Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Life as an Emetophobic

It seems today that so many of us suffer with some type of health anxiety.  Some of this is believed to be because of 'Cyberchondria' (Googling every little health issue and reading way too much into it) but I think much of it is also down to the horror stories we read in the papers and see on the news about people dying because of simple health problems.  And this is especially worse for parents with small children.

We fear that our little loved one's cough could turn into a fatal case of Pneumonia.  Or that a small viral rash could be deadly Meningitis.  So it becomes critical that we have these things checked out by our doctors as soon as possible.  But then there are the horror stories of misdiagnosis and so we spend hours of unrelenting Google researching trying to look up every single detail of the suspected illness because we are already at the brink of panic and we just don't know what else to do with ourselves. 

But it doesn't stop there.

Soon, we are reading and posting in health forums about a million different concerns that have nothing to do with the original complaint - because it could be anything now - and suddenly you are a victim of health anxiety and you sit at your computer feeling damned if you do and damned if you don't when it comes to making the choice of visiting emergency services at the hospital or waiting it out and possibly facing devastating results.

Health anxiety usually involves a broad range of disease and illness fears but for me there's only one thing that causes me such dire anxiety - to a point where I completely shut down in panic - and that's the stomach virus.

The stomach virus is well tolerated and considered 'good news' for so many seeking answers for their's or their child's symptoms.  It's not dangerous, usually passes quickly and involves duvets, movies and taking it easy.  But for an Emetophobic, it's far from a good result.

My husband became ill in January of 2012.  He was in bed all day feeling queasy and uneasy and I was a wreck.  I quarantined him to the bedroom with it's own bathroom and closed the door.  And I kept it closed all day because I couldn't possibly risk becoming infected and I had to keep the children safe too.

Living in a 3 storey house, you'd think I felt safe enough to move around but I was paralysed with fear.  I didn't dare set foot in the kitchen in case he had already contaminated it.  I couldn't sit on the sofa, because he'd laid there earlier on.  So I sat at my desk and did the only thing I could do to take my mind off of the fact I was going into meltdown over my husband possibly having Norovirus.

During my research - which i've done a thousand times before - I quickly realised that he should have at least been sick by now.  It had been hours since it started and he wasn't getting worse, but he wasn't feeling better either.  Then I read about Appendicitis and it all seemed to make sense.

I dared to enter 'The Room' - which by this point had became the equivalent to walking through a minefield - and asked him about his pain.  I suggested it could be Appendicitis and called for an out of hours doctors appointment.

With child care covered, I was able to bravely share a car with my hubby to get to the doctor, whom within 10 minutes had called an ambulance for my husband to be taken to hospital with a suspected perforated ulcer.

Don't get me wrong, I was CRYING with worries about my husband's health and the possibility of him having to have surgery.  But Norovirus had been ruled out and the relief was like no other.  It wasn't a contagious stomach bug.  It wasn't going to make me sick.

It turned out by the time we got to the hospital that he did in fact have Appendicitis and he had his appendix removed the following morning.

The point here, is that an Emetophobe doesn't rationalise.  I should have hoped it was just a virus.  But that in the eyes of somebody who suffers with my phobia is a bad news diagnosis.

So what's it like living a normal day in my shoes?

First, I am scared of toilets.  I would sooner pee in my pants than use a public restroom.  I will not touch door handles or trolley bars.  I wash my hands so often that they bleed.  I cringe when shoes are worn in the house because of the risk of brining a stomach virus into the house.

I was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and I will allow this disease to cripple me before I ever take the chemotherapy drug, Methotrexate, which is used to treat it.  I suffer with daily migraine (thankfully with no sickness) and refuse to take any preventive drugs if the side effects include vomiting.

If somebody I know has been sick in the last week, I will avoid them like the plague for at least 2 weeks.  I can no longer face going on a plane.  I can't enjoy a night out in case people are sick from alcohol.  If somebody has an iffy tummy ache at home I ask a thousand questions, keeping distance and being unable to move around the house until 3 days have passed with no other symptoms.

It got so bad over Christmas last year after my son was sick that I was nearly admitted.  I was put on a valium type drug but it made me worse and I spent 3 weeks unable to eat, unable to move, unable to breath and had to rely on my husband and mum taking time from work to take care of the children.  I can't go anywhere without my anti-emetics and long car journeys are a no-no now because there's no way to escape.

Every waking moment is preparing myself that someone may be sick and this has damaged my life beyond belief and so far, therapy hasn't helped.

But it wasn't always like this.  I've had stomach virus' dozens of times and it never scared me as a child or young teen. I never used to be afraid of roller coasters or flying abroad or eating at BBQs.  I have never been able to trace it back to any particular point in my life where this phobia could have been triggered.  I've had it for around 5 years now and I go through bad times and sometimes, I forget about it entirely.

Winter is the worse because of the Norovirus hype in the news.  By the time summer comes around, I'm usually less OCD around the home and the hand-washing routines relax.

But this summer, I'm not getting away with being anxiety free.

Last week my 8 year old daughter started complaining of tummy aches, but it's okay because she gets them frequently and they are mild and they NEVER turn into anything that involves the stomach virus.

I have been able to take care of her and cuddle her and hold her and on Monday I took her to the doctor.

They said to see how she goes and to come back in the morning for the results of a urine sample.  However in the night, she was slightly sick.  I say 'slightly', because it wasn't normal sick.  More like coughed up liquid.  And I handled it really well given my history of dealing with anything close to a tummy bug.

By the morning, she was having diarrhoea and after our planned trip back to the doctor, she was diagnosed with Tonsillitis.  But her throat doesn't hurt!

They said her tonsils were badly infected and so I was relieved it wasn't a bug but i was still concerned about the poops.

By mid afternoon, to my horror, she was sick in the toilet.  The cramps continued and Mummy-Meltdown had begun.

My husband has taken care of her as has my mum.  I've spent the remaining hours doing what I always do.  Googling things like 'Tonsillitis causing sickness' and trying to reassure myself that it's not gastroenteritis.

Today, she feels better but still has mild cramping.  No sore throat but her tonsils are blistered.  She has antibiotics but when I called the doctor back after she was sick they told me it was in fact likely to be a bug and to hold off on the antibiotics.

So today I am somewhat of a dizzy wreck.  I'm handling this better than I usually do and I am able to rationalise that being sick isn't a big deal.  But as soon as I start to relax, I feel the panic settling in and it really is no way to live.

People don't 'get it'.  Not unless they too suffer with emetophobia.  People will say, "well, nobody likes being sick," but that's not the same.  It's not a case of disliking it.  It's a case of being scared to death of it.  But I think what us Emeophobes really have an issue with is the lack of control over the situation.  

Ironically, being imprisoned with a fear of vomiting has the symptoms of a tummy bug.  Head pain, uneasy stomach; abdominal cramps, the runs; needing to expel something, like a need to actually be sick.  And so the circle begins and there's no escape and you end up becoming the Queen of Bleach which makes you nauseous as well because of the chemicals.

Today the countdown begins.  Incubation periods for stomach bugs are between 1 and 3 days.  I will not be able to leave the house or eat until this time passes and then there will be two weeks of guided hand-washing with the children, bleaching the bathroom and kitchen religiously and not being able to catch a break just in case a single particle has been missed.

Life as an Emetophobe is exhausting.  Living with a fear of sickness is never-ending and it is surprisingly one of the most common phobias in the UK.

We don't talk about it with people because we are ashamed of it.  Admitting to another parent that you are unable to hold your child whilst they are sick is not an option.  Because we are good parents who love our children so much, yet in their time of need, we are unable to comfort them in the way we normally would.

I will continue to try to find a way to cope and manage this debilitating fear, but in the mean time, I will be a victim of one form of health anxiety.  Of a phobia that has at times made me and many other Agoraphobic.  There's no let up and this laughable fear can destroy people's lives.

If you too suffer with Emetophobia or suspect that you do, you can read more here.


  1. Anxiety in any form is difficult to live with, and phobias can certainly get in the way of life. I'm so sorry that you have to live with this.
    I found your blog through Blogging Buddies and am now following via bloglovin.
    PS - Meet & Greet blog hop is live, if you'd like to join us and link up.

  2. Oh Hell, yes. I am so with you on this one. I've been emetophobic since I was 11 (now the grand old age of 35) and it's so, so hard. Not a day goes past without it impacting on my life somehow, and I'll often lie awake at night panicking about someone in my house vomiting. I love autumn, but since I've had my son (4 years old), I dread it because as soon as the schools go back in September, it's non stop illness and tummy bugs until March and since my son's been going to preschool etc, I can't control if he catches it as I'm not with him to wash his hands and steer him away from germs and ill people all the time. He had a tummy bug last October but miraculously escaped Norovirus when it was rife around Christmas (no chance this year as he starts primary school in a couple of weeks), so I thought we'd got away with it. but he then came down with Rotavirus in May and it was just awful and went on for a full week.

    I used to starve myself so that I couldn't possibly vomit and went through long periods of being unable to leave the house at all. I'm not that bad now, but it's still a miserable, all consuming phobia. You have all my sympathy. I wish there was a way to get rid of it but nothing I've tried works.

    Lisa (I wrote a post about being an emetophobe and dealing with vomming children here by the way: )

  3. Hi Leanne, I'm stopping over from a Lovely Blog Hop. I have so much admiration for your honesty in this post. I cannot imagine what being emetophobic must be like. You explained the day-to-day situation but it must also be draining having to deal with the reaction of others to your phobia. People can be so insensitive or just outright not want to try to understand. Perhaps sharing this post will put you in touch with others in a similar situation. I see Lisa has already shared :)

  4. Soon, we will become our own doctors. I search Google so much that I often know what's wrong with my kids before the Dr. can tell me. I love when they say, "I have been doing this for 25 years." Hell, I have been in my own body for 36 years. I do know when you are wrong.
    GREAT POST. I hate reading long posts, but this one has lots of humor in it. I love the way you write.

  5. You have a wonderful blog!! I'm your newest Bloglovin follower from the “Lovely“ blog hop - this is my blog if you wanted to follow back:
    PS – I would also like to invite you to a networking blog hop that lasts 1 month long: “The Chain Linky CLIMB” currently live on my blog– Thank you! Chain Linky CLIMB