How can I get over my fear of vomiting and the stomach flu?
"Stomach flu" is just a nickname for viral gastroenteritis. It is not related to influenza, the real flu.
Many of the visitors to this sight suffer from emetophobia (the fear of vomiting). Others suffer specifically from Norophobia (Fear and hatred of norovirus and any stomach bug. )
Everyone has their own story about how their fear started. In many cases, the individual suffered from a very bad stomach bug where they couldn't stop vomiting.Here is my story.
Believe it or not, before I had children, I was not afraid of the stomach flu and never even thought about it. I didn't like to throw up but I never worried about it and it hardly ever happened. In fact, I wasn't' even a germ-a-phobe. I am quite sure that I didn't say "Wash your hands" to my husband the instant he walked in the door every single day. My happy-go-lucky lifestyle came to an end when my first son was 22 months old and got a bad case of rotavirus. My husband and I did not catch the rotavirus but my little boy was sick for a full week and had to go to the hospital to get an IV. It was terrifying, but I don't think just that experience alone would have done me in. One week later, when my son was recovering, a relative came to visit who had a stomach bug 3 days earlier. It never even occurred to me to worry that we might catch it. Alas, 2 days later my son and I were both sick with vomiting. My poor little boy had 2 terrible stomach bugs in the course of 2.5 weeks! My husband came down with the virus 2 days after we did. This time he was the one that was so sick that I had to call 911 to come get him. I couldn't even take him to the hospital because my son was still throwing up and I was sick too. So, I had 3 weeks of stomach flu at my house and 2 trips to the hospital. After that, I went a little nuts. I decided to research stomach bugs and see what I could do to minimize the number of times we had to go through that. I don't think there has been a day that has gone by since that I didn't think "I wonder if someone is going to get a stomach flu today?"
Although, I don't like to vomit, what I am really afraid of is being too sick to take care of my children. I have a lot of will power and feel like I can summon the strength to get up and take care of my baby when I am sick with most things (sinus infections, sore throats, etc.). However, when my head is in the toilet, there is no way I can do anything else. My husband is frequently out of town and we have no family in the area. I don't feel like I have anyone to call to come help me if I was very ill. When it is a contagious illness like a stomach bug, I don't feel like I can expect a neighbor to come help out and put themselves at risk. I'm quite sure that if I lived next door to my mother, I'd never worry about anything at all.
After a 5.5 year healthy streak, my family got a stomach bug in February 2012. It started with my 7 year old son who probably caught it at school. His illness was not too bad. He threw up 3 times directly in the toilet. I kept him quarantined from the other kids for 2 days and no one entered the bathroom he used. I even changed my clothes before I went to take care of my baby. Of course, I washed my hands a million times and cleaned. I really thought we were safe. Unfortunately, 1 week later, my 17 month old son Michael got sick. He had lots of vomiting and had diarrhea. He threw up all over me and stuck his vomit covered fingers in my mouth so I knew there was no hope for me. Sure enough, 48 hours later, I was sick. I was nauseated all day so I just drank water and gingerale and didn't eat anything after noon. I vomited 2 times that evening. Then I slept all night and felt fine the next day. My husband got sick 48 hours after me. Unfortunately, he had just eaten at Skyline Chile and had a big Graeters ice cream sundae for dessert. So, he had a lot of vomiting to do. Amazingly, my 4 year old daughter never got sick.
All was well for 2 more years until February 2014. This time my daughter started the ball rolling. She woke up on Saturday, Feb. 15 with a bad tummy ache. She laid in bed all day and had a low fever of 100.5 F. She would not eat anything but sipped water all day. The next day, her fever was gone. I tried to get her to drink a few sips of juice. I shouldn't have done that. She threw up a very small amount after that. She laid in bed all day Sunday. Monday, she got up and played but barely ate anything until Wednesday. Then she was fine. She never had any diarrhea. Since she had been quarantined to her room and only threw up once into a lined trash can, I thought surely no one else would catch it. I was wrong. I made a critical mistake. I left the new toothbrush that I'd used to brush Katie's teeth on Monday morning sitting on the bathroom counter. Michael (age 3.5) climbed up and brushed his teeth with it. Sure enough, Michael woke up that Thursday night/Friday morning (Feb. 21) and threw up 10 times in 5 hours. He threw up again almost 24 hours later on Saturday morning. He threw up again on Tuesday evening (Feb. 25). He also had diarrhea for 6 days. He didn't eat normally for about 1.5 weeks. Once little Michael was waking around the house with germs flying in every direction, there was no hope for the rest of us. Jon (age 9) came down with it on Wednesday evening (Feb. 26). He threw up and had diarrhea almost constantly for 1 hour. He was in terrible pain but the pain was gone as soon as his little body was empty. He was very brave. When he stopped throwing up, I gave him a Zofran and he was okay after that. He still didn't eat normally for about 5 days. Was it over? Nope, the following Tuesday (March 4), my husband got sick. He only threw up 1 time but had diarrhea every 30 minutes for about 24 hours. I had been praying to God to keep me healthy to take care of my children. I asked HIM that if I get sick, please let it be at a convenient time when no one else needed me. Amazingly, I never got sick. There were 3 days that I had a stomach ache and I didn't eat much those days. It could have just been from exhaustion after being up all night with sick kids so many times. It could have been from anxiety. I like to think that I had the virus but just didn't get very sick. It would be nice to think that our bodies can build up some good immunity to them. Even though I wore 1000 pairs of gloves and a face mask when Jon was projectile vomiting, I find it hard to believe that I didn't ingest any viruses. I slept with Michael in his twin bed for a week when he was sick. I did all of the clean up and did all of the taking care of sick people. This stomach bug took up 3 weeks of our lives! And then I wouldn't let any friends in the house for another 2 weeks after that. I was calm the entire time, though. I did not freak out. I did not panic. I did what needed to be done.
The next stomach bug hit in February 2018. My son Michael woke up at 3am crying that his tummy hurt. Soon the vomiting started. The poor boy threw up about 20 times in 12 hours. Finally, I gave him a tiny bit of a dissolvable Zofran and he was finally able to sip an electrolyte drink and keep it down. Without that Zofran, I think I'd have taken him to the hospital for an IV. Amazingly, no one else caught this sickness. However, I kept him quarantined to his room, wore 1000 pairs of gloves and a face mask. Here is a video I made showing the essential protective gear that I used and how I handled the vomit in a way to keep it as contained as possible. Dr. Annie's Stomach Bug Survival Kit Essentials.
To be completely honest, I think having these last 3 stomach bugs helped ease my fears because NO ONE had to go the the hospital. No one got THAT sick. I thought that every time a stomach bug came into MY house, someone would be near death. It has helped me to know that it is possible to have a stomach bug run through the house where no one is needs an IV. Also, when I was sick in February 2012, the actual vomiting wasn't quite as bad as I expected. In fact, the hours that I spent struggling with intense nausea were MUCH WORSE than the actual vomiting. I felt so much better after I vomited that I wished I didn't wait so long. I should have vomited sooner. I also learned a few tricks that I think make vomiting easier.
My tips to make vomiting easier.
1. Take a deep breath before you vomit. One of the reasons that I think vomiting is so scary is because you can't breath while you vomit. Any activity in which you can't breath is pretty terrifying (choking, drowning, etc.) I found that if I took a really deep breath before I started and also tried to get a breath in between heaves, the vomiting was more bearable.
2. Try to extend each vomiting session by giving one last heave. Don't cut the vomiting session short. Get it all out and you might not have to vomit again.
3. Get it over with. The hours I spent struggling with intense nausea were much worse than the actual vomiting. If you feel you are sick and that your body needs to vomit. Take a deep breath and go for it.
My tips to help you stop worrying about the stomach flu.
1.Talk to your doctor about getting a prescription of an anti-vomiting medication such as phenergan or Zophran to keep at home and take in case of emergency. I feel like I can handle an illness where I vomit 2 or 3 times. But I do NOT want one of those illnesses where you vomit 20 times and can't stop vomiting. Having one of these medications on hand might help you stop worrying because you know you would never have to get THAT sick. I think if all cases of viral gastroenteritis only resulted in vomiting a few times, most of us wouldn't have gone crazy. I just got myself a prescription of Zophran. I haven't tried it yet. I hope I never need to but it is nice to have.
2. Have a plan of what you will do if you get sick. Keep Pedialyte , apple juice, or gingerale and saltine crackers at home. Have a rubberband in the bathroom to tie your hair back. Figure out who you would call if you get really sick and need help. If you are a young person living at home with your parents, you are the luckiest. You have someone to take care of you if you get sick. If you live alone, you are pretty lucky too. You can at least be sick in peace and just take care of yourself. If you are a husband and father, you are pretty lucky. Most likely your wife will take care of you and the children and let you rest. If you are a wife and mother, HOPEFULLY your husband will take care of the children and let you just take care of yourself for once. If you are a single mom or single dad with young children, you probably have it the hardest. You are the one who needs a friend or family member to call to come over if you get really sick and can't take care of the kids.
3. Remember that vomiting is part of life. Accept that it is going to happen once in a while and it won't be that bad. Once in a while your body needs to vomit to get rid of something bad. My 17 month old son recently ate some shampoo in the bath tub and vomited it right up. No big deal. Humans are actually lucky that we can vomit. Horses can't vomit. When they get an intestinal illness, they often die. In fact, one viewer who wrote to me told me that she developed of fear of NOT VOMITING. Her fascinating story is in the comments below.
4. Keep it in perspective. Be glad you don't have cancer or some deadly illness like that brain eating amoeba. No matter what your situation, be thankful that it isn't worse. I got an e-mail from a woman who has Crohn's disease and esophogitis. When she gets a stomach bug, she vomits blood and has bloody diarrhea. Be very glad if that is not you. A friend of mine died of breast cancer in September 2012 leaving a 1.5 year old baby and a 5 year old with no mommy. A friend's 5 year old son died by getting run over by a drunk driver while he rode is scooter on the neighborhood sidewalk in April 2014. Nothing is worse than your child dying. It is all heartbreaking. I am praying that the stomach flu is the worst thing to ever happen to my family. The next time one of my kids comes down with a stomach bug, I'm going to be thankful that they are alive to catch the stomach flu and that I am alive to take care of them....and alive to catch it from them.
5. If your anxiety is so bad that you can't take care of your children when they are sick or you barely eat, please consider getting professional help. Many people with emetophobia say they are helped by counseling. Some people are helped by antidepressants. Some people are having success with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) which involves tapping on acupressure points. Here is an advertisement from my cousin who is an EFT practitioner AND mother of 2 boys who once struggled with norophobia. So, she TOTALLY understand what you are going through and might be able to help you. You can do the sessions from the comfort of your own home. I had a session with her and found it quite relaxing and freeing. I still use the tapping techniques I learned from her when I feel a panic attack brewing. You can schedule an appointment online on her website.
All occasions where you might come down with a stomach bug are NOT equally horrible.
Most of the time, we emetophobes treat every situation where me might come down with a stomach bug as equally horrible and we freak out equally. This is not the case, though. Think logically about it. There is not "good" time to come down with a stomach bug, but there are WORSE times. Here is a list of the WORST times to come down with the stomach flu.
1. Your wedding day.
2. Your Disney World Vacation (or other once in a lifetime vacation).
3. When you have the lead in a show/play/musical and don't have an understudy.
4. On a long airplane ride
5. On a long car ride
6. When you are in labor with a baby.
There are probably some other WORST times that I have missed. If you would like to suggest some other worst times for me to include on my list, e-mail them to me. When you think about it this way, having a stomach bug run through your family over Christmas break (when you are home and not traveling) is NOT the worst time. Having your child get a stomach bug and miss 3 exams and 2 basketball games is NOT the worst time. Try to dial down the WORRY about catching a stomach bug to fit the occasion. For example, if a kid throws up in your child's class, don't panic as much about it as you would if it is within a week of your Disney World vacation. If you get sick and it is not your wedding day or the day of your big vacation and you are home and your washing machine is not broken, do not freak out as if you are on a transatlantic flight with a newborn to take care of. Try to save the major worry for major events. Canceling your travel plans for Christmas is not the worst thing.
I have heard some TERRIBLE stomach flu stories. Kids sick on long 15 hour car rides, women sick with the stomach flu during labor, exhausted parents (up all night taking care of vomiting kids) who fall down the steps with their baby and breaking that babies leg, disabled veterans who nearly die from a stomach bug. If your situation is not as terrible as these, try to keep it in perspective and be thankful that your situation isn't worse.
Know that you are not alone in your fear. If you would like to connect with a group of very supportive and understanding people who all feel the same way as you, please join the Stop the Stomach Flu facebook group. It is a SECRET group so you need to e-mail me and I'll send you an invitation. phd.annie at gmail.com.
If you have ever suffered from emetophobia and feel you have made progress in overcoming it, please send me your story. My e-mail is phd.annie at gmail.com. Please remember that I am not a medical doctor and nothing I write is intended to be medical advice. I have viewer stories posted at the bottom of this page.
-Annie Pryor, Ph.D
My tips to stop worrying in bed at night.
I learned a long time ago not to use your bed as a worry spot. I used to have severe anxiety and cluster headaches about 25 years ago and doing a lot of research taught me that if I started worrying over some thing to go to a place in my house that I don't normally sit and use that as my worry spot, take a sheet of paper and force myself to write down what I was worrying about and try to make myself think of nothing but what I was worrying about. Eventually, your mind will try to wander off to other topics because you are trying to make yourself worry. It's a paradox. It did help me stop worrying when I was in bed.
I cured myself!
My body was my worse enemy, every sensation that came from my stomach was a anxiety trigger, every thing I ate, did, done and tried, everywhere I went, could potentially put me a risk of being sick. I wouldn't leave my house for weeks, friendships and relationships were completely ruined and remain ruined.. Things became so bad I had to leave the site as for me it was fueling my phobia.
I can't remember how exactly I self cured myself, but I remember slowly not being afraid of not washing my hands after touching a door, then eating a sandwich, purely because I couldn't be bothered with the hassle of it, at the time a few people around me caught stomach bugs, my ex-boyfriends sister caught the bug on Christmas day, now usually that would have terrified me, but I was fine with it, I went round their house and come back perfectly fine. I dealt with a very drunk boyfriend (at the time) rubbing his back while he was sick ECT.. & slowly but surely I became expose more and more to the big V*. My mind was telling me to be scared, I knew it was so wrong not to wash my hands, but nothing ever came of it. I was perfectly fine, eventually I didn't wash my hands half as much as I would have, I noticed my anxiety had slowly disappeared... The more my anxiety went, the better I felt.
I studied my body, I've learnt to listen to my body, its my body its not allowed to be controlled by anxiety. If I had a slight tummy cramp that last 10-30 seconds, it was probably nothing other than wind, or if I do happen to feel sick I taught myself area's of nausea and whats triggered them, if nausea was is my throat its anxiety, if its in my stomach chances are my bodies hungry, I usually have to seriously concentrate I'd shut my eyes and listen to my body, feeling and sensations are your bodies ways of giving you signs and signals and I was confusing them with anxiety, and the thought of potentially being sick.
Time passed by, my anxiety and my fear of V* had almost disappeared, but my 2 and a half year relationship and completely crumbled, it was beyond repair, from all the troubles my phobia had caused it, I relied to much on Harry, he became my life, he took away my anxiety, but I leant on him so much I also pushed him away, his troubles got ignored to look out for mine, it ruined everything. We are now separated, though we are now back in contact, and hoping to start seeing each other again. My phobia had dented our relationship, and it may never rekindle.
THE DAY COME, my day had finally come, the day I had dreaded all my life, the day I caught the stomach bug. Where I had caught it from is still unknown for certain either a restaurant or a shopping centre. Either way, this was it..
I'd been to a club the night before, throughout the night I'd have a stomach crap that lasted around 20 seconds, every 15 minuets say.. It wasn't continuous, I felt fine.. I drank alcohol, I had an awesome night! The following morning, I woke up feeling so tired! I wasn't very hungry but I picked up a bag of crisps and a cup of tea.. Almost instantly after eating I felt sick. It wasn't a very strong nausea, just a icky horrible sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach. I felt so rough, I didn't feel myself.. But I just put that down to being out the following night. Now for reasons you'd all understand I drink very little when I go out, I had 1 or 2 archers and lemonade. No way could I have been hung over.. I went down to Harry's my ex-boyfriends place and I sat around with his mum and his little sister. I started feeling really rough, no stomach cramps just really rough and the nausea continued. So I went and sat up stairs quietly. Then the D* began! The worst part about the whole thing! There was no way of stopping it! I rang my mum instantly after my first bout.
Once I was home I had a few more bouts of D* then the V*ing began, I was sick about 8 times. But where I hadn't eaten much I didn't really bring up much... But more importantly....
IT WASN'T THAT BAD!
What shocked me more than anything, I'd spent sooooo many years worrying, dwelling on this bug and it was not worth it! It was a breeze in consideration to what we put ourselves through daily, I asserted my mind and I HAD to accept the fact that this was going to happen I had no choice but to let it ride out. Where as, when we have anxiety worrying either we'll be sick or not... You DON'T know, and that's where the fear originates... THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN! Most of us haven't been sick in years, and we've forgotten what its like. But I knew I'd have to let this bug take its course, and I had NO choice in the matter. I recovered in 2 days and I was back to normal.
Now I wont catch a bug for another 6 years, maybe even more!! But even if I did catch it again.... I wont fear it, I'll endure it and I'll deal with it, then I'll recover from it.
There hath no temptation
taken you but such as is common
to man: but God is faithful, who
will not suffer you to be tempted
above that ye are able; but will
with the temptation also make a
way to escape, that ye may be able
to bear it. - 1 Corinthians 10:13
This verse was my drive, my belief... Read it, over and over and work out what your body may be tempted to do, and what YOU can do.
I am now completely CURED!
I have never felt better, I am happier, stronger, and I have achieved something I thought I'd never ever achieve.
I am now a part-time glamour model, I work at a well known jewelers, I plan to head to London to work with precious metals and diamonds. I adore my job, I love my body and I love other people.. I used to try and read people, find out why they look pale, why isn't he drinking his drink, when did she have a bug, that kid could have been sick last night and now he's in my shop.. Now I don't even think about that ever!
I want to remind you all, do not let your anxiety control YOU, be in control of YOUR body, learn and love your body, study sensations, don't fear them, listen to your body, keep a healthy diet, go out try new things, go to new places, do something that scares you, stop fearing and have fun, allow yourself to relax, don't over analyze situations, surround yourself with friends and family and the people who love you the most, listen to them, learn from them, look up to them, reward yourself, don't forget yourself, never think about the past, don't try and control the future, let things flow, allow yourself to be happy, go out every day for a walk get plenty of fresh air, eat 3 meals a day, remember when you have bad days to keep in mind that everything ends, even the bad things, everything comes to an end... and this means you can have your fairy tale ending, you can say goodbye to emetophobia.
Every single one of you, will beat this. I am proof, I proved this to myself! I am so proud of myself.
My children helped me overcome my fear.
I have no idea what caused my fear of vomiting, but I recall clearly when it happened. I was 11 years old, living with my dad and his second wife. They were at a party - and out of nowhere - I had a panicky fear that I was going to “throw up” and I was inconsolable. My older sis called my father home from a party. He sat next to me on my bed and slowly got me to relax all my muscles until I fell asleep. The next morning, his wife railed on me for ruining their night and cautioned me to “never do that again.” My fate was sealed and it continued to haunt me for years.
I moved back in with my mother who would check my forehead each night for a fever. If I were “normal” she would promise me I wouldn’t vomit and I could sleep easy. When I finally did throw up at the age of 17, it did very little to cure my phobia, but it became manageable.
It was only after my children were born that I truly got over the unrealistic fear. Why? Kids puke – and they puke often. My fears seemed unimportant while my sons were suffering and I would hold their heads while they vomited and simply got used to it. Much later on, my grandmother was recovering from angioplasty and when she became sick from the procedure, I held the tray while she vomited.
By then it became all too clear to me that sometimes your own pain and anxiety has to take a backseat to the needs of others.
I still hate vomiting, but I really don’t think about it…until I’m sick. Then I simply deal with it…minus the terror.
FEAR of NOT VOMITING!
I have suffered severe migraine headache since I was 23 years old. As I write this, I'm 58. That's 35 years... wow.
When I am in a migraine, I have frequent emesis. It's a terrible thing to have a hot poker slamming into your skull behind your eye with EVERY heart beat, AND vomiting. Just horrible. The whole business lasts 72 hours - sometimes longer.
About 10 years ago, I had surgery to cure chronic gastric reflux. I had tried all the meds, elevated the head of the bed (very annoying), changed my diet - did EVERYTHING to treat the reflux to no avail. I needed surgery.
The surgery was FANTASTIC. Although I awoke with my hospital roommate playing loud rap music and her mother in a veritable CLOUD of paint-dissolving perfume. I immediately was struck with a migraine. Perfumes should NEVER be worn in hospital. Ever. So here I was, imminently emmetic with an n.g. tube in place! I looked at my husband and said, "I have a headache. I'm going to vomit." He ran from the room.
I heard him in the hallway telling the nursing staff that I was going to start vomiting right after stomach surgery WITH an n.g. tube and they needed to get me out of that room ASAP. He was told they didn't have any rooms, I hear him say "I don't care if it's a broom closet, unless you want someone who JUST came out of stomach surgery and has an n.g. tube in her to start vomiting, you have to get her out NOW. Once it starts, you won't be able to stop it."
They found an empty room for me - it was a room where cancer patients take their chemo. Blissfully quiet, peaceful, dark, and NO SMELLS. They injected me with Immitrex and gave me what they could for the nausea. I consider it just about a miracle that I didn't vomit. I was extremely close. (The next time I had surgery, I took Immitrex prophylactically just before the surgery.)
After the surgery, I had NO reflux. It was amazing! But I had a new problem... I was now unable to empty my stomach. Sure enough, working in a facility with residential schizophrenic patients, I contracted a nasty g.i. bug. I learned to APPRECIATE the ability to vomit. I spent HOURS unproductively heaving - over and over and over. It was exhausting. I knew I could go to E.R. and get my stomach pumped but I really didn't want to do that. The brain controls vomiting - specifically the area postrema (on the medulla in the brain stem). Once you've engaged in that activity - the strong contractions of the diaphragm - you feel relief, even if you DIDN'T empty the stomach! I was so surprised to realize this.
So I would heave a few times over the toilet with NOTHING expelled, and feel that blissful relief from having vomited. BUT - as I wasn't emptying anything, this went on and on and on. The relief would last for about 20 minutes - sometimes a bit longer - and I was back at it. It was so terrible. So I developed a sort of phobia related to NOT vomiting!
After that, I became a raving lunatic about food safety. I absolutely WILL NOT eat at a potluck - anywhere. I don't care how nice the people are! Working in psych with gravely mentally ill people, I was tackling the doorknobs with alcohol wipes... a LOT. And the computer keyboards and telephones and arm chairs and desk tops... and I bought big boxes of pens; every time a patient had to sign paperwork, I gave them the pen. They thought I was being nice!
I was very gratified when, a year or so later, a horrid g.i. virus swept through the facility. EVERYONE got sick... except for ME.
Now I am able to productively vomit and I sure don't like it. But it sure beats NOT being able to empty that stomach!
I Had Emetophobia Until Morning Sickness.
For as long as I can remember, I have been deathly afraid of throwing up. I have a weak stomach and have a history of hyperventilating and fainting. I was also scared of doctor's offices, especially the waiting room, hospitals, excused from science classes (never dissected anything). The biggest joke in my family was that I would grow-up to become a doctor or nurse. I didn't even drink in college until my senior year because I was so scared of getting sick and hung over. My college roommate would have to check the bathrooms on party nights and weekend to make sure no one was getting sick before I would quickly race in and out. I could go on and on about this forever. I remembered I had also tried hypnosis during high school to get over my emetophobia (but it was unsuccessful).
I blame my phobia to being bused to school in nursery school. There was a little boy would would get sick into a brown paper Acme bag everyday on the ride home. Turns out, he had pneumonia but his parents kept sending him to school. Well, i refused to take the bus and my dad had to rearrange his schedule (salesman on the road) to chauffer me to/from preschool daily.
Everyone would ask me, What are you goign to do when you have kids? Well turns out, it was morning sickness during pregnancy with my son in 2009 that cured me. I even blogged about tossing my cookies on Park Ave South on my way to work.
I guess during the 9 months I learned that there are much worse stuff than throwing up and that it is a part of life but we survive. Do I enjoy throwing up? Absolutely not but it's not the end of the world.
I'm 24 years old and have been a emetaphobe since I was 8. I can remember two occasions at school in which a friend vomited (once in morning chapel and once in class), after that my fear started to grow. However, my fear spun out of control in college, where I was at my worst and even contemplated that dying would be better than vomiting. I saw a wonderful psychiatrist, who told me I wasn't only suffering from a phobia, but it was now an obsession. Even though being able to tell someone (who wouldn't judge me or tell me I'm crazy) was good for me, the therapy never really helped. I think it made it even worse.
College from stressful times (being in nursing school, of ALL majors I could chose). I believe when I am stressed, I put all my energy into my phobia. I remember not being able to drive more than 5 minutes in my own car with out having a panic attack. I'd convince myself I didn't feel well and then would almost get in a car wreck thinking about the possibility of vomiting. I'd pull over on the side of the road and have to call my Mom or Dad and have them calm me down. I remember one night I saw a friend (who had been sick that past night) at another friend's birthday dinner. She had stopped by just to say hi and bring her present (really?? And give us your germs?? I don't get some people). I tried to leave before she could hug me, but to no avail. I went straight home, removed all my clothes, showered for 30 minutes, and still panicked for the next week. I was miserable, I knew my obsessions were ridiculous, and I knew this phobia was ruling my life.
Unfortunately, I still struggle with my fear. However, over the years I have found ways to fight it that don't interfere with my daily life. I will add that I have not vomited since I was 6 (before my fear even began!) so it's absolutely, downright silly to think I made myself crazy for SO many years for nothing! I also believe I do talk myself out of vomiting quite well, as I was ill in August (food poisoning from Mexican food, I'm sure) and even though vomiting would have probably been the best bet to feeling better, I held it in and felt like crap for 3 days (which to me is success, go figure).
-I have a high quality, expensive probiotic (VSL#3). It comes in powder form and has one of the highest amounts of bacteria on the market. Being $3 a packet, I don't take them everyday anymore, but I try to take one at least once a week. If I come in contact with stomach flu, I take 3 per day. My fiance (we live together) came down with the stomach flu last year. I took 3 packets a day with lassi (an Indian fermented yogurt). I didn't eat anything else for 2 days and did not come down with the bug. I did NOT sanitize the house properly (now I know from your site) and I slept next to him.
-I try to eat lots of fermented foods, which are great for the gut. This includes kefir, kombucha, and I've been eating kimchi lately, too. G.T.'s kombucha can be found at Vons and is suppose to be a wonder food! I recommend it.
-I have a plan of attack in place! My current fear is myself vomiting, I actually have cured myself of the fear of others vomiting. I did this working as a nurse! I work in postpartum, and often my post-op c-section patients vomit. I started working 2 years ago, and I was ALWAYS worrying I would have a patient vomit. In fact, the first time it happened, I ran out of the room!! How embarrassing! The next time I stayed with my patient (she was alone), even though my heart was racing. Now I can hold my patient's pink puke bucket with out having my vital signs change even a little, I am so proud of myself! Anyway, my plan = I keep over the counter dramamine on my at ALL times. I am NEVER with out it. If I'm feeling weird/nauseous, I take one. If an hour later I still don't feel well, I will either take one more or take something stronger at home (we currently have zofran and phenergan in our medicine cabinet). I then go to sleep. So far this has worked pretty good. When I avoided vomiting from food poisoning, I took both dramamine and zofran and sucked on peppermints. I wouldn't recommend this (obviously) for everyone, since vomiting is sometimes necessary, but for those like myself that will give themselves a heart attack if they vomit, this works pretty well.
-I strongly believe in getting enough exercise (both strength training and cardio) and sleep! As well as lots of fruits and vegetables in the diet.
I first heard the term emetophobia not too long ago and had mixed feelings because I thought what I was feeling was so unique to my own psyche that it wasn't possible anyone else could feel or fear vomiting the way I did/do. However, when I started researching it online a bit further I realized this was actually more common than expected and in all cases I read, it started with an event that took place which would ultimately instill this fear within each of us.
I am no exception although the details of my story are still somewhat mysterious; I urge you as you read to make no assumptions although I'm sure that's unavoidable. Just over three years ago I had some clam dip my wife had made for a party she was attending alone (and at this point I've eaten seafood regularly); so I literally only had a scoop around 6pm that evening and by 4:45am the next morning I was awake with nausea and within a half hour I was vomiting very hard. It only lasted about two and a half hours or so but it was terrible. The blood vessels all over my face were visible and purple from heaving so hard and there wasn't relief like you usually feel after vomiting… that whole time I was just waiting for the next heave; should I leave the bathroom type of feeling; until I finally, while still nauseous, fell back asleep and just took it easy the rest of the day.
I chalked it up to food poisoning, which I had never had before in my life (however my wife had made the clam dip herself from canned minced clams and nobody else who ate it at her party became sick).
About two or three months after this incident I had seafood again; my wife made flounder for dinner. THE EXACT SAME SYMPTOMS HAPPENED. I woke about 5am; vomited the same number of times and for the same length of time… the situation was IDENTICAL to the first time with the clam dip… and neither my kids or my wife got sick from eating the same flounder.
That was the beginning of what is now the only "phobia" I've developed in my life. I assumed I had developed an allergy to seafood. I was so convinced it was too coincidental to be food poisoning; the evidence was pointing to the contrary since nobody else had gotten sick from either of the two incidents but until then I had never had any allergies whatsoever in my life, that I was aware of.
Well, to make matters more mysterious; I visited the doctor and after being tested they confirmed I am in fact NOT allergic to seafood, though he did say people can suddenly grow allergic to things they've eaten for years but in my case I was NOT allergic they say. Needless to say I explained everything to the doctor and he said I "may have an intolerance" to seafood which I felt is a safe way for him to tell me he's stumped by it just the same.
Obviously my body has grown "intolerant" to seafood but I was not "allergic" by any means… this was very strange so this is where my fear had grown… I was not sure what the definitive root cause of my issue was and I grew fearful of vomiting so intensely that I started reading ingredients on every food I bought and began asking every restaurant or pizza joint I ate from if any seafood products were made with or prepared near my food. It drove my wife crazy.
The fear of vomiting grew so prevalent that I started getting anxiety for the first time in my life. Even when, in my mind, I knew I had not eaten any seafood I started to obsess over the fear of vomiting, and this would typically only happen in the evenings and at night. I guess I was too busy during the day in my work routine to worry too much about it but the moment I began winding down at home these feelings of anxiety would come. A misappraisal of the feelings within my own body became a daily habit; in other words, normal people don't necessarily "feel" their stomach unless they have gas or something but I began feeling my stomach all the time and was constantly asking myself "am I nauseous" right now? "Am I sick?" "Did I eat something I shouldn't have?" … and ultimately "am I going to be sick?" … though I NEVER did end up getting sick.
I received a prescription of Vistaril (Hydroxyzine) from my doctor for the anxiety. This is a non-narcotic antihistamine which I only took as needed, at night time and it helped me because it made me tired which helped me fall asleep. There were times it didn't help at all because either the anxiety was too strong or I didn't take it early enough. I learned I couldn't wait until I became anxious to take it, like other much stronger narcotics such as Xanax, etc. but I had to take it before I became anxious sort of as a preventative and that helped more. Still through it all I was convinced the problem had started in my mind and to beat it I'd have to overcome it in my mind through calm logic and persistently looking at my circumstances and telling myself I have not gotten sick in a couple years and that I don't have to feel like this. Still I took this drug on and off for a couple years but by the 3rd year I was taking it every single night.
Through this all I never ended up getting sick but it affected my life so much that I could not eat at my in-laws house as we did quite frequently, without getting anxious because when we barbecued I was worried if the residue from their previous seafood barbecue session would get on the burgers we would be barbecuing now which could make me sick. This is how I thought! There were always angles to everything. All the while I knew it was ridiculous.
I began nagging my wife and children about washing their hands all the time because now the fear of vomiting wasn't limited to seafood consumption but any virus we could potentially get. My children are now 8 and 5 so 3 years ago my oldest son had begun kindergarten and everyone knows how many bugs kids bring home from school.
In the last three years the "puke bug" had gone through my family once and yes I vomited during that and I remember feeling like; yes, that was bad but not as bad as I had made it out in my head because when you vomit from a bug there is some relief afterwards. Still, it was only one heaving session and when the 2nd day came after being sick the thought of getting nauseous crept up on me and I got very anxious about it… My wife had worked for a doctor at the time and he prescribed me Zofran (Ondansetron) which I took right away and felt great.
I kept the Zofran in the house after that and would take it at times when I wasn't sure if I was nauseous but I tried limiting that as much as possible to beat the feeling mentally.
Well, over the last year I've made amazing progress because I found there was another underlying medical issue beneath all this. I learned I had/have very low testosterone and one of the symptoms of low T is anxiety so the battle I had was on two fronts and the issues I faced with regard to the emetophobia were compounded by the low T. After getting on Testosterone Replacement Therapy and taking a shot of T intramuscularly every two weeks I still faced the emetophobia but I was determined to beat it.
I was still a "germaphobe" and still battled the fear of vomiting but I began weaning myself off the Vistaril over the course of a month and stopped taking it completely. That was about 3 to 4 months ago and since I've still had some battles where I've had to take a Xanax (from my wife) in the evening on a couple occasions but again, I never got sick.
We've even battled the flu in my house which both my children have had last month and my son even vomited once. Through it all I was anxious at times but I handled it all so much better than I would have a year or two ago.
My faith in God was a major factor in my improvement in this area. Prayer and trust in Him has allowed me to put my fear of vomiting in perspective.
I know still struggle with emetophobia however I realize that in three+ years since eating that seafood I have not gotten sick like that and I will forever stay away from seafood for that reason. Still, I wish there was a way I could definitively beat this fear once and for all but for now I place my trust in Jesus and rely on His strength in my weakness. Thank You.
Stomach bug triggered IBS
I have been on your website and also read the stories from other individuals and I have found it very helpful. My story is quite different as I have actually developed an illness from vomiting (irritable bowel syndrome).
I am 23 and have suffered from emetophobia since I was 16, where I had food poisoning from a chicken burger and then a week later a very bad stomach bug one night (fainted, smashed my head off the toilet and ended up vomiting in the bath which lasted ALL night and I was so out of it I can’t remember much else.) so pretty scary stuff. Ever since then I have developed a condition called Post Infectious IBS.. the doctors have said due to how severe my sickness was in a short space of time, it has stripped my stomach of all natural bacteria and will take a few years to repair. Well here I am 7 years later still with IBS. Of course, symptoms of IBS are bloating, nausea, trapped wind etc. To which faced with a fear of vomiting is NOT good. I always feel like I’m going to be sick uncontrollably, when it is actually just a flare up of my IBS. I listen to every sound in my body and panic for days on end and convince myself I am ill. Also a massive trigger for IBS is stress, so I am in a huge viscious cycle. I can also no longer digest lactose.
It is very embarrassing but I even do things like make sure there is nothing I can trip over between my bed and door should I need to jump up in the night and be sick.. I also wash my hands a lot, carry anti-nausea tablets with me, won’t use public toilets and inspect every bit of meat I consume until it’s cold.
People ask me what it is I hate so much about being sick, and when I really think about it.. my reasons are that I feel scared of losing control of my body, I’m scared I’ll be sick and won’t be able to stop and I eventually choke or die. I also fear that someone will see or hear me and think I am disgusting. I also hate the first initial feeling of ‘wow I’m going to be sick’ and the dash to the bathroom, the flush on your face and the saliva in your mouth. That is what I HATE even imagining experiencing.
In the last 2 years it has got so severe I have began to have panic attacks. My heart races in bed and I cry and curl into a ball. My breaking point was when I was on holiday last year on a cruise - I literally spent the whole time wondering if I was going to catch a bug and what I would do if I was sick, that I referred myself to a psychiatrist for counselling which begins in 6 weeks.
So I have been sick ONCE in the whole 7 years I have had this phobia which was in September 2018. And I was sick twice, diarrhoea, and body aches and headache. I have to say, the body aches were worse than the vomiting. It happened so quickly and was flushed away in the toilet so fast that I didn’t really have time to worry or think about it.
What is funny is that I know what I’m doing to myself is ridiculous and I always tell myself PEOPLE ARE DYING and I am worried about being sick. It’s ludicrous what you put yourself through when you have emetophobia.
So although my journey is still ongoing, I have after 7 years decided to get some help. I do have some promising outlooks as I am one who will never stop myself doing what I want to do (holidays, nights out with friends) I literally just AVOID AVOID AVOID whilst I’m in the situation.. and that is the part I am going to curb first. I have a positive attitude and know that one day this will be gone, and I have so much to be thankful for. I also have a busy full time job which takes my mind off of it most of the time, however has hit me a few times off guard.