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FEBRUARY 24, 2013 8:02AM

Confessions of a Vomit Phobe

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Emetophobia is the proper name for what I have.

It is the unreasonable, irrational, and intense fear of vomiting. This fear includes watching someone else vomit, or feeling afraid someone might vomit. It doesn't get the attention other phobias do.  The fear of heights or fear of dogs are fairly common phobias. Those of us with emetophobia, we are a smaller group.

My mother had it. My grandmother had it.

I would rather die than throw-up.  Apparently this was my grandmother's motto. My mother, having vomited once as a child, decided it was so horrific, she'd never do it again. And she didn't. But she passed the fear onto me. 

I am in elementary school. The phobia is already intense. I am horrified when I see the custodian coming down the hall with his dustpan and broom and sawdust. My body starts to shake. I am afraid the vomit is in one of the classrooms I need to enter. I am the attendance collector, and it is my job to go into every single classroom to retrieve the folder and bring it to the office. I am in trouble later that day for skipping some of the rooms in the fourth grade corridor. I am too afraid to enter a room where someone has vomited.

A few years later, I learned what a stomach bug was.  I learned that a small person could vomit all night. I learned that a mother with the same phobia was not going to get out of bed to help clean up the mess, or soothe her daughter's  panic attack.

My brother walks in at one in the morning. He has been out with friends. He sees me huddled on the couch, rips down my hand-written sign from the bathroom door, and tells me to clean it up now. 

I am sick and weak from vomiting all night. The few places I missed cleaning, I thought I could clean up in the morning. So I put up a sign saying just that:  Sorry, will clean up in the morning.

When I was eighteen, I found a clinic at the local hospital that dealt with phobias. I was wise enough to know that my fear held me back from doing things. I was afraid to fly, but I was more afraid of being next to someone vomiting into one of those little white bags. There were a million places people might vomit, and I was afraid to go to any of them. My mother had instilled in me a fear of eating anything that might make me vomit. She ate nothing that she didn't cook herself. I started thinking all food was spoiled. 

I arrived at my appointment at the phobia clinic. Since it was a teaching hospital, many people were in the room with me. The doctor began by telling me how this was going to work.

We give you some Ipecac. You will vomit. We will clap for you. 

I'm assuming treatment for phobias has advanced greatly since then. I had never heard anything so absurd in my life. 

They were going to induce vomiting and then applaud?

I left the clinic thinking they were crazier than I was.

Over the years, my phobia has gotten better. I knew that I was not going to close my bedroom door if and when my own daughter had a stomach bug. And as fate would have it, I got a real puker. I had to deal with it.

The best part was seeing that she hadn't inherited the fear. As a child, stomach bugs didn't really phase her. Later, as a college freshman, a one time vomiting bout with Everclear and Kool-aid was likely a godsend. 

Part of the reason I never drank alcohol was the fear of vomiting. The fear kept me away from illegal drugs, too. No coke for me, thanks. Friends vomiting after the first line kept me from wanting to try it.

But it kept me away from life.  From eating interesting food, and  traveling to interesting places. The plane, the boat, the spoiled food, the exotic places. All potential vomit producers. 

Emetophobia made my life small as all phobias do.

I still have traces of it.

But it's not like it was. And I want to travel, and eat strange food and unlike my mother, and her mother, not be afraid.

Because I learned on my own what the group of experts at the vomiting clinic couldn't teach me.

I was afraid of vomiting.

But I was also afraid of life.

Today I raise my glass of non-alcoholic beverage and say:




To Life. 



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tr ig has strange powers over us...
You did it.Of course, this was wonderful and telling and illustrated the bigger picture and shows how you've grown. Raised the level here. R
Yeah! Once again you've turned a painful story of your childhood into a triumph.

My son was a barfer for years. He'd be eating and suddenly turn his head and cut loose. I've cleaned up entirely too much barf that was not my own.
I should have known it had a name. I like how you were able to take a subject and turn it to a positive post. And you take yet another opportunity to show us that we don't have to grow up to be our Mother.
Et tu, Joan H.? Sweet Joan H, posting about barf, is Must Read.
I used to be scared to barf in grade school too...more for the humiliation factor, than the gross-out factor, but I can relate to feeling trepidation on seeing the janitor approach with the sand bucket. The ipecac clinic sounds sick! I mean that in a non-physical way :-/

I wonder if what happens–maybe a medical professional will weigh in–is that like sex, your body has to build up some experience for barfing to become no big deal, easy even. Cancer drugs helped hone my ability, but what made me go pro was a week in the hospital with ehrlichiosis, 104 degree temps and non-stop vomiting, 24/7, not even able to fall asleep. I have never felt so sick in my whole life. The puke flu, since then twice, has been nothing in comparison.
Oh my god. I had no clue, but think now this OC may have been a real tonic for your emetephobia. Still laughing about the therapy-- ipecac, puking for an audience, applause. What?
My blog was a joke of course, but now we are getting deep throat! Love it
Jaime, thanks for the applause. I'll take it here. xox

asia, I really wondered if I would get a puker. As a toddler, she vomited all over me and my new coat on the bus to work. I kept her anyway. :)

just phyllis, thank you for reading. Sometimes some of us have a lot of extra work to not be like our mothers... :)

greenie, I read a comment you left on someone's post about how you were the Ron Jeremy of puking? You are an inspiration to me every time you speak. xox

tr ig, you evil genius. I just had to tell my story too. As for the clinic, I felt I had stepped into the Twilight Zone. Is everyone cured from emotional trauma and fear by applause?? Maybe I should have stuck around to see. :)
You are so brave to face your fear. That seems to be what life is all about and life is very messy sometimes! Good post.
Joan H.! I am shocked, shocked, can I say shocked !!!!! to learn that you know who Ron Jeremy is?! Likewise, you impress me every time you speak ;-)
Greenie, like Asia's lasagna metaphor, we have many layers... xox
Oh my . Never knew of such a phobia. I am the one in the family who takes care of the vomit. It's not fun but to me being there for someone vomiting is a big deal. Has to be done. vomiting is a lonely thing. very interesting essay. Conquering fear is a quest.
While you were spilling yer guts, I went to the Art on Palm
I agree with Jaime - I will applaud for this! But making people vomit and then clapping is making me...sick to my stomach.
gives new meaning to the expr "face your fears"
brave to share this in a blog
only in blogs! haha
Zanelle, thanks. You have to brave if you want a life. :)

fernsy, the caretaker is a saint, in my opinion.

Trudge, very cool!

Annie, I'm thinking some of those residents and interns chose another branch of medicine after that.

vzn, this, brave? You must not be a regular reader of mine. :)
ah, the sisterhood of puke-phobics. i'm a charter member. :) but, like the horror i had of killing spiders inside the house (when there was someone else handy to pass the task to), one puts on the mantle of vomit-cleaner and puker-comforter when it's your kid who barfs. (with the exception of your mother, apparently, whose callousness continues to amaze.) i distinctly remember the first time tiny amy, sick from bee stings, regurgitated her dinner on her favorite stuffed creature, Rocky Raccoon. that i coped shocked even me.
femme, I had no idea!
Yes, love propels one to do amazing things. xoxoxo
Wow. I never realized how restrictive such a phobia could be. And while I reckoned that everyone had an aversion to vomiting, it never dawned on me that the strongest aversions could actually be phobias.
Trig does induce us to do strange things doesn't he? :D

Great post though!!

How 'bout that guy who invented that polyethel regurgitation?
Heh, heh, clean up in aisle ten! And, no, not really...I never thought of Tr ig as genius evil just...:)
I'm a 3rd generation nurse... but as patients would tell you if you could ask, they once had a nurse in the ER who retched right along with them. It's an involuntary monkey see, monkey do reaction. Not very professional, I'll admit.
Nicely written. R.

I wonder what the next topic of great interest might be. Perhaps, 'shitting with your pants on.'
Only for you would I even step foot in OS with this topic such a minefield to me. And of course you nailed it, going deep into your own personal minefield to give us a powerful version of a whole different aversion. Everything you write reaches us and teaches us.
Abrawang, of it's a phobia, it's bound to be debilitating. Thank you for reading!

Tink, obviously, tr ig put a spell on us. Thank you for the "tink pick!"

J.P. Hart. tr ig is some kind of genius to get so many people to follow his open call!

Gabby Abby, I shudder at the thought of being a nurse. (I have mad respect for them, however.)

Lyle, thanks. And if that's the next topic, I'm out. :)

Sally, I really appreciate you stepping into this mess to read and comment. xox
Larry, you might be the only one who reads the tags.
The vomit of the working-classes has a cleansing, cathartic influence upon mankind. The vomit of the Bourgeoisie is toxic and must be avoided at all costs.

Viva Fidel!
i'm choking up reading these...
Joan, I wasn't aware of this phobia, but after reading your story I see all of the ramifications! Sorry you've had to go through this and after having a lot of episodes of nausea growing up I was thrilled to see my sons only got hit with nausea a few times and not dozens like I experienced. Thanks for the interesting post and for sharing your story!
They treated your fear of vomiting by making you vomit? Can I get my fear of sex with Scarlett Johansson treated too?
I am glad you were able to bring this up.
Cranky, yes. You get a bottle of Ipecac... wait, maybe not that part. I know they applaud at the end.

Chuck, I know. Me too.

designanator, thank you for reading!

Sheepie, it was not easy to keep down.
For what it's worth, Joanie, that "therapy" you described at the clinic is a bona fide treatment known as exposure therapy. I you had been an elevator phobe, they would have gently helped you enter the cage and ride it until you overcame your problem. However, although not as severe as you describe, I will fight the urge to upchuck for hours on end. I hate the way the acid makes my throat feel.

Trust you to contribute a sweet, thoughtful post to the puke open call.
well, of all the phobias i have heard of, really this one makes the most sense. god its vile stuff. and a vile event all the way around.
Finest puke post of the weekend. Well deserved ep JH- Hysterical!
Congrats on a well deserved EP!!!! ~huge hug~ I'm not sure why vomit is such a wonderful topic, but it is....we should all meet up behind the Circle K and vomit!!!! :D
Tink I'll bring the ipecac and drink it if you bring the applause.. Circle K Duluth or Bismarck?

It does seem like attitude is the key to managing the fear and anxiety to overcome the phobia.
trig, BOTH!!! Whoo!!! :D
Great essay. Fascinating to read. I love the line, "Emetophobia made my life small as all phobias do." Very wise.
Of course your daughter didn't inherit. You didn't pass it on. (I need to remember to read you when my mother is annoying me. As she is today. So thanks for that.)

But I don't understand how you don't vomit when you have to vomit. God knows I've never done it voluntarily.

People with Prader-Willi Syndrome can't vomit. That can be dangerous.
Just catching up with this...Good piece Joan! I was so sick this November and December, I actually had to not only get used to hurling unexpectedly, at any time or location, I learned to embrace it just to gain relief from relentless nausea. I absolutely concur that it causes phobic fear to step out of the house when things could happen out of control. I got so stir crazy being cooped up, desperate to just go to a movie, I figured out some workarounds. I kept trash cans in the cars and Zip Locs in my purse and trained myself to stealth puke. I made it all the way through Lincoln barfing the whole time and no one was the wiser!
Wow, what an intriguing post this brought out! It's so sad how true phobias really can stop us from living our lives. I"m glad that you have mostly gotten past yours - and kudos for participating in and reading some of the responses to tr ig's OC!