Archives for Emetophobia
I stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago because of the impact it had on my anxiety level. I think most people -- based on the entirely non-scientific Survey of Summer's Friends and Relatives -- find that alcohol helps them to relax. To loosen up. To calm down. But for me, it's entirely the opposite. Alcohol affects me -- negatively -- in two main ways. First, while drinking it, I become anxious. Second, after drinking it (specifically, the next morning), I become anxious. ANXIETY WHILE DRINKING Let's talk about the physiological effects first. While alcohol may be a depressant, it stimulates me. It makes my heart race and palpitate, which is incredibly uncomfortable. (It also seems to make my sinuses unhappy and my nose stuffy, which makes my breathing all funny, which in turn makes me anxious as well.)
In my last post, I wrote about the contents of what I lovingly refer to as my "nausea bag", the shoulder bag I stuff with anti-emetics and throw in the car for long car rides. Not only do I tend to feel carsick naturally, even when I'm not anxious, but the tummy troubles are amplified (and, arguably, initiated) by anxiety. I shared some of my favorite remedies for quelling anxiety-related nausea, including lemon oil, Dramamine, and anti-nausea wristbands. In the words of the immortal-yet-late Billy Mays, but wait -- there's more.
I went camping this past weekend -- a feat in itself, essentially. Thanks to our awesomely large tent and my penchant for over-packing, I felt safe. I had my anxiety meds. I had enough clothing. I had food and I had water and I had plenty of blankets. And, thankfully, I also had my "nausea bag". Because nausea is one of my most difficult-to-handle anxiety symptoms, I lug around a big black bag of Every Nausea Remedy Known To Man whenever I travel. I don't get carsick, exactly -- I've never actually puked on the side of the road or anything. But no matter: my stomach does flips, I start to sweat, I feel the impulse to dry heave, my mouth gets all spitty, and I sit whining in the passenger seat with my head between my knees. THE CHICKEN, THE EGG, OR BOTH? Does the nausea cause the anxiety, or does the anxiety (of traveling) cause the nausea? Framing such a question in an either/or fashion answers nothing. I'm certain it's a little bit of both. I'm emetophobic, so I'm afraid to puke (and afraid of feeling nausiated in general). And, I'm agoraphobic -- so I'm afraid to go out and travel by car. When nausea and anxiety combine, they form a powerful boss. And, as we were leaving the campsite on Sunday, my anxiety began to kick in. We collapsed the tent and, immediately, my symbolic safe space had been rolled up into a bag.
(Trigger warning for emetophobes: the "N" and "V" words are used in this post.) I really wanted to do another "Win Wednesday" post yesterday, but I couldn't. And why, you might ask? Well, I was hanging out on the bathroom floor with a box of saltines, a bottle of Pepto Bismol, peppermint oil, anti-nausea wristbands, Xanax, ginger candy, Pepsi, ginger ale, and Emetrol. I'm deathly afraid of the stomach virus to the point where I have a legitimate phobia of throwing up. Believe it or not, this fear is incredibly common, and it has a name: emetophobia. EMETOPHOBIA: THE FEAR OF VOMITING When I first learned it had a name, I felt less alone. I didn't feel weird for engaging in bizarre preventative measures to prevent me from throwing up (even when puking would probably make me feel better). For example: chewing some ginger gum at the first sign of nausea. Wearing anti-nausea wristbands in the car even before you feel nauseated. Always carrying a tin of peppermint Altoids in your purse or pocket. Just in case. Yesterday, as I lay on the bathroom floor in a mess of misery and fear, I turned to YouTube for distraction. First, I watched cute videos of small animals. Then, for some reason, I entered "emetophobia" as a search term.
The title alone tells the story...right? But allow me to fill in the gaps and explain why, over the past week, I've been doing so much mental hopscotch over this incident. Panic disorder sure has its ups and its downs. And sometimes -- and this is the part that's incredibly confusing and frustrating to both sufferers and their loved ones alike -- those ups and downs are back-to-back events. Case in point: last Monday, I had a huge "win". I drove 60 miles (by myself!) from my apartment to my parents' house...AT NIGHT. IN THE DAMN DARK. WITHOUT PANICKING. (This is crucial, people. Absolutely crucial. It's been forever since I've done something of that magnitude in the face of so many triggers [driving, driving at night, being alone while driving, and driving where cell reception is poor]. It's the kind of thing, really, that filled me with so much hope.) Then, more small wins: I attended a funeral service for a family friend on Tuesday (without panicking!) and joined everyone for lunch afterward (without panicking!). And, afterward, I spent the afternoon and evening with my dad -- I love him to pieces, of course, but we tend to butt heads sometimes -- and my anxiety level remained low for the entire time. Low low low. Like, I-feel-like-I've-taken-Xanax-without-taking-Xanax low. I was pleased with myself. And with my progress. ...AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT Then, enter Wednesday morning.
It's only February 8th, and I've already failed at my NaBloPoMo goal: one blog post, every single day, for the entire month of February. Why did I set such a goal? Well, because. Because I like to write. Because it's fun to have goals sometimes. Because I think that the more I write, the less I'll feel the heavy hand of perfectionism weighing down on each post. But, on February 7th, I did not write a blog post. What's my excuse? Well, I was too busy sleeping on the bathroom floor with some bastardization of the stomach flu. At 5:30 this morning, I found myself curled up with a bathrobe and a rug. The scene: peppermint oil near the radiator. A pack of ginger gum under my left thigh. Anti-nausea bands on my wrists. A cup of home-made Gatorade (water, OJ, salt, sugar) on the sink. The past 24 hours have been difficult and long. Nausea is one of my panic triggers, and I'm a self-diagnosed emetophobe -- so of course, every minute felt like an hour. I shook not only because of the chills and the fever, but because my nervous system still -- even after how much CBT? -- likes to overreact to uncomfortable bodily sensations.
(Warning: some emetophobics have a difficult time encountering words and themes related to their phobia. Even just the words alone can be very triggering. If you are extremely sensitive to the "V" and "N" words, and their various slang names, please read the below with caution.) Sure, vomiting is unpleasant. I don't know a single soul who looks forward to getting the stomach virus, but most of my friends and family members can puke, if needed, with a staggeringly positive attitude and a calm demeanor. I don't know how they do it. Nausea and vomiting -- even just the idea of vomiting -- are panic triggers for me. Nausea will easily produce a fight-or-flight response in my gut, and the resulting adrenaline rush will, in turn, stir up more nausea. I am afraid of feeling nauseous and afraid of what the unsettled stomach might lead to. But is my fear of vomiting a phobia in and of itself?
Yesterday, I presented a list of my fears from A through M. Many different types of fears made the list -- from the more serious (like anxiety itself) to the more whimsical (like joke-telling). Now, here are the rest of my alphabetical anxieties: 14. Nausea. It's unpleasant and (unfortunately) quite common for those of us with anxiety disorders. Yuck. 15. Overanalyzing. Once I get started, it's all downhill from there on bad days. Why does my head hurt? Never mind the fact that I just stared at a bright computer screen for three hours and my eyes are fatigued; it's probably a brain tumor. If it's a brain tumor, how will I know? Should I go to the doctor for this? Will I need to undergo tests? CAT scans? An MRI? How will I afford that? 16. Powerlines. In second grade, I was standing outside on the sidewalk with my parents and neighbors after a nasty thunderstorm caused a neighborhood blackout. Hopeful that power would be restored before that night's episode of Full House aired, I pointed with excitement to the top of a telephone pole above that was lighting up. I thought it was a streetlight coming back on...until I heard the snapping and crackling of raw electricity. I ran at the speed of light as the power line attached to the sparking pole fell in front of my parents' house. (Almost 20 years later, I still have a hard time walking underneath the really high-voltage lines.) 17. Quinoa. It's not that the ancient grain itself scares me, but I'm always worried about mispronouncing it again. This is what happens when you read about a food on the internet and ask for it in the store without ever having spoken the word aloud. Excuse me, can I have some kwin-OH-uh, please? Where do you stock your kwin-OH-uh? Why don't you understand me, grocery store clerk? 18. Restrooms. There are plenty of reasons to be wary of public restrooms -- germs, unsanitary toilet seats, the risk of someone stealing your purse from the inner door hook -- but my fear is different. And perhaps strange. And perhaps quite indicative of emetophobia. I am always worried that I'll hear someone vomiting in another stall. I can't stand that sound.