My Irrational Fear of Throwing Up Is Making Me Sick

Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting—and yes, I know it sounds absurd, but I will go to any lengths to avoid it

Look, everyone hates being sick, except for maybe that woman in "The Devil Wears Prada," who said she was "one stomach flu away" from her goal weight. Oh, I wish I had her attitude.

Because while most of you hate getting violently ill and really, really hope it doesn't happen to you, I actually have a phobia about it, and it's affecting my life. It's called emetophobia, and you could put that right on my tombstone to sum me up: "Karen: She Had Emetophobia."

Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting, and yes, I know that sounds absurd. I mean, no one likes to do that. It's awful. But I will go to any lengths to avoid it. I will not eat anything remotely sketchy: I know what foods most often cause foodborne illnesses. I know how long the Norovirus is contagious and the incubation period before you show symptoms. If you tell me you've been stomach-bug sick, it ruins my whole day, because then I'll need to obsess over whether I've caught your illness. Sometimes if I've been around a sick person, I won't eat for days. Nothing to eat, nothing to throw up.

In fact, I managed to go 30 years without being violently ill even once, and was kind of famous for it among my friends. I know that it's sort of funny—I mean, I'd make fun of me, too—but unless you have a phobia, you don't have any idea how really terrible and debilitating it is.

I think it became a phobia after I was 12. I mean, being 12 is bad enough, especially for me because I looked like a man. Then my parents got divorced, and soon after I was in a really bad accident. I broke bones and had surgery, and was hospitalized for about a week, until they finally sent me home. But after a few days it was clear I needed to go back to the hospital, which was terrifying enough, and then they decided they needed to do further surgery. I can remember that moment, lying in my hospital bed, feeling helpless and scared and knowing I had no control over the situation. Sometimes I have nightmares about that moment.

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They whisked me into the operating room for what was supposed to be a half-hour surgery that lasted four hours. I don't know if that's why, but for some reason I woke up during the operation. I was unable to open my eyes, but I knew some apparatus—maybe the breathing apparatus?—was in my throat, and I threw up.

See, even writing those words, in the safety of my room, makes me anxious. Anyway, the point is, now I'm absolutely terrified of the idea of being sick that way, and of being around anyone else who is. My ex-husband and I even had a vomit evacuation plan, where as soon as we moved somewhere, I'd scope out the nearest hotel I could escape to should he ever get nauseated.

That's not why he divorced me, but I understand that this makes me sound like a crazy person, or at least a self-centered person, and I do think phobias make you concentrate on yourself to the extreme. The good news is that this doesn't consume me day and night. I can still eat out, go to parties, stay overnight with friends. Not everyone with this phobia can.

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I'm in good company, by the way. According to my Internet research, Cameron Diaz, Matt Lauer and Denise Richards have emetophobia, too. They're all pretty hot. Why can't this phobia at least ensure that I'm hot? This phobia sucks.

At any rate, the other night, I woke up because my boyfriend was tossing and turning. "Are you OK?" I asked him. "No," he said. "I feel really bad. I might throw up."

Here it was: my worst nightmare. I'd gotten the stupid Norovirus three years prior and broke my 30-year no-barf streak, and I think that's what made me a little less fight-or-flight this time. Because I stayed, all night, and listened as my poor boyfriend got sick nine times. He was miserable. I felt terrible for him. But I was also completely horrified.

In the past, if anyone's thrown up in the same house I'm in, I leave immediately. Once I left with no shoes in the middle of winter. But this time I toughed it out, and as I lay on our couch feeling alternately horrified and sad for my poor suffering boyfriend, I made a decision. I am sick of living this way, so to speak, and I'm going to rid myself of this phobia once and for all.

The next day I did some research, and it seems cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective. No, I will NOT be forced to throw up. If I did I wouldn't go to the therapy! And it may take years for me to actually recover. But my theory is, in the years to come, I'll be living with this annoying phobia, or in the years to come I could be working on getting rid of it. I want to actually be able to take care of people when they're sick, not run out the door in fear.

So that's my plan: I'm gonna flush this irrational fear. (See what I did, there?)

Tags: well being