The most extreme sufferers devote their lives to avoiding anything that might bring on illness — including seemingly innocuous everyday occurrences like a catered office lunch, an alcoholic drink, oyster happy hour, or a child in line at the supermarket complaining of a sore stomach.
And those avoidance strategies can get extreme: Some sufferers will refuse to leave the house, eat, take medicine, get in a moving vehicle, or have children according to a study, almost half of female emetophobes will delay pregnancy or bypass it completely. Some studies indicate that a fear of losing control underpins emetophobia, which, like other anxiety disorders, tends to impact women more than men.
The interview below — with a year-old from Mt. Is vomiting your biggest fear? I would rather face death than vomit. What am I going to do? How much time do you spend thinking about vomiting? My main focus in life is to not get sick. When was the last time you vomited? It was in and I went into full melt-down mode. My mom had to hold me because I was so upset I made myself pass out. Can you pinpoint when this fear began? When I was in kindergarten I saw someone else throw up for the first time.
It was this little kid called Kenny. He came out of a tiny playhouse and sat in the middle of the floor and just puked. I saw all these chewed-up pretzels, which we had been snacking on, and I got so upset.
Everyone was running away from him, and I got really shaky and hid and plugged my ears. It happened again in fourth grade and that time I ran into the supply closet.
My dad was also really sick when I was growing up. He passed away from an overdose when I was 10 years old. He was really ill mentally and physically and had numerous open-heart surgeries. His cardiologist gave him Oxycontin right before he was scheduled to have his latest surgery to repair his sternum, and he overdosed.
I was the one who found him. I currently live with my mother, who has a lung condition. Because her esophagus is herniated into her chest, when she eats a big meal and gets full she gets nauseous, and when she says she feels nauseous I freak out. Do you remember a moment at which your fear got truly extreme?
The turning point was when I was about Everyone thought I had an eating disorder and that I wanted to be skinny, and nobody would believe that I was just scared of vomiting. When you try to eat, your body is like, No! What are you doing? I think about my stomach constantly. I tried to kill myself when I was 14 and following that I was hospitalized, and they overdosed me on lithium and I spent four days vomiting foam.
That was one of the scariest experiences of my life. It was when I got tonsillitis and the stomach bug that the whole throwing-up fear began. Can you talk me through your routine? After I wake up, I take my morning meds Prilosec, propranolol for my heart, and some aspirin then I spend the first hour of the day analyzing my body. Does it feel okay? I'll smoke a cigarette while I gauge how my body is feeling.
In the meantime, I clean up the house, disinfect everything, take my dog out, check the mail, and try to stay busy. I'm gonna eat whatever. I'll spend the day worrying about my stomach. I'll sip on water and chew gum or suck on peppermint candies. I'm usually in a bad mood. I just sit in a recliner with a heating pad and some ibuprofen and Sprite. I lie down, but my mind won't allow me to sleep because I'm scared I'll wake up in the middle of the night and vomit. So I usually just lie there until 4 or 5 a.
What other sorts of things do you avoid because of your fear? I hate car rides with other people, as a lot of my friends get carsick, so I avoid that. Children are dirty and constantly sick, so I will avoid them at all costs. I hate going to crowded parties because people don't wash their hands and that spreads germs like wildfire. I will not ride buses. I wash my hands much more than I should.
I follow the second scrubbing rule, and I have hand sanitizer. I never put my hands to my mouth, and I try to steer clear of anyone who is sick. Do I have anything in my stomach that I might throw up? What about sex, or other intimate situations? He usually washes his hands as he should, and is a particularly clean person. How has your phobia impacted your social life?
Here we go again. It might make me sick. Is your stomach okay? I have a list of foods I consider safe. My safe foods are pretzels, Cheez-It crackers, toast, boiled chicken, homemade beefs and noodles or homemade chicken noodle soup, steamed or boiled carrots, potatoes and noodles, cheesy poofs, and these little things we have here in Ohio called smiley fries, which are smiley-face-shaped fries with mashed potatoes inside — I nuke them or bake them.
What sort of foods do you consider unsafe? Seafood, shellfish, and sushi are definite no-goes: Ground beef freaks me out a few states around here recently had a contamination scare. I stay away from butter, red pasta sauces, spaghetti, pizza, Hot Pockets, pizza rolls, or anything like that because they are heavy on my stomach.
I never, ever, drink regular soda or tea only caffeine-free stuff and onions scare me. I do not eat at buffets. When I cook I burn everything. Do you ever eat out? The last time I went out to eat was over a year ago when my cousin was visiting, and we went to a steakhouse.
I had a Reuben sandwich, fries, breadsticks, deep-fried mushrooms, and tons of other appetizers. I miss it so much; it was so much fun. I order the same thing every time. Do you have any rituals or crutches that you depend on to calm you down? I chew a lot of gum, and I have hard candies. I drink ginger ale and Sprite and stuff like that. Do you think your fear will stop you from having children?
Even when my dog gets sick I freak out and have to leave the room. What happens when someone close to you gets sick? It happened on Saturday. My best friend got hammered and threw up in my car.
I pulled over and I just plugged my ears and hummed, and I was just shaking. My heart was racing. If I get nauseous before bed I get my mom to stay up with me rubbing my back until about 7 or 8 a.
It always seems to hit me then. My thing is worrying about waking up in the middle of the night and feeling sick. Why am I awake? Am I going to get nauseous? Am I going to puke? I had a nervous breakdown in a hospital bed. I was screaming so loud doctors and nurses came rushing in from other rooms.
I was scared because I knew what was going to happen, I was going to be forced to eat, and I just wanted it all to end; I wanted to go home and just wake myself up from this nightmare. Eventually the doctor sat with me and just asked what was going on.
It still took a few months to come back from all of it and get my body where it needed to be. Have you ever spent a night alone?