Wednesday, May 14, 2014

MHAW '14 | "But no one likes being sick..."

...that's very true, it's not pleasant for anyone to get a stomach bug or feel a 'little dodgy' after a night of indulgence. Although, I'm not just talking about disliking throwing up here.

Emetophobia is an extreme fear of vomit, an anxiety disorder which is thought to affect around 3.5 million people in the UK alone. That's five percent of the population, most of which are women. I am one of them. 

It's a chronic, often life-long, disorder which can hugely impact sufferer's lives. It can dictate what they can eat, who they see, whether they leave the house, travel or even have children. According to OCD-UK it's the sixth most common phobia, despite this studies have found that almost a third of GPs have never heard it and it's highly undiagnosed. 

I've suffered with emetophobia since I was seven years old. It hugely affected my childhood, terrorised my teens and still impacts on my life as an adult. 

There have been times I would have rather died than thrown up. 

Studies have shown most sufferers develop the phobia as a child often after a trauma, with nine being the average age of on-set. However, I didn't know it even had a name until my teens. So trust me when I say I felt alone with the extreme panic attacks and obsessive, intrusive thoughts the disorder caused.

A page from my teenage journal
The way it can affect sufferer's lives varies massively. Some won't leave the house if sickness bugs are going round (Norovirus is the worst!), panic if someone says they feel sick and be unable to care for ill loved ones. It stops people taking medicines with a 'nausea' side effect. Emetophobia often puts some women off having children, because of sickness during pregnancy then the thought of caring for an ill child. Trust me, some of these also come with huge amount of guilt.

The extreme measures someone with emetophobia takes to avoid vomit are closely linked with other mental health disorders, such as OCD and eating disorders. Both of which I've been diagnosed (and incorrectly diagnosed) with in the past. This is usually down to the level of control sufferers seek over everything around them to avoid vomit. 

This can range massively between individuals, but almost all will have compulsive behaviours such as hand washing and avoidance of touching surfaces, checking use-by-dates, needing to be near toilets...and so on. Most sufferers could probably reel-off the times and dates of when they were last sick and what they ate prior to it. I certainly can. 

In terms of food, it can lead to a highly restrictive diet of 'trusted' or simple foods which is where ties with eating disorders come in. For some it means eating food cooked by friends or family or in restaurants a no-go area. In my case I have rules about the colours of foods I can eat and need to see how it's prepared. I also still struggle to eat the meals I directly associate with being ill in the past and street food is strictly off-limits. You can see how this gets tied up with anorexia, right? 

It can be treated, usually with cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness work,  in similar ways someone with OCD would. I'm still working on the lingering intrusive thoughts emetophobia brings at the same time as my recovery from anorexia nervosa. 

But, we need to talk about Emetophobia more often. Doctors need to understand how it differs from other disorders and like any other anxiety disorder through challenging it, sufferers can lead normal lives. 

So, If you really think about the spiralling impact of emetophobia and how it complicates life for sufferers, you can see why it's more than just not liking throwing up. 


I've talked about my personal experience of Emetophobia before. See it here
I've written about it on my recovery blog HERE
Another emetophobe, Jessica shared her experiences with Time to Change HERE
You can get more Emetophobia Help and Info HERE
There's an National Emetophobia Awareness Day (March 4th) each year. 
There is an International Emetophobia Society support forum 
Anxiety UK explain it here...

There are people tweeting about Emetophobia: 

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