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A Letter to My Six-Year-Old Self: My Battle With Emetophobia

Justin W. Price, AKA PDXKaraokeGuy, is a freelance writer, blogger, and award-nominated author based out of Juneau, Alaska.

What is Emetophobia?

Emetophobia is the chronic and persistent fear of vomiting or throwing up, despite the reassurance by others that there is no danger.

There are currently over twenty-nine million websites dedicated to this fear and is is commonly recognized as the fifth most common fear.

Emetophobia can be triggered by a single traumatic event, such as a long bout of stomach flu, accidentally vomiting in public, or having to witness someone else vomit (as in my case). This fear can be triggered at any time and at any age and is not specific to a gender or demographic. Interestingly, most people with emetophobia rarely, if ever, vomit. Some sufferers, including this author, report that they have not thrown up since childhood, yet they constantly worry that it might happen

Sources: wikipedia.org, emetophobia.com

Get help for your emetophobia

Dear Six-Year-Old-Justin,

I still remember that day, twenty-five years ago, when you were in first grade. You had just returned from recess and your fellow classmates were all in the bathroom, getting ready to return to class. You finished early and made your way back to your desk. You laid your little towhead down and closed your eyes, tired from a hard day of playing and learning. You hated first grade. Mr. Wing had this long, orange table in the back of the classroom. Throughout the day, students from all age levels would come in with pink slips from their teachers or the principal. You would read the note and point at the desk. They would lay their head down for an interminable period of time, on that desk. We’d all watch the humiliation and shame, like the stocks in colonial America, only we were not allowed to throw fruit. You’d always worry that one day you’d be sent to that desk. You could feel the burn in your feet from standing, the Plantar Fascitis that won’t be diagnosed for another twenty years already wreaking havoc on your young, tender soles.

But the worst is yet to come, or at least, you will perceive it as such. Brace yourself. It’s not the worst. Traumatic, certainly, but not the worst. When your grandmother passes away of a sudden heart attack in ten years, that will be worse. When your favorite dog, a sheltie named Cocoa, whom you won’t get for another two years, dies in fifteen years, that will be worse. You’re going to marry the wrong woman in seventeen years and get divorced in twenty, creating disarray and turmoil that me, your thirty-one year self, is still dealing with even though he is now married to an amazing woman. That will be worse. Your favorite uncle Dale is going to pass away from cancer in twenty four years; that will be worse.

What’s about to happen is going to be bad and traumatic. It’s going to lead to a series of irrational fears. I want you to know this is a real legitimate fear. There will someday be 29 million websites dedicated to this fear. You don’t yet know what websites are but someday, you won’t be able to stay away from them. The entire world will be hooked. I highly recommend that you buy some stocks in companies in like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace (though, with MySpace, sell early. It’s going to peak around 2008 and then fizzle and die like a bad fart). You’re going to turn into a night owl as a way to conquer this fear, as the event you fear is more likely to occur at night then it is during the light of day. This fear is the fifth most common fear in the world, though it’s rarely diagnosed because it’s cloaked with fears like the fear of heights (which you also have. I can’t help you there. Still working on that), claustrophobia, the fear of flying, agoraphobia, etc. The fear you’re about to develop is normal, even if it is irrational. People like Matt Lauer, Cameron Diaz, Howie Mandel and Denise Richards—people whom are famous now—share this fear. You’re not alone. Take heart.

In the classroom, you emerged from your sleepy haze to see Ben walk in the room. Ben looks sick. He has a long horse face, round glasses and a crew cut mullet. Mullets will go out of style in a few years, though some folks will refuse to get rid of them, even as their hair begins to recede. He’s wearing a beige sweater and grey slacks. He was always a fine dresser and a total brainiac. He’s probably living on a yacht somewhere with a beautiful woman, and a back account bulging with interest. But those days are a ways away. Right now, let’s focus on that day that you remember with such vividity. That day that’s going to cross your mind fairly regularly, even twenty five years after. Aside from Mr. Wing’s orange desk and male patterned baldness, is the only thing you’ll remember from first grade.

You looked back at Ben and you smiled. This was normal for you. You were a very friendly kid and you weren’t jaded yet. That didn’t start to happen until you change schools two years later and became a constant victim of taunting and ridicule. There, at Clackamas Elementary, you were popular and well liked, even if you did get teased occasionally for befriending “Elizabeth the Retard” and Michelle Tonwshend who, next year on the school bus home, is going to plant her ugly lips on yours on the school bus on the way home. Don’t sweat it. No one is going to see it happen and you’ll never see her again after second grade. Let her have her moment.

Ben didn’t smile back. He just laid his head on his desk, his face contorted in an ugly sneer. You were not yet concerned until, suddenly, he burst from his desk, placed his hands on his stomach and groaned his way to the classroom door. He didn’t make it and a jet of grey, chunky vomit erupted from his mouth and splattered on the checkered tile. Your froze, unsure how to act and huddled deep in your desk, terrified by the retches, abhorred by the odor. You covered your ears tightly with your hands . You tried to hide your face but instead saw a girl named Julie in her blue dress get caught off guard, nearly walk into the vile bile and jump back, screaming and crying. Centuries of time went by before Mr. Wing returned and began to pat Ben on the back and run his fingers through his hair as he finished his awful affair. He began to cry and Mr. Wing gently walked him down the hall and out of sight. You could hear the sobs of your classmates, but you were still alone in the room. His vomit had splattered across the doorway, forming a grotesque fence that no student, least of all you, would dare cross.

You developed emetophobia. It’s most common in women (many emetophobic women will abstain from motherhood in order to avoid the morning sickness of pregnancy) but don’t let that make you feel like less of a man. You take great measures to avoid vomiting. No one likes it, but you, and other emetophobics, hate it. It scares you. The helplessness, the sounds, the smells; you would rather be sick for months then experience even the momentary displeasure of vomiting. This is irrational, but very real.

You keep your fridge stocked with ginger ale, tortillas and bread, because these soothe the nausea. Pepto Bismol will become your constant companion. Vitamin C and multi-vitamins will flood your system, creating very expensive urine. Your immune system is top notch, I must admit. You will actually not even vomit for twelve years, and the only reason that that streak ended was because you unwisely mixed marijuana with whiskey. I would caution you to avoid that mixture, but, you’ll remember, you survived that. It didn’t kill you. You’re afraid of cancer, not because of the mortality rate, but because of the symptoms of nausea and frequent vomiting. This fear at times takes over your life.

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Read More From Youmemindbody

You avoid people who are sick. Last Christmas, your best friend Travis, and his wife were visiting from California. They developed a flu that Travis (you know him already, but you’ll get to know him even more. You’ll be the best man in his wedding, he’ll be the best man in your first wedding, and an avid supporter in your second) referred to as “Montezuma’s Revenge.” You avoided seeing them for fear that you would catch this bug and find your face over a toilet bowl. They come up once a year and you avoided seeing them until the last possible day because you were worried you might get sick.

You will develop a fear of staircases and stair wells, for fear that someone may vomit over the edge and splatter you with it. This fear seemed irrational until last night when you saw vomit over the railing of your apartment complex, in the hallway where you walk up the stairs to your apartment with your dogs. You shudder at the thought that you could have been there and witnessed the vile act. You nearly gagged when you thought that you could have been splattered with it, and, again when you nearly stepped in it and caught of a whiff of its acrimonious odor.

No one likes being sick and it’s wise to avoid it at all costs. It’s bad for your teeth, it’s hard on your muscles and it’s an unpleasant, helpless experience; but it’s also an unfortunate part of life. You know it makes you feel better and you know it’s only a temporary thing. I’m not suggesting you go out and vomit. I just want you to not be so scared of it. If it happens, it happens. Keep drinking your ginger ale and eating your tortillas. Keep working to be healthy and keep asking God every night that you won't wake up and need to rush to the bathroom.

I’m sorry you were by yourself when that happened. I’m sorry there was no one to explain to you that vomiting is a perfectly natural thing and is just one of the ways your body purges illness and poison from its body. It may very well one day save your life.

So, avoid it if you can, but don’t fear it. You may never vomit again after the Marijuana and whiskey incident. I hope you won’t, you hope you won’t. But, if you do, just know that you have a loving and supportive wife who will take care of you. Don’t be embarrassed. Everyone does it. It may be disgusting and humiliating, but that passes.

Don’t be afraid anymore, I beg of you.

Love,

Your Adult Self

P.S. Don’t waste your money on Spiderman 3 or Patch Adams. Those movies sucked.

P.P.S. Your first two tattoos were stupid. You should have gotten nautical stars, instead.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: I don't know how to deal with this. I get so paranoid thinking I have an illness that causes nausea when I don't. Sometimes I stay awake late up until morning scared I might throw up. Do you know anything that might help?

Answer: Just find other things to focus your mind on. Sometimes, taking a walk helps. Also, ginger ale and water can help with the symptoms.

Comments

Adela on August 07, 2018:

im so paranoid right now bc since april 1st ive been feeling nauseas and no doctor can tell me why so i dont eat or eat very little when i feel sick or i stay up very late until the next day scared i might throw up while im sleeping anyomne else this paranoid? i also google symptoms and think i have an illness i dont.

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on February 12, 2018:

Hi Flourish. Thank you for your story. I'm glad you can have a sense of humor about these things. I'm started to get better about it all as well.

Celeste McGuire on November 30, 2017:

I have emetophobia, so tired of it..

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 06, 2017:

I enjoyed reading this and feel badly for you, how you likely acquired this, and the steps you took to avoid vomiting. When my siblings and I were growing up, my mother was adamant that if we needed to vomit, we were to do it in a (clean) bathroom trashcan and then empty the contents immediately. She's not strong with cleaning up the stuff, although a terrific mother. The moment we said we didn't feel well, we were equipped with a trash can.

I once vomited at work on a conference call with an executive and my department director. I was trying to get the attention of the director that I needed to suddenly leave, but she wasn't paying attention. When urgency struck, I just opened the door and vomited into a conveniently placed trash can right outside her door; I vividly recall that it had someone's leftover tuna sandich lunch with onions and pickles. I didn't make the whole things smell any better, but you know ... vomit happens.

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on June 17, 2017:

Thanks for stopping by... all the way from Chile! Glad I could help.

Jime from Chile on June 16, 2017:

Thank you so much Justin. I've been suffering this phobia since I was 14. Thank you for sharing your story. People judge us because they don't get it's a fear though Didn't know it's the fifth most common one.

In my experience I don't remember how it all started, but i can tell it was something from my childhood, as everyone.

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on May 17, 2017:

SparkleBright, thank you for the kind words and for sharing your story. Things have gotten better in recent years, though, earlier this year, when the flu made it's way through Juneau (an isolated community) I managed to avoid the nasty, ceramic hugging part of it, though my poor wife spent a night in the bathroom and I felt helpless that I couldn't help her... though, she understood and didn't even ask for help. It does get better. Glad my words helped bring healing to you as well. I pray constantly that I won't get sick and, it's worked, outside of my own stupidity :0)

SparkleBright on May 13, 2017:

Justin, I also enjoyed your words. It is so healthy to write about it and get it "outside of you." Pun intended! I like how you talked about normalizing the dislike of it. (See, I don't even like to type the word!) I can relate on the fear of cancer thing - the bigger fear is the nausea/vomiting from the medication! I have come a long way since I have been able to put my finger on this phobia. Like everyone else, I can trace it back to childhood. One event where my brother did it in the backseat as we were pulling into grandma's driveway - I still remember grandma's "Ooooh, ok..." And another event when my mom had to pull over on the side of the road and do it into a bag when I was about 8 yrs old, and she needed me to get her a napkin, so I had to take my hands off my ears and I said, "Don't do anything while I take my hands off my ears!" I can play back that scene in my mind, approx. 25 years later. But it doesn't create a strong response in me as I type this, which is a key part of healing, and proof that I am healing. Somehow I made it through middle school, high school and college without doing it, even though that was before the days of Purell and before me being a germaphobe and washing diligently. My subconscious mind just knew I guess! I wasn't a big drinker in college because I didn't want to get sick (and I was busy with church stuff), and I avoided the drinking scene mostly because I didn't want to see people get sick. I did see it a few times though - no need to type out those fleeting memories. Stress and anxiety in other areas can make it emerge, so keeping anxiety in check overall is very helpful with this phobia. It wasn't until sometime after college, when I went to therapy after slipping into a mini-depression after losing my job, that I learned exactly what it was and that it had a name. I was in the thick of having to carry Pepto and Tums with me 24/7 and "am I sick" crossed my mind almost constantly. So talk therapy helped some (about 10 years ago) and brainspotting helped a lot (did this more recently; we tried EMDR first and that didn't really click for me). My brainspotting therapist helped me to normalize it ("Of course, nobody LIKES it!") and we did some exposure therapy via YouTube videos. Ack! I survived. Now, it is still there, but definitely not as strong, definitely managed better. I am 35 years old and just last night, I watched two different things on TV that had those scenes (one a documentary on heroin addiction, and one a comedy movie with a scene where someone drank too much) but the stimulus didn't create as much of a reaction as it would have years ago. I am proud of myself for having two successful pregnancies - I hoped and prayed that I would not get sick and I did not. Years ago when I was reading a lot about this topic, I read about women avoiding pregnancy because of emetophobia. I knew I probably wouldn't avoid having a baby, but was worried for the future. I hadn't read about emetophobia much in recent years, but reading that now that I have two lovely daughters (one preschooler and one baby) I can say that I am dang proud of myself for not avoiding the joy of pregnancy and motherhood. That would have been a huge mistake. Others reading this - don't avoid motherhood for this fake, joy-stealing, thing that is against our true selves, against our Creator. Now, the issue is knowing that at some point my daughters will get sick. Luckily my husband has no issue whatsoever dealing with this. He has been great at helping me through this struggle. It has not been easy on him, but I am grateful. I should probably make sure I tell him that from time to time. :) If you are an emetophobe, know that it can get better, it can grow big and small at different times in your life, and prayer and grace are definitely a big part of the equation. I am not completely healed, but I've come a loooong way (no longer carrying tummy medicine all the time) and I am thankful for those people who have helped me in this journey.

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on March 07, 2017:

@martiecoetser, thank you for stopping by. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my HUB.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on March 06, 2017:

Very interesting and also informative hub. First time I hear about emetophobia. Your writing style is delightful.

Audrey Howitt from California on May 29, 2015:

This is so touching--beautifully written and so very human--

Lori on March 20, 2014:

Emetophobia CBT research study in San Diego, Ca. Go to Vphobia.com for more information.

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on January 25, 2014:

It is a lot more common than people think. Identifying the source is helpful. HAve you considered journaling about it and seeing if you can jog up some memories?

Harry from Sydney, Australia on December 28, 2013:

I have emetophobia.. I hate it when I feel like throwing up and do everything possible to avoid it ..I can't hear anyone retching let alone see anybody else throwing up...don't know where the issue stems from... but I certainly have it..

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on December 28, 2013:

CAT, THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR COMMENT. EMETOPHOBIA IS AN IRRATIONAL FEAR BECAUSE VOMITING RARELY HURTS YOU AND ACTUALLY HELPS YOU TO FEEL BETTER. BUT, THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT ANY LESS TRAUMATIC FOR WE EMETOPHOBES. I STILL HATE FLYING AN DAVOIDING IT ALL COSTS, YET, I FIND MYSELF STRANGELY INTRUGUED BY VOMITING... MAYBE THIS IS MY FORM OF IMMERSION THERAPY? ANY WAY, THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR STORY. SOMETIMES KNOWING THE SOURCE MAKES IT EASIER... DIDN'T MEAN TO YELL. PUBLIC COMPUTER ANDACCIDENTALLY HIT CAPS LOCK.

Cat on December 10, 2013:

Thank you for the post. I have gone back through my 30 years, remembering every time (less than 6) time I've vomited and cannot figure out what it is that bothers me. Of course I don't like it. No one does. Though, it'd be nice to be one of those people who can just get it over with if they're not feeling well. Anyhow, maybe I've been perusing my history for the wrong memories. As I read your story, I remember being walked down the hallway of my kindergarten. I don't remember where I was going, but I remember a tall girl with short, curly read hair. I remember what she was wearing. She was being led down the hall and she didn't look good. The memory is a bit of a flash after that, but she vomited in the hallway, rather violently, which is most vomiting anyway, in my opinion. It doesn't hurt me to think of this moment right now, but my emetophobia developed somewhere in my past. Through self hypnosis I had calmed myself some over the last few years and have even gotten sick (although, I did fight tooth and nail for 5 hours to not vomit and finally just gave in). On a recent night trip to Europe from the states, however, I started feeling queazy on a very bumpy flight (that served Indian cuisine). I already felt sick and panicky and then I heard a dreadful noise 2 rows back. A man had vomited all over the floor. It took hydroxazine to calm me down and sleep the rest of the flight. I'm not going to say I didn't enjoy my European trip, however, I started dreading the flight home 4 days before we left and drugged myself to fly home. (FYI: The return flight was lovely, not bumpy, and during daylight...but still 10. 5 hours). I don't know why I type all of this here...I just hope that maybe we could brainstorm and think of methods to rid ourselves of this fear associated with a distant memory...

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on October 27, 2013:

Thanks do much for the kind words. I'm always pleased when my work touches people. Thanks for stopping by!

Emetophobic on October 09, 2013:

This brought tears to my eyes. Not because it was a very sad account but because everything after "I’m sorry you were by yourself when that happened" was something I've wanted to hear for a long time instead of "just get over it", which I have grown to HATE and is so thoughtlessly suggested by all of these non-emetophobics. Seeing sympathy and understanding, rather than bitterness and hopelessness in the face of the fear, really made me feel much better about having this phobia and realizing it's not entirely my fault. Instead of trying to face and challenge the fear head-on from every directly as suggested by so many people with no clue, I love what you have to say instead: " avoid it if you can, but don’t fear it". Thank you so much for sharing this heartfelt letter.

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on March 29, 2013:

Thanks a lot, Phobichelp

phobichelp on March 13, 2013:

Great article and fantastic writing. The connection with vomiting to an anxious or humiliating incident can be a real trigger. This might help

http://phobiatreatement.org

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on February 13, 2013:

Nick, I'm sorry to heat how this phobia has affected you and I truly hope that this HUB will help you heal. I strongly advise you to write that letter to yourself. It can't hurt and you deserve to live your life! Blessings to you!

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on February 13, 2013:

Pamela, that's terrific story about your little granddaughter. Sounds like she's very wise and mature. I think one of the reasons I have never wanted children is because they have a tendency to get sick a lot, and bring sicknesses home with them. That's about the last thing I want. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on February 13, 2013:

Thanks Mrshoki.. I think most of us hate it... it's a most unpleasant experience to be sure. Thanks for reading!

Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on February 13, 2013:

Hey Tim... thanks for sharing your story. It's nice to see you again and I hope life is treating you well. I'll need to drop by your page and see what you've been up too.

Take care, my friend!

Nick on February 11, 2013:

Thank you. Now I must sit down and write such a letter to my nine-year-old self. This awful thing has ruined my life for so long and has caused me a lot of unnecessary suffering. Maybe if I can do that I won't feel so afraid any more. Nice to know I am not alone but nobody I know has the slightest clue of the misery this has caused me.

51, and still that scared nine-year-old boy inside!

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on January 31, 2013:

Like Andrea333 above, I think this was a great gift to your self. I have read how powerful it can be to address oneself and one's memories of something traumatic and try to understand it from everyone's point of view instead of just the six-year-old self or whatever age one was when the traumatic event occurred.

By the way, I have several grandchildren who just get sick once in a while and be as brave as possible for their ages but still cry and bemoan the fact while the fever and nausea is there. However, I have one little granddaughter, just turned four, who is positively amazing about being sick. It's happened at least three times in the past two years that she has gotten a stomach flu or bug of some kind and is so sick she cannot play. She just sits there and watches a movie, half asleep, with a bowl beside her. When she has to vomit, she does so, wipes herself with a cloth and goes on watching the movie until one of us grown-ups swoops in to clean her properly. Then she'll say, "I feel better now that I vomited." Her mom and I are so amazed at how brave she is -- takes it so in stride. This is a good example of how we sort of adapt to our circumstances. She has seen her brother and sister and mom and dad be sick a few times. She knows they live through it and are laughing and playing again the same day.

Voting up, useful and interesting.

mrshoki from New Zealand on January 31, 2013:

Great hub!! I have never heard of this phobia before and thought the way you presented it in your hub made for great reading!! I luckily do not suffer from this but I still hate vomitting!!

Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on January 31, 2013:

Hello PDXK. Yeah, I'm still around and hoping to get into the flow again. Work stuff and other stuff too. Thank you so much for sharing this. I was not aware. Until this year I would not have been able to relate, now I can. Long