Friday, January 9, 2009

Super Woman's Treatise on Vomit and Emetophobia: Part Deux

WOW!

Who would've thunk that a post about my "quirky" phobia would generate more comments than ANY of my other posts on AESW?! Not this girl, that's for sure.

But I'm GLAD that it has. Because I've spent SO much energy and SO many years of my life trying to hide the severity of my phobia from those around me out of shame and embarrassment, and I see now that there's no need for me to hide it. In fact, talking about it openly seems to be helping me a little bit, probably because not having to hide it at least takes some of my anxiety away.

As I said in one of my response comments on the prior emetophobia post, everyone seems to have a significant fear of something; mine just happens to be of vomit and vomiting.

It always made me feel like a walking freakshow, but the fact is, I'm not the only one who has something akin to a shock reaction when I'm exposed to something that others find relatively benign.

What I love about finally opening up in earnest about this is that it's also caused me to bring it up in conversation with people I know "in real life," and their responses have been amazing. Many of them have never heard of this particular phobia (not so surprising), but they find it fascinating - not just the phobia itself, but the lengths to which I'll go to try to "protect" myself and mitigate my exposure to it. And nearly EVERYONE has expressed compassion over the obvious difficulties presented in trying to TREAT a phobia such as this.

And believe me, no one finds it more amazing and fascinating than me: I have a BA in Psychology, and phobias were one of my greatest areas of interest in the realm of psychology, for obvious reasons. ;) Honestly, I would love nothing more than to participate in real research on this subject, both in the hopes of understanding it better myself AND to help and educate others.

Alright. So in my last post on my emetophobia, I promised to delve into two areas:

1) What I believe may have caused my irrational fear of vomit and vomiting;

and

2) How I manage to function when I or Super Boy or Super Man vomit.

So here goes. :)

CAUSES

I need to start out by saying that my Super Mom and I have discussed this ad nauseum (pun intended) of late, and she feels VERY bad for her possible role in creating this phobia in me.

I know my Super Mom reads my blog, so for the record, I FORGIVE YOU AND I DON'T THINK YOU WERE OR ARE A BAD MOM!! You know I love you dearly, Mom. :)

Moving on....

I'll start out by telling you what my Super Mom thinks caused it, which I have absolutely NO recollection of whatsoever. Then I'll tell you what I think caused my phobia, based solely on my own memories.

MY SUPER MOM'S THEORY

As you may recall, I have a Super Sister (for the sake of clarity, I'll refer to her as "K"). K is almost exactly three years older than me, and was born with a problem with her kidneys. As a result, she suffered from frequent and severe kidney infections as a young child, pretty much always resulting in hospitalization for at least a few days. More often, it was a week or longer.

Apparently, when I was very little and my sister and I shared a bedroom, there were times when K would develop a kidney infection and she'd spike a REALLY high fever that would trigger serious vomiting, pretty much all of which I apparently witnessed given that we shared a bedroom.

I have absolutely NO recollection of that, but that's not all that surprising - I know that I've blocked out memories of other traumatic events in my life. And I don't think it's an issue of me being too young to remember it, because my Super Mom has told me that I've talked about memories of OTHER things from that same age.

What's also interesting - and I'll talk about this more in the "HOW I COPE" portion of this post - is that when my sister would end up in the hospital, it was always my mom who would stay with her, which meant that she was NOT at home with me (this is important, so don't forget this!). My dad worked shifts at the local paper mill, so one of my grandmothers would usually stay with me when my mom and sister were at the hospital.

So, to sum up, my mom thinks that the earliest cause of my phobia was, as young as 2 years old, witnessing my sister be frequently violently ill and not understanding it, coupled with the fact that those episodes always ended up with my sister in the hospital and my mom being away from me for days on end.

MY THEORIES

First, I remember being VERY young (maybe around 2-1/2 or 3 years old), possibly when my mom was pregnant with my little brother and had bad morning sickness, and I walked in the bathroom to find my mom throwing up. I don't think I really understood what I was seeing, but I'm sure I was scared to see my mom looking so awful, not to mention that puking can be a rather violent-looking and violent-sounding act that's just plain scary for a young child to witness.

Second, when I was maybe 5 years old, my sister (then 8) developed appendicitis. All morning she'd been telling our mom that her stomach hurt, but Mom made us all go to church anyway. Then all of a sudden, as we were walking to our pew (me behind my sister), my sister threw up and I nearly stepped in it because I wasn't paying attention. Then my mom sent us outside to sit on the church steps while she cleaned up the vomit, and my sister got sick again on the sidewalk, with me sitting right next to her. Of course, since she had appendicitis, my sister then ended up in the hospital to have her appendix out, and was gone for like a week (and my mom was with her most of the time). I'm sure that scared me, both because it was vomiting that happened right in front of me AND preceded yet another of my Super Sister's hospital stays, and because it resulted in our mom being away from me.

Lastly, when I was maybe 8 years old, I came home sick from school one day. I told my mom my stomach felt weird, and she told me that if I felt like I was going to throw up, I had to make it to the bathroom. As you can probably guess, I didn't make it to the bathroom. In fact, I didn't even make it out of my bedroom: I puked all over the bedroom floor. And - I think because she was frustrated that I hadn't gotten anywhere near the bathroom - she made ME clean it up. And I remember it being A-W-F-U-L to clean up. This memory in particular is VERY vivid for me, and still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Ick. Yuck. Blech.

So, in summary, my belief is that those three things together resulted in me being afraid of other people vomiting, of vomiting myself, of vomiting in public or encountering vomit in public, and of having to clean up vomit. And obviously the things my mom remembers - that I should remember but don't - also tie in to all of that.

Duh - see, it's not really rocket science, is it? Who wouldn't be traumatized by all of that?

HOW I COPE WHEN I OR MY FAMILY ARE VOMITING

This is a tough one. It really is. But I'm at least proud to say that I really believe I have gotten - and am getting - better at dealing with this, at least as it pertains to myself and Super Boy and Super Man.

When I am sick with a stomach virus, and when I had severe nausea during the morning sickness phase of my pregnancy with Super Boy, it really is a situation of MIND OVER MATTER. I will do whatever I can in my head to talk myself out of being sick. But if it seems that puking is inevitable, I will do deep breathing to try to stay calm enough to just let it happen as quickly as possible, since I have definitely found that the more worked up I am, the harder it is to get it out. I just hate that I'm naturally a very violent puker, I really do.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to get so panicked that I have come super SUPER close to passing out as I'm about to be sick, so obviously I prefer to not have a large audience in those instances. BUT - even though I don't want a LARGE audience, I DO want someone with me. And, for all of my childhood and early adulthood prior to meeting and marrying Super Man, that someone I wanted with me was without question my mom (see, this is what that foreshadowing in the CAUSES section was all about).

I *think* it's because my mom was always gone with my sister when my sister had to be in the hospital. Whether I felt that way because I felt abandoned by my mom when she was at the hospital with K or because I know it was comforting to K to have our mom with her when she was sick and I wanted that same comforting, I don't know. Maybe it was a combination of both.

And, to be honest, if I had my choice, I'd still prefer to have my mom nearby when I'm sick today, at almost 35 years old. (How embarrassing is that?!??) But since my mom lives an hour and a half away now, Super Man has had to fill those shoes. And I'm happy to say that he does an admirable job of comforting me and staying right by me when I'm sick, puke and all.

God bless that man. Truly.

Now, when Super Man or Super Boy are sick...

Super Man likes to be left alone in privacy while he's being sick. And I'm totally fine with that. Couldn't be more fine with it, actually. (Come on, you're not really surprised by that, given the circumstances, right?)

I have no problem bringing him water or ginger ale or whatever, or taking his temperature, or just checking in on him while he's recuperating, but I'm really, REALLY glad he doesn't want me to be there next to him while he's being sick.

While I'm sure I *could* do it and I'd survive, I can't guarantee that it wouldn't make me puke to watch him puke. And I can guarantee I'd be shaking violently and hyperventilating the entire time.

Super Boy is a whole other animal...

One of my readers, Wicked Stepmom, asked in a comment on the last emetophobia post how I handled it when Super Boy would spit up as a baby. And trust me, that boy spit up A LOT as a baby. The answer is: For some reason that didn't bother me. Maybe because I knew it was normal for a baby to spit up after eating and it was NOT actual vomiting from a virus or illness, so I wasn't at risk of "catching" it from him.

That said, I didn't LOVE having curdled breastmilk running down my back/front/sleeve, but I could deal with it just fine. And I also had burp cloths pretty much ALL OVER me to catch it, since I hated the stink of baby urp on my clothes! ;) (I'm no dummy.)

But it wasn't ALL spit-up; Super Boy absolutely DID get stomach viruses. In fact, I think his first year in daycare he had the stomach flu THREE DIFFERENT TIMES. And he's generally had it at least once each year since, although we somehow managed to dodge that bullet last year despite the fact that the stomach flu blew through Super Boy's school not once but SIX FREAKING TIMES last winter.

Can you say Lysol and hand sanitizer? I practically bathed the boy in both from October until May! And - thank God - it worked.

Here's the worst though: I believe that boy has puked DIRECTLY ON ME at least once each time he's had a stomach bug. And at least twice he's gotten it in my formerly long hair, requiring me to actually take a shower to clean all the puke off.

Uggghhhhh... (huge shudder of revulsion)

So, how do I deal with that? As best I can.

Yes, my usual symptoms kick in immediately, and on full-blast. I start shaking from head to toe, my stomach clenches and churns, my mind and heart race, and I'm completely and totally repulsed.

But I will do what I have to do to get it and myself and Super Boy cleaned up as quickly and easily as possible (all while wearing rubber gloves, of course). I spray the hell out of all inanimate objects with Lysol, after cleaning the surfaces with bleach.

And then, for the rest of the time Super Boy is puking, I will sit wide awake and stiff as a board right next to him with a bucket in hand, ready for the first sign of a gag to catch whatever comes up. Until he's all done puking.

And even then I insist that he keep a bucket near himself for a good 12 hours, just in case.

And I insist that he wash his hands any time I see him pick his nose or wiggle his tooth or WHATEVER.

And I will use Lysol sanitizing wipes to wipe off the door handles, the remote controls for the TVs/DVD player, etc. until we're 72 hours without any more puking from anyone in the house.

Crazy? Maybe.

But I do what I have to do.

The upside is that we rarely share stomach bugs between us anymore, most likely because of the thorough cleaning and hand washing, etc. that takes place immediately after the first puke mess happens, and because any further puke messes are caught in a bucket and not getting all over everything.

Oh, and you have to give me credit for this, too: I've known many people (who DON'T have a vomit phobia) who will actually THROW OUT sheets or other things that puke has gotten on rather than clean & wash them -- but I DON'T do that.

I might be slightly nutty, but I'm not wasteful!

Of course, the sheets or whatever get washed in BLEACH, but they get washed and used again.

So, that's it. That's pretty much everything I have to say about vomit and my emetophobia.

If you want to learn more about it, Google "emetophobia" sometime and see what you come up with. In the meantime, here are some other links that I've found helpful.

Wikipedia's entry on emetophobia

The International Emetophobia Society's website

Suite101.com's article on Understanding Emetophobia

Web Healthguides page on Emetophobia

Lastly, thanks again for reading my blog, for sharing your thoughts on my posts, and for being all-around awesome. Love you all!!

SW

2 comments:

  1. Good for you for finding the root cause of our shared phobia, Amy! Mine increased exponentially since the first and only time Megan has ever been sick like that landed her in the hospital for days and just when we though it was gone, it kept coming back, prompting test after test. Those tests uncovered a life altering, though unrelated health condition that I really wish with all my heart she didn't have. I think I associate the vomiting with all the heartache that came after, so now I'm just completely scared of vomit. Weird, huh?

    Here's to a vomit free winter! Get out the lysol and gel!

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  2. Given the amount of people that suffer from phobias in the world it's surprising there are not more places online to offer help and advice but there is help to be found at Ofear The Fear & Phobia Forum You will find people from all over the world giving helpful advice as well as specialists from hypnotherapists, psychotherapists and mental health nurses offering their expert knowledge about phobias.

    Emetophobia is pretty common and there are a few people on the forum that suffer from this and a special Emetophobia E-group setup to help people overcome it. You can find a comprehensive list of phobias on the Phobia List

    ReplyDelete