects, playing with fingers.
Religiously doing something to make us feel safe.

Many ways we do things repetitively to make sure we do not v*

  • Anxiety

Anxiety plays a very big part and is the most troublesome.

If we believe we are going to become ill, contaminated ourselves with food or an illness, we go into a state of anxiety.

Should our stomachs feel a little off or we have diarrhea then again, we get anxiety.

Anxiety is quite a pain, for me anxiety feels exactly like a stomach bug. As it does to many others, giving the impression we are ill, however we are not.

Common symptoms of anxiety are:

Nausea, Cold hands and feet, Temperature, Tingles or pins and needles across the body, Sweating, Dry Mouth, Numbness, Palpitations, Shortness of Breath, Aches, Trembling, Panic and fear.

So you can see, you can easily mistake anxiety for an illness.

Same with panic attacks. However anxiety isn’t as short lived as panic attacks, it can last hours, days, weeks.

  • Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are all too common also.

A panic attack is a shorter version of anxiety, lasts usually around 20 minutes but it is more heightened and you feel either sudden dread or suicidal.

Same symptoms as anxiety, but more severe.

Laboured breathing, pains in chest, really strong nausea, feeling trapped, heart beating so fast, you feel like it will burst.
Cold clammy hands and feet, shaking more profusely, intense tingles/pins and needles.

It’s common to feel like you want to give up, I often do when I have a severe panic attack.

All my coping mechanisms go out of the window. I get irrational and make no sense.
This is also common too.

  • Depression

Because we limit our lives, limit our friends and social circles, feel incredibly alone… This means we can spiral into depression.

Depression is hard to live with, it can be hard to get out of.

Some people experience constant depression, whereas others only get it certain times like when anxious about an illness and can last a few days, weeks or months.

Low moods, no interest in anything, isolation, guilt, appetite problems (increase or lack), lack of concentration and low energy.

  • Anorexia

This is quite a touchy subject for many, as this is generally nothing to do with putting on weight as many assume it is.

Having been anorexic myself, people would comment that I am not fat, don’t need to lose weight or anything. So I tend to keep that to myself.
I was anorexic for a very different reason…

I was afraid of eating and v*.

There I said it. That was pretty hard for me to say.

I spend many days starving myself because I am too afraid to eat. I would eat then get nausea, thinking I was ill.
I cut to eating one meal a day, or nothing at all and could go several days with nothing but water.
If anyone was ill in my house, I would not eat for at least 3-4 days.

The irrational thought was, well if I don’t eat, I can’t v*…

This can be common too and emetophobes are known to starve themselves.

  • Agoraphobia

This is all to common also.

We are scared to go out so we become agoraphobic also.

Never go out unless we have to. Never see other people.

Never do anything…

  • Other phobias

It’s all too common that we have other phobias also. I have a number of them associated with emetophobia.

Phobias can be of: medication, germs, pregnancy, anesthesia, hospitals/nursing homes, alcohol, flying, travelling, television and films, public toilets, coughing, cancer/chemotherapy.

The list really, is endless.

Avoidances

We like to avoid people or situations where we can stay away from v*, catching illnesses and some can appear to be extreme.

This is a list I came up with, when speaking to fellow Emets.

  • Fairgrounds/rides
  • Flying and sailing
  • Schools, Hospitals and Care Homes
  • Eating out
  • Anywhere where there is no available or easy to access toilets
  • Cinemas unless sat in the isle with easy access to a toilet
  • Going near people who v* or ill (This can include our own children)
  • Crowded places
  • Places that can be seen as dirty or full of germs like children’s play areas
  • Watching TV or movies (There is no need for v* scenes!)
  • Chemotherapy, medication

Most are obvious. But I have known emets to home school from fear of catching a bug.

I have known emets to avoid hospitals, GP surgeries, anywhere where there could be a lingering illness ready to strike.

Worst things to say to an Emetophobe

‘Everyone hates v*’ – Yes, we know! You and many people have said this over and over.
It is not the same as hating it, we are absolutely frightened of it.

‘You will feel better if you v*’ – No, we will not! We will be even more frightened and the next time it may happen.

‘It’s completely normal to v*, you have to v*’ Erm, no! There is nothing to say v* will make you better or something you must do.

‘You are being ridiculous’ Possibly to you, but we can not help it.

‘Once you v* you will not be scared’ Nope, no, nu-uh! Been there, done that and made it a million times worse!

How can it look to others?

Like we are completely crazy!

The obsessive cleaning, washing of hands, avoiding meals out, refusing to go in the same room as v*… Can make us look mad.

But we are not, I promise.

Our fight or flight instincts kick in and we freak out massively. We feel like it’s the end and there is no hope.

We try to avoid becoming ill at all costs.

We may do things that may be concerning. Bleaching hands, self harming or hurting ourselves, screaming, crying uncontrollably, making no sense…
This is our way to try and cope and deal with the situation.

Try to look at it from our point of view, we can’t simply help it.

If you have a partner that is an emetophobe, please support them. Don’t get angry, walk out or have a go at us…
Comfort, support and let us know you are there for us.
We all need that, not many of us get it.

How do we cope?

We simply don’t.

Some of us have routines or things we do in the moment of panic.

For example, when someone v* in my house, I bleach everything for the next 4 days.
I also use products made to kill viruses like norovirus, salmonella and so on.

I make everyone in my house wash their hands after going toilet, before eating and touching food.

We have breathing techniques, lavender or calming sprays, mints, things that bring comfort.

We are stocked up like a chemist. We have anxiety medication, antisickness, gastro tablets for all sorts.

We read, watch tv, do something distracting. It helps.

Is there anything that can stop this phobia?

Yes and no.

There is things like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or exposure therapy.

Taking medication (Remember a lot of us won’t because of side effects)

Hypnotherapy, alternative medicines or therapies.

I’ve tried most, none worked. But I am going for CBT hopefully soon (Separate post soon on that)

When can it start?

Generally it’s a trauma from a young age or a very unpleasant experience we went through in the act of v*

For some it could be a v* episode so bad, it frightened them, seeing someone else go through it or being alone and choking.

I started at the age of 4 and gradually got worse by 11. By 11 I would have panic attacks and anxiety which would come and go.

My event was bad, I had fish (allergic) and v* so badly I could not breath and I passed out.

The few times since then were just as bad and horrific, which made my phobia worse.

I went 18 years without v* until September 2016 when I caught a bug, just the once I v* but that certainly made it worse for me.

About me and Emetophobia

As I said, this started at 4. Got progressively worse by 11.

At 11, I would often have anxiety and panic attacks.

I would often bunk off school, but looking cool ’cause I hated it’ when in reality I was scared of getting sick.

I spent 18 years with no v*. 18 years of my life with anxiety.

18 years of my life living in fear.

I’ve been diagnosed as depressed, anxiety and panic disorder, anorexic.. plus more.

As well as my other conditions, this all plays on each other.

IBS can make me nauseous so I then panic, the more panicked I get, the worse it gets. And so on.

Fibromyalgia and M.E can cause anxiety also, which I think played a part in the whole thing also.

I go through phases in my life, but no one really knew. I hid everything so well.

Many times I ‘faked being drunk’ and would drink to my limit, then drink water. Everyone was too drunk to notice.

I acted like a social butterfly for 3 years, unbeknownst to everyone else… I was at home scrubbing my hands to death, bleaching my home all the time after everyone left.

I don’t even think I told my other half for a while.

When the anxiety started getting bad and my illnesses were getting bad… I happily stayed and worked from home.

I became agoraphobic (However I was not aware)

I would constantly make excuses, make arguments so I would not have to leave the house.
Maybe deep down I knew? I don’t know, I wasn’t aware anyway.

I started working outside of the home and it was the worst month of my life. Crippled with anxiety.
It was a job I loved, but I could not get over the anxiety and fear of being away from my house.

I lost many friends, not that any seemed to care. No one noticed I just disappeared into nowhere. Thanks guys…

I made an online presence, I blogged, had online friends who I talk to daily.
This was comfortable for me.

I became irrational about my youngest going to nursery, we all know it is illness hell for any parent. But one afraid of v*? Is even worse.

After a few calls to my local GP office, I was prescribed a few things.

Diazepam and antisickness. Sertaline which I won’t take because of the side effects. Hell no.

I also self referred after speaking to a nice GP and now on the list for some mental health stuff, not sure what as only have a phone assessment soon. Which I will update.

I am going to make another appointment and see if I can have something for the anxiety that will not make me ill. Fingers crossed as antidepressants do not work for me, been there done that… Got the frikkin tee.

Final thoughts?

Well, this was longer than anticipated, I am extremely nervous right now but I have to post this.

Just be more aware of someone that is emetophobic.

Keep your bugs away and tell us if there is an illness. We need to know. Not unexpectedly catch it.

Be thoughtful in what you say, as I said it is not our fault.

It’s a part of us, just like your leg or eyeball.

We’re really not crazy. We are people, just scared of something.

Yes I am anxious, suicidal at times and constantly living in fear. But I can’t help it. IT IS NOT MINE OR ANYONE ELSE’S FAULT!

Are you emetophobic? Do you know someone who goes through this daily?

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12 Comments

  1. i completely get you. ive been emet since as long as i remember. i started a blog – emetomum – last April but havent posted for a while. i find it just reminds me of emet. and i try hard to push it to the back of my mind. i always find this time of year hard going too. so many bloody norovirus articles everywhere. i’ve found a way to live with it (at the mo) – i find it comes in good waves and bad waves. meds help me alot too. xx

    1. This time of year is the hardest for us all.
      I’ve had a complete breakdown in December and really struggled to cope.
      I find September to April very hard. Then onwards much easier.
      We just need to band together and support each other when it’s bad

  2. An inspiring post. I have an obscure phobia and get most of the same issues as you. It’s just not as easy as “get over it” is it.

    1. Yeah it’s not something you can just ‘get over’ with any phobia.
      Phobias are awful to live with especially if it is in your every day life and can not escape it

  3. Thank you. I have OCD as well as emet and having been suffering for 8 years. Having my son has helped. But today my SO came down with a SB for the first time in 10 years. I feel like I failed in keeping him safe from it. And now I’ve spent my my whole day freaking out, scrubbing with bleach on my hands and knees and praying my son and I don’t catch it. Whenever I tell anyone about my phobia most people laugh, or say there’s ” no such thing” and that ” it’s a normal body function how could you be afraid no ones like it but it’s just v*” thank you for writing this and saying what all of us that suffer are feeling. ❤

    1. I am the same. I get manic when someone is ill and bleach anything and everything. Going through my head of what could have been touched before and after.
      Make sure you wear gloves, my hands have only started healing from bleach burns

  4. I take sertraline, made me feel nauseous for about a week, but was given phenerghan to counter act that and it made me feel amazing! It’s an antihistamine and slight sedative! I’ve never slept so well in my life! And no nausea! I recommend you try it as I am a million times better now! Went from non stop panic attacks and not leaving my room for months to feeling 99% normal! I’ve even worked in nurseries and children’s holiday centres! Though be careful you don’t get addicted to taking it! It felt that good that for a while I was reluctant to stop!! You have to give the sertraline a chance to work though as it took months for it to really make a difference! CBT was worth it too! I found the two together we’re what made the effects worth while! I promise you I was probably as bad as it could possibly get, and if I could do it, anyone can!

    1. I’ve had anti-depressants before and had a very bad experience. So I refuse to take anything like that.
      I ended up calling GP again as was a mess again, back on diazepam and he agreed with the anti-depressants.
      Just waiting for my phone call with mental health team and go from there

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this. I completely understand. I’ve had this phobia for years but it’s got worse and worse more recently to the point of a lot of the things you mentioned in the article. It took me around a year of being too scared, but I finally phoned the doctors and booked an appointment to talk about it. I was shaking and terrified when I went in, but I did it and they told me they were referring me to talk to someone, then I got a letter in the post with a leaflet on anxiety saying they hoped that covered everything and that they’d decided not to refer me (as they weren’t really sure who I could talk to) 🙁 I’m still massively struggling – Christmas was really hard as there were loads of illnesses around (if I even get a cold, I panic) and lots of unfamiliar food. I’m trying to work up the courage to phone the doctors again to speak to someone about it because I know it will help, but it’s so hard!
    But again, thank you for writing this and sharing more info on it 🙂
    Sian xx

    1. I understand about struggling with a GP, I had this for many years.
      Now it’s self referral so I did that and awaiting my call from them to see what I need and where to go next.
      It’s a constant struggle and not many people understand.
      I would ask to see another GP and get referred x

  6. I also am emetophobic and thought it was just me who was worse in the winter! When every feeling you ever feel in your body gets interpreted as the thing which scares and terrifies you the most in life it becomes a very isolated and scary life. It’s so brave of you to post this! Be proud of yourself. We can overcome this. Leanne xo

  7. Thanks for writing this.. I always thought I was just a “germaphobe” and was being proactive in terms of making sure I was healthy. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I’m Emetaphobic. The irrational fear of being sick can be debilitating at times, and the panic attacks are certainly the worst part. This article is glowing example of what we need more of. My immediate family (specifically my spouse) get very fed up with me, but are supportive. Reading articles like this is very therapeutic, because it makes you realize that you’re not crazy, and you’re certainly not alone. Cheers from the US.