I have a really special post today: my friend Lauren of I’m Fine, Stop Asking, has written this for my blog. I think Lauren is a gifted writer and has so much to share, so I feel blessed to include this post among mine and share her work with you guys! We have tons in common, such as our history with mental illness (specifically anxiety), and we are both young married women with a dog. No wonder we’ve clicked!
I do not have much experience with phobias, and I’m always glad to learn and understand more about others’ struggles so I can show compassion. I’ve also written a post for her blog, entitled Compassion, which you can find on her blog! Please feel free to give her a visit and a follow. I think she is fantastic.
Without further ado….
More Than Just My Phobia
If you have ever dealt with any type of mental illness, you’ll know how completely consuming it can be. Since I can remember, I have dealt with severe anxiety. Diagnosed at just eight years old, I soon became painfully aware that I was not like everyone else.
Though I have struggled with panic disorder, OCD, GAD, and health anxiety, there is one disorder that affects me more than all of these combined. I have emetophobia. If you haven’t heard of it, emetophobia is the phobia of vomiting.
I developed emetophobia just before I turned eight. I caught the stomach flu twice in a row, and since then, my life has never been the same. My emetophobia was life-altering. I developed an eating disorder, as I associated food with vomiting. You can’t vomit if you don’t eat, right? So I stopped eating.
I stopped doing pretty much everything. I missed weeks of school. I missed out on friends’ birthday parties, family gatherings, soccer games, you name it. I was terrified I would ‘get sick’ in front of other people, so I stayed home as much as I could, in my room, tucked away in my safe little bubble.
As I got older, I learned coping mechanisms. I saw (many) therapists and eventually, I was well on my way to a healthy weight and (mostly) healthy mind. But emetophobia is always there – unlike my other phobias, it has never relented. It stays in the back of my mind. Even as I write this, I am having a tiny panic attack because my stomach feels “off.”
The thing is, when I was young and single and relatively responsibility-free, it didn’t really matter when I missed out on a dinner event or party, when I had a 12-hour long panic attack and refused to eat for the next three days. It definitely wasn’t healthy, but it only affected me.
Now, I’m married. When my husband and I got married, my emetophobia was generally under control. I even ate dinner at my wedding. To tell you how big of a deal this is, as a child, I thought I would never be able to get married because my emetophobia would stop me from a) walking down the aisle and b) eating anything.
Last year, I actually ‘got sick’ for the first time in 14 years. And with that one incident, my emetophobia returned in full force. I felt like an eight-year-old again. I barely ate, I barely left the house. We kissed goodbye our restaurant dinner dates and pretty much any activity after sunset (my anxiety is worse in the evenings).
One night, as I sat in bed feeling sorry for myself, I realized that my phobia was now more than just my phobia now. Though my husband would (thankfully) never have to feel my fear, he had to live this with me.
He had to deal with canceled dates and lonely nights while I panicked on the bathroom floor. He had to leave family dinners early with me and watch as I canceled our vacation because “I just can’t right now.” He had to pick up the slack around the house when my fear paralyzed me and I couldn’t walk the dog or clean our clothes.
It is not my fault that I have anxiety. But just because it’s not my fault, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect my husband or our relationship. It does. That is the reality of many illnesses, including mental illness. I’ve learned to be so much more grateful for my husband, as I realize that my anxiety is now his anxiety too.