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What I Wish I Knew When I Was First Diagnosed With Emetophobia

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Hi my name is Chelsie and I have emetophobia.

If your initial reaction was something like, “Emeto…what?” it’s OK. It’s not uncommon for people to not know what this is — and it’s something I’ve gotten used to explaining.

Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up. No, it is not the same thing as being squeamish or “just not liking to get sick.” And yes, I completely understand there is nothing to be afraid of, but that hasn’t stopped me from having panic attacks in my bedroom about a loved one feeling nauseous or after eating food that just didn’t seem right to me.

I honestly don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t scared to throw up. My earliest memories of this phobia start when I was about 4 years old after a botched tonsillectomy left me sick to my stomach for two months. I’ll spare you the details, but it was not great. From there, this phobia took on a life of it’s own.

I began to obsessively clean my hands and if I couldn’t wash them after going somewhere, I’d avoid touching my face in fear of contamination. I worried about foodbourne illness, so you can imagine the amount of food I ate was small. When I did eat, it had to be on my safe food list. That list contained a completely starch driven diet of pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. Coughing is a serious trigger, and if someone says that they were sick over the weekend, it sends me into a tizzy. Winter was the worst time of year because of the fear of norovirus, and the thought of having children sends me into a genuine panic. I don’t like to travel for a multitude of reasons, and you can forget taking any form of transportation other than my own car that I drive myself.

Worst of all, it’s spending every day, worrying about what your body feels like. Every stomach ache, every gurgle and growl. It’s freaking out over a headache, feeling dizzy or having abnormal bowel movements. It’s looking in the mirror, thinking you look pale, and falling into a panic attack because now you’re surely going to get sick.

Emetophobia is hard because you are basically afraid of yourself, and last I checked, you can’t exactly avoid yourself. Trust me, every emet has tried to find a way to just run from our own bodies, but it just can’t be done. And for 18 years I spent my time thinking I was certifiably crazy, because I didn’t even know that these insane quirks were something others suffered from.

Looking back, I wish I had someone who could have told me what really matters when dealing with emetophobia, and that’s why I want to make sure I share them with you:

1. You are not alone.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone in a world of people who think throwing up is no big deal, and we should just get over it. No one understands what it’s like, and unfortunately sometimes our parents, friends or significant others don’t exactly get it either, which leaves us feeling alone. But fear not, you are not alone. There is a huge community of people out there who just get you. They understand the panic, the fear, the anxieties, the late night pacing you do after a nightmare… There are countless support groups and communities on Facebook full of people who struggles just like you. They are always there to remind you that although this phobia can be isolating, and while most people don’t understand, they just get you, and sometimes that’s really all we need.

2. It’s OK to feel how you feel. 

Despite what you may think, your feelings are valid. You are experiencing true, intense emotions about something that you believe is life threatening. So it’s OK that sometimes you feel like you can’t handle it, or you let your panic overwhelm you. Just because someone else doesn’t understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes doesn’t mean that it’s not OK to struggle with this, or that your feelings are any less valid. You don’t have to explain yourself, just know that it’s seriously fine, and we’re here to help you through it.

3. Recovery is possible.

There are many tried and true methods to overcoming this phobia, including counseling, medication and self-help books. It took me two years of counseling, going once a week, every week, before I could say I was living 70 percent anxiety-free. Prior to that, I would say I was living most of my days 75-85 percent anxiety filled. It took me two years to get to that point, and even on a good, full-70 percent day, I still had a lot of work to do. Now, at year three, I’m about 90 percent anxiety-free, and I’m still working for 100 percent. Recovery is possible, but it takes time. Don’t give up if you don’t see progress in six months, or a year. This phobia takes time to get over, and it’s become ingrained in your habits, both consciously and subconsciously. It’s going to take time to reverse those feelings, so don’t get down if it takes a little while.

4. There will be good days, I promise.

Life with emetophobia is full of bad days; days where you can barely work up the nerve to get out of bed, let alone venture outside to get the mail. But with every bad day, there will be good days, wonderful days even. There will be days that you wake up and just know you can take on the world, even if it’s just for a few hours. You will find hope in those good days, and I hope you use that hope to remind you that you can do this.

5. You are so much more than your phobia.

In a world where we can get so consumed with our anxieties, depression and fears, it’s easy to forget who we are. You are so much more than your phobia makes you believe. You are strong, you are funny, you are smart. You have passions and goals and big, big plans. You may have emetophobia, but you are not your emetophobia. Stand strong in the face of your fears, and you will be surprised at what the universe will give back to you.

You can get more information on emetophobia on You, Me & Emetophobia.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: April 15, 2016
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