*trigger warning – this post talks about emetophobia (the phobia of being sick) and makes reference to anorexia*
Roughly seven years ago I woke up feeling completely fine, ready for a day out playing snooker with my ex-partner and his family.
By the end of the day, I had a phobia of being sick and, even though I didn’t know it at the time, was about to start a 3 year battle with anorexia which would completely change my life and throw all my plans out of the window.
To this day, I still don’t know why I was suddenly so scared of being sick.
Growing up I was pretty much ambivalent towards it. I was hardly ever sick as a child but when I was, I would just sit in the bathroom reading my book or writing my short stories until I passed.
Obviously it wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I didn’t have any kind of fear or anxiety around it.
But that day I was utterly terrified of being sick, to the point it triggered the worst panic attack I’ve ever had!
While I’ve now managed to beat my anorexia (although I won’t pretend I don’t relapse slightly when if I start to feel sick) I still struggle every year when winter comes around, as there’s always a huge influx of people catching the winter sickness bug.
Luckily I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms over the years, which can help me manage the anxiety I still feel around being sick.
While these coping mechanisms aren’t exactly healthy (and in some cases are a bit embarrassing to admit), they help me manage my anxiety and allow me to actually function to a reasonable degree.
Before I go any further, I just want to make clear that I’m in no way endorsing doing any of this yourself.
If you struggle with emetophobia yourself I would always say to seek medical help, but I wanted to create this post to educate people on the small ways that emetophobia can affect your day to day life.
Plus I hope talking about this can help other people who struggle with emetophobia too, and make them feel less embarrassed or alone!
Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer
I actually read somewhere that this stuff doesn’t even work on the winter sickness bug, but that’s not really the point.
My brain thinks it works and using it lessens my anxiety, which is what matters at the end of the day.
I’ve really been working on removing my reliance on using it this year, much like I had to do with the anti-sickness tablets I was taking when this all started, and I’m slowly starting to see some progress.
It might not seem like a big deal, but over the past six months I’ve actually been reaching for it a lot less than I usually would, and some times I haven’t even realised I’ve not used it until after I’ve eaten!
When I consider at one time I had to wash my hands the second I touched something like a bin, or even just a surface that lots of other people could have touched like a handrail or table, I’m actually pretty proud of how far I’ve come recently.
As tempting as it is to push myself harder on this, I’m letting my brain work things out at its own pace.
It’s pretty much what I’ve done throughout this whole recovery process, and while it hasn’t been as quick as what I would have hoped for, it’s been the best thing to do for both my physical and mental health.
Limit Leaving The House
Let’s face it, I’m hardly a social butterfly at the best of times, but I do try to go out at least once or twice a week, normally to work at my co-working space or to do a food shop.
However, in winter leaving the house is a huge anxiety trigger (“what if I catch a sickness bug from someone while I’m out?”) so I tend to avoid going out as much as I normally would.
This really isn’t a healthy coping mechanism, but considering when I first started with my emetophobia I couldn’t leave the house at all, I consider this an improvement.
When I do go out, I try to pick a place or time when I know it won’t be as busy; which means a large shopping centre on a Sunday is a huge no-no!
On the plus side, this has allowed me to find some lovely little independent shops and destinations, which I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Carry A Reusable Straw
This is something I do year-round anyway, as drinking straight out of a can or a cup that I can see still has lipstick marks around it is another big trigger for me.
I recently invested in a set of metal straws from Menkind and they’ve been perfect.
Since there are four in the pack, I can keep one in my bag at all times, and simply switch it out once it’s been used and needs cleaning.
Avoid Eating Meat, Especially While Out Or Travelling
This one is pretty easy for me as I hate eating meat anyway, but without getting into the reasons, I’ve always had to have a small amount in my diet for health reasons.
However, since becoming emetophobic eating meat has been extremely difficult, (especially chicken) as I’m paranoid it’s not cooked properly and will make me sick.
This goes double for eating out since it’s not me or someone I trust preparing it, so I’ve always done the simple thing and avoided eating anything with meat in it while I’m out.
Luckily my health problems have actually improved this year and I’ve now been told by my doctor that it’s safe to cut meat out of my diet full stop, which we’re in the process of doing now!
Not only does this make me happy for personal reasons, but it also means that I no longer have to manage the anxiety and intrusive thoughts that my emetophobia triggers every time I had to eat any.
On a side note, I’m also careful about eating anything that could cause me to have an IBS flare up too.
One symptom of a flare I sometimes have is feeling nauseous, and while I thankfully don’t get that side effect very often, I obviously want to avoid the risk if I can.
As much as I hate to say this, I don’t think this phobia is ever going to fully go away.
While I’m miles better than I used to be, it’s been a long hard road to get here and it’s one I’ve had to do without any medical help.
Not for a lack of trying, but after three doctors dismissing me, with one even telling me to “stop being so stupid and just deal with it – no one likes being sick but you don’t see anyone else panicking over it” (spoiler: emetophobia is actually quite common!!) I gave up trying and decided I was just going to fight it on my own.
I actually felt sick a few days before writing this post, and I’m so proud of how I handled the whole episode.
Of course, I still panicked when I actively felt like I was going to be sick (luckily I wasn’t!) but I managed to calmly walk into the bathroom and distract myself with mentally planning out what I needed to do for my latest clients project.
Even more impressive than that was the fact that I managed to make myself eat afterwards!
Sure it wasn’t a three-course meal, but even just a bowl soup and bread with some digestive biscuits to nibble on throughout the day is more than I have ever managed to do before!
Do you struggle with emetophobia? What techniques or coping mechanisms do you use to cope with it, especially in winter?