The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
There are not many things that have stuck with me throughout my whole life. As humans, we are in a constant state of transition. Our personalities are ever-changing, our physical traits are continuously evolving, but despite feeling like a completely different person than I was a year ago, some things never change. For me, it’s my emetophobia.
Emetophobia is defined as “A disproportionate fear of vomiting…is a chronic and disabling condition which is characterized by a tendency to avoid a wide array of situations or activities that might increase the risk of vomiting.” (National Institute of Health) I can confidently confirm that I am emetophobic.
Since I was a kid, nothing has induced such intense fear and anxiety in my life quite like throw up. Such a harmless thing. You’d think, vomit can’t hurt you, you’re not in the face of danger, there are much scarier things. But alas, my fear of vomit is the center of almost all the anxiety I experience daily.
While there is not a specific event I can think of that sparked my irrational fear (it is very possible that I have blocked it out of my memory), the first experience I had with emetophobia was when I was in second grade. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what it was, all I remember was feeling intense anxiety as my seat partner complained of a stomach ache. Soon after, myself and all my belongings were covered with vomit. For a while, I believed this was the initial reason for my fear, but as I look back on the situation, I have vivid memories of being extremely anxious before he threw up, indicating my fear had begun before actual vomit was on the scene.
Unfortunately, my encounters with vomit didn’t stop there. As of today, I have been thrown up on 8 times throughout my life. (Highlights include: junior year winter formal, by my best friend in the car, by my boyfriend at the fair, I could go on…) Obviously, this has only increased my fear, as interacting with my nemesis (vomit) did not provide exposure therapy, but instead just reinforced the intensity of my emetophobia.
Of course, no one likes throw up, but most people have little to no understanding of what emetophobia is. Emetophobia only affects 0.1% of the population and women are four times more likely to suffer from a fear of vomiting. (National Institute of Health)
Most of my childhood I felt misunderstood, and I myself didn’t understand why I felt so scared of a harmless thing. Usually, if I was seen freaking out, or tried to explain the way I was feeling, I was often told, “Honey, you’re just going to have to get over it,” or “Tyler, you’re being ridiculous.” So, throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I assumed I was alone in my fear. It wasn’t until the past year that I realized what emetophobia is. I was overwhelmed with a sense of validation after realizing that what I experience every day is something I don’t have to do alone.
Being emetophobic affects every single aspect of my life. Things like sitting on the back of the bus, long car rides, or being in large crowds, are clouded with thoughts and worries of the possibility of someone throwing up. College drinking culture has significantly increased my emetophobia. Life in the dorms has forced me to be exposed to vomit more than ever before. I choose which bathroom to use based on which ones I know have not been thrown up in. I will never get drunk due to the sheer terror of throwing up. Even the idea of going to therapy to treat my phobia daunts me (mostly due to the fear of being prescribed exposure therapy). I worry that in the future, my ability to be a mom will be hindered because of my emetophobia.
I cannot guarantee I will ever get over my fear, but I know that managing it by myself isn’t an option. By joining communities through social media and meeting people at my university who are also emetophobic, I no longer feel alone in my fear, and I could not be more grateful.