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Fear of Choking

How I learned of Pseudodysphagia

This is my experience.

Two weeks ago at work, I had a short shift, but that didn't stop me from eating lunch. I decided to order a chicken sandwich at the deli. So, on my 10 minute break, I took a seat in the break room to eat.

I’m at my happiest when I’m the only person in the break room eating. No one to talk to me, no one bothering me, it’s just me. As I began eating most of my sandwich, something about the last bite was different. This piece slowly went down and stopped.

I reacted by trying to swallow again and again. It’s a reaction I did in hopes it would help. It didn’t. My breathing was becoming short and harder to do. Everything started to become hazy. The best way to describe it, TV being fuzzy for not being connected to an antenna properly, or connected to cable. It’s this black and white fuzzy all over the place. That is what my vision started to look like. As it became harder, a smoky black cloud faded in. I should have reacted by getting up from the table and rushing outside the break room, but I just couldn’t move. I focused more on trying to move this piece of chicken out of my throat. I really don’t know what I was thinking. Why I didn’t want to reach out for help? I couldn’t tell you.

What felt like an eternity all came to a halt. I don’t know what happened, I don’t know HOW it happened, I just know the piece became free. I think, I recall cheese slowly go down my throat. The black cloud went away, a lot of stars came in after that, but I could breathe. At the same time, I still couldn’t move. It took me a few moments of sitting still and gathering what had just happened. I cried.

I’m not the type to like confrontation, I did what I normally do best, I moved on. I collected myself and pulled through it because I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I went for my drink and I tried to take a few sips and it just sat in my mouth. I remember counting and then swallowing. I was fine. Even though swallowing these sips took about two minutes to take in, nothing occurred to me that it was a small fear. I figured it was normal to react this kind of way after that awful moment.

As I collected my thoughts, and myself, I went back to work. I didn’t say anything to any employee. I kept to myself and went about my job. I texted my husband about the situation and he asked if I was ok. I told him I was, because truth be told, I felt fine. Don’t get me wrong, I felt like crap, but I was fine.

I finished my shift, went home, and made dinner. As I was with my family having my sloppy joes and french fries, I felt this overwhelming sensation. I sat there staring at my food. My husband questioned my spacing out and I lied to him about the thoughts going through my head. I took a small bite and smiled. I didn’t want him to worry. I think that is where I go wrong in life, I don’t like it when people worry about me. Not sure if this makes me odd. It's one of my many traits. 

Chewing that first bite became so exhausting. I just kept chewing and chewing. It felt like an hour. When I tried to swallow, a hamburger piece became stuck slightly, but it passed. My heartbeat quickened and I started to overthink. The more I overthought, the worse each bite became. Another piece slowly went down the pipe. The next piece went down weirdly, but because I was so scared, I brought it back up. This piece, I  chewed on it some more. I couldn’t swallow it and the more I panicked over it, the more difficult it became to swallow. I decided to grab a tissue and leave the table. Heading towards the kitchen, I spat the food out into the tissue and threw it away. I decided to get a drink of water and I took sips just fine, but something about this meal, I couldn’t handle. Heading back to the table, even the french fries became difficult to eat. I continued to tell myself everything was fine. I grabbed my water and took a few sips to finish the rest in my mouth. I acknowledge when eating, I am using water to swallow food as if the food was a pill. I couldn’t figure out why I was eating like this. Every bite became this emotional roller coaster. I built myself up and before you knew it, I couldn’t enjoy my meal. My stomach went into knots and I had to lay down. I looked to my husband and told him I wasn’t feeling well. Left the table. For one week, this is how I struggled eating.

As the week went on, it didn't consist of me eating much. I went to work, didn’t eat breakfast, ate something super small at work, like crackers. I'm not sure why, but it was easier to eat with water. Yep, I ate off anything crunchy, like crackers, chips, and, believe it or not, milk chocolate dove bars with water or caffeine free tea.

I ate, but it wasn’t much. When I did eat, water and caffeine-free tea became my security blanket. I couldn’t eat without it, when I tried, I would freak out over it, causing anxiety in eating, which made it difficult to swallow that lead to more choking issues. I was starting to become depressed over it. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so weak.

On top of this whole mess, I am currently dieting. Trying to better myself, but the weight I lost felt like a cheat because I had a hard time eating. I knew something had to be done, but I just didn’t know how to reach out to people. I knew something was wrong, because a coworker of mine asked if I had an eating disorder. I explained nicely that no, I wasn't going through an eating disorder. Just simply wasn't feeling well. That really got to me. I was lying about my experience and if they thought this about me, what did my family think of me? What about my friends? Were they judging me too? 

One night, I was laying on the couch watching television and I decided to google “fear of swallowing after choking,” and a bunch of articles came up for it. I didn’t know there was a real term for what I was going through.

The term “Pseudodysphagia” kept popping up, and the more research I did, the more similarities I had with each listing posted. But, I also had a lot of, “Don’t confuse this with fear of swallowing, Phagophobia.” I also did a lot of research with that as well. I didn’t seem to connect with that term. I also knew that if I could swallow my drink with no problem, then I didn’t have Phagophobia. I still was unsure. Wanted more answers. I know, I should have just called my doctor, but I was scared. Scared of the results, the answers, the questions, and I couldn’t do it. With that, I did the next best thing.

I decided then that I had to reach out to someone who would be the next best fit, my mother. My mother is an LPN and she’s been a nurse before I was born. I don’t know why I hesitated to let her know what I went through this, but it was difficult. When I explained the situation, a lot of weight came off my shoulders. Her response, “I went through something similar.” This was news to me. First time I even heard of this. She too kept it to herself, but for 15 years. I couldn’t believe it. I felt bad for not knowing but relieved for not being alone.

My mother told me, “For now, just do a liquid diet, don’t stress, and you have to relax and drink lots of water. Your anxiety will go away in time.” I felt better. Something about our conversation helped me cope with what I needed to cope with.

When my husband went on break that night, I told him everything. He’s so very helpful and supportive (like always). I felt kind of stupid for not going to him sooner. I don’t know why I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. When so many family members and friends were very understanding.

Reaching out really did help me. I continued to have better results with eating as the days went by. It's been a month now. I went from not eating, to taking an hour and a half, to just 30 minutes to eat. I went from having soups, to slowly adding in crunchier items, and soft items like scrambled eggs are good now. I still struggle with heavier items like burgers, sandwiches, and that’s fine. I know I will get better. My security blankets, water and tea, are still needed. They need to be close by at all times. As I am improving, my anxiety does flare up here and there with certain foods.

This has changed my life because eating alone is not what I enjoy anymore. It's depressing when I can't eat foods I enjoy most. I hope in time, I can. It's a real struggle. I have great days and then I have bad days. I been told to not overthink it, but I can't help it. I don't ever want to go through this again. This is definitely a huge learning experience.

Thank you for reading.

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