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For many people the title of this piece will be a foreign term. It ends with "phobia," so clearly it is about fear – but of what? A phobia is defined not just as a fear, but as an irrational fear of something. Common phobias include irrational fear linked to fire, spiders, snakes, heights, germs, etc... Emetophobia is a lesser well-known phobia, despite it being not all that uncommon. It is the fear of vomit, vomiting, people who are vomiting or who will potentially vomit. Vomit, vomit, vomit. Even writing that word several times is an exercise in exposure therapy. The mere word can trigger panic.
I'm not entirely certain when I started to develop this phobia; they say there is usually one large, triggering event in your life that sparks it. However, I have several memories that involve vomit, none of them particularly striking. When I was only 12 years old I started to feel gripping fear whenever I thought I might catch an illness that involved vomiting. At that age, I was also in the midst of disordered eating. I was already swept away by culture's unrelenting obsession with weight loss and having the ideal body. I ate very little, which caused stomach problems, which of course lead to a sore stomach. Not only was I dealing with this fear of vomiting, but it was being fed by disordered eating (no pun intended). Both my phobia and disorder nourished one another. I associated consumption of food with vomiting — I believed if I didn't eat or ate very little, I would not throw up. Eventually, I received help, I broke out of disordered eating, and started medication that eased some of my anxiety towards vomiting.
Although I have improved throughout the years and learned to cope in some ways, to this day I still struggle with emetophobia. It's hard to talk about, because many people just brush it off by saying, "Ah, well, nobody likes throwing up, do they?" Obviously. Obviously no one enjoys vomiting. It is an unpleasant feeling. But when it is a phobia, it is taken beyond what is normal. What people don't understand is, when I say I have a vomiting phobia, I don't mean I just would rather not do it, I mean I'd rather scratch my skin raw than throw up. Desperately, I try to find another sensation that can overpower the feeling of nausea and the anxiety that comes with it. Although, most people don't like throwing up, do they do what I do to the skin on my forearms? No. So when I tell someone I have a severe fear of vomiting and in response they make light of it, feelings of anger and frustration surface. It is a well-known that hose who don't have it, can't understand it. In the same way I could not tell someone with a phobia of fire that I completely understand their gripping fear. However, having emetophobia, stops me from making light of their situation. Though I do not understand it, I understand phobia.
Essentially, emetophobia is the fear of your own bodily functions. We throw up in order to remove toxins from our systems — it is what our body does to protect us. I can tell myself a thousand times a day that vomiting is relatively a good thing for you to do, if your body requires it, it doesn't take away my fear. I can think rationally about vomiting and its benefits, but the fear is irrational. It's exhausting being afraid of your own body.
For all of you out there who understand and even to those who don't, healing and recovery is a process. Take it each day at a time. It's hard, but I want my dreams and aspirations to be bigger than my fear. One day I want to be a mother. I don't really have to explain how that links with emetophobia. I want to be able to sensibly deal with morning sickness; when my child is sick I want to be right there with them, not cowering in another room.
My love for them WILL be greater than my fear.