Dating with Anxiety, Readers Questions
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Ask What You Want Wednesday: Struggling to Date with Emetophobia

I struggle with dating a lot and I severely struggle with Emetophobia as well. For years my emetophobia has just been a fear of vomiting in front of others and embarrassing myself. However, lately I have actually been vomiting in social situations, especially when I see a guy I am interested in. I am so ashamed of this and I’m trying to find the humor in it, but I am terrified that if I start to date this guy that I won’t be able to do it because of the vomiting. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Guys, this questions rocks because I definitely have not talked about emetophobia — and my history with it — nearly enough on this blog. I was  excited to see this message in my inbox because I sometimes forget how experiences that feel so isolating are actually shared experiences. Thank you for sending in this question. And buckle up, this is probably the longest Ask What You Want Wednesday in the history of this blog.

First off, there may be a physiological reason for these reactions and I would encourage you to speak with a medical professional. I am in no place to even begin to understand the complexities of the human body or the gag reflex or why a friend of mine once projectile vomited after having to meet the parents of her boyfriend.

That being said, you might spend some time thinking about how phobia disorders often share a lot of similarities with panic disorder, particularly when it comes to having an intense fear of when the next attack might occur and avoiding situations where they might happen. Sometimes the fear of something occurring is what triggers it. For example, a few years back I started developing a serious fear of getting diarrhea while on a plane when the seat belt sign was on. This triggered nerves in my system, which triggered an accumulation of what I call my “stomach bubbles,” which then resulted in bowel issues. It’s like the least fun game of dominoes that was ever played.

It’s important that you become familiar with the way your mind and body can play tricks on you and turn against you. And instead of trying to find the humor in it, maybe try and see the humanity in it. Be kind to yourself, patient with yourself, and remember that other people are often a lot more compassionate than you might think. And sometimes allowing others to know you are struggling a bit with something takes a HUGE weight off your shoulders…it removes the temptation to hide something or to be embarrassed of it. Make the choice to share what you’re going through with the people around you. This will give you back some control over the situation. Phobia disorders have a lot to do with feeling out of control.

Emetophobia is the fear of being sick, being near someone else who is sick, or basically anything related to seeing, hearing, wondering, fearing, imagining, or even thinking about vomit and sometimes when you’re watching TV and a character unexpectedly throws up it RUINS YOUR ENTIRE DAY.

I would encourage you to find a balance between pushing yourself to confront situations that scare you, while also ensuring you are still finding comfort. For example, instead of beating yourself up for not being able to go on an entire dinner date with a guy  you like, celebrate that you were able to FaceTime with him for five minutes. Or that you were able to take a short walk with him or you watched an episode of The Office with him, etc etc.

Face your fears while finding comfort. Find what works for you. Remember, just because other people are exploring relationships in a certain way doesn’t mean that has to be your way. The most important thing is that you don’t start avoiding situations that might end in joy because they are beginning with fear. Learn about yourself. Educate yourself. Take back the control by understanding as much as you can about what you’re going through.

Before I knew it had a name, I lived with emetophobia from ages 9 – 19 and it seriously fucked with my daily life. I developed some behaviors that were so obviously connected to this phobia (being obsessed with knowing where a restroom was, washing my hands a lot, fearing carnivals and fairs because people throw up on rides thanks a lot Sandlot, etc etc). I have a distinct memory from when I was 10 and in Disneyland. We were about to get on the new Indiana Jones ride and I started crying. But I wasn’t crying because I was afraid of the ride (like my parents assumed) but because I was afraid either A) it was going to make me sick or B) someone near me was going to throw up all their Disneyland cotton candy (*spoiler alert* nobody did and it was fun).

The phobia came to a tipping point when I started to apply for college around age 19 and as mainstream pop culture taught me, people were throwing up in every shrub of every frat party from drinking too much beer from tubes and it terrified me. I started crying one night to my mom, telling her I didn’t think I could go to college. It was the first time I truly tried explaining to her what it felt like to live in my body every day.

The next day she came home with a printed out packet about emetophobia and I’ve never felt more known or transparent. It was like someone had been following me around for years, documenting my thoughts and behaviors. Having that knowledge, educating myself, feeling understood gave me back some of the control.

In fact, it gave me back such a sense of control that I saved the website as one of my bookmarks on my 2006 desktop computer when I left for college. Any time I felt the old anxieties start to bubble up I would immediately sit down and reread the article. To remind myself that my case was not unique. To remind myself that others struggle with the same fear and still are able to live their lives. To remind myself to own it and keep pressing forward.

I’m a huge fan of the preemptive strike when it comes to situations that feel out of our control. This means that instead of being terrified something is going to occur and praying nobody is there to see, I make the conscious choice to announce it (usually in a self-deprecating kind of way) and warn people. Sometimes if I’m in the middle seat of an airplane I’ll apologize to the person in the aisle that I might be getting up a lot. This removes my fixation on what if I have to get up a lot or what if they wonder what’s wrong with me.

I feel for you, so so deeply, and it honestly hurts my heart to see that you are ashamed of what you’re experiencing. You in no way should feel this. It makes you so human and honest to be going through something like this. I know, very clearly, how it feels to feel trapped by your own body and by physiological reactions completely out of your control. However, do your best to love yourself and be patient and compassionate.

While not everyone I’ve met has been this way, my closest friends know exactly how my stomach can be. They are supportive, listen to me when I’m upset by it, and laugh when the situation is ridiculous. And Jared knows exactly how my bowels can turn on me and doesn’t hesitate to pull the car over if I need to shit in the woods. His sister is even awesome and once told me before a road trip, “I’ve got toilet paper in my bag if you need us to stop.” AMAZING.

Remember, there are people in your life who love you for you. They know you are human and they know humans have physiological reactions that aren’t always a garden of roses and cherub babies playing flutes.  And to be perfectly honest, fuck the people who would make you feel bad for struggling with emetophobia.

And now, here’s one of my favorite clips of a character who dreams of being an actress, but struggles with some uncontrollable physiological reactions. I watch this whenever I have to do something that terrifies me because 1) it hits close to home and 2) it always makes me laugh.

Also for trigger warning purposes: there is no vomit or vomiting in this video, but there are gag sounds.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: When Your Body Answers the Question “How are you?” For You | The Anxious Girl's Guide to Dating

  2. Pingback: My Anxiety Was a Third Wheel on My Honeymoon | The Anxious Girl's Guide to Dating

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