Most people are afraid of something. Whether it be clowns, spiders or the dark, there will be something that makes your skin crawl. However, it is phobias that makes our hearts go into overdrive and the beads of sweat dripple down our foreheads. One of my biggest fears is vomiting. I actively avoid situations where I might encounter vomiting people. I don’t drink alcohol and I’m very conscious of getting food poisoning so will avoid any restaurants without a food hygiene sticker on their window.
My fear of vomiting has been downgraded from a phobia. While I can still feel the panic setting in, I am much more equip at dealing with it and choosing a career in health care has certainly had an impact. But what triggered my Emetophobia? Was it one event or several? Well, I can remember the night clear as day.
Most of my memories of my Dad either involve his violent actions towards my Mum and I or him drinking. When I was a child, it wouldn’t be uncommon for him to be at the pub with his friends while his wife and two daughters were at home. It would appear that my father was an fan of getting blinding drunk, one time even breaking his foot while out on the town.
I remember being, perhaps 8 years old, late at night and Mum came into my room. I could hear Dad vomiting and Mum said that he wasn’t very well. She would often say this because who wants to tell their child that their father is drunk, again… But this little comment of protection was actually sowing the seeds of my eventual phobia. I had only ever vomited when I was ill and I knew how horrible it was. My dad was vomiting often because he was ‘ill’. It probably didn’t help that at this time in my life, I had discovered a hospital drama called ‘Casualty‘. An adult drama about life in an A&E department where every episode, ill people were dying…
One weekend when I was 10, we were visiting some family friends in sunny ol’ Skegness. They were an odd sort of family and the friendship between their daughter and I felt rather forced and unwanted. As an only child, she had been spoilt by her parents and would often have all the latest toys and gadgets. My family had very little money, probably because my useless father was drinking it all away. So I was already a bit anxious about this trip. They lived on one of skegness’ many static caravan parks and what I didn’t know was that this would eventually lead to us moving into one too…
The night of our arrival, both families spent the evening in the local pub, only a stones throw away from the caravan we were staying in. I was no stranger to pubs, which at the young age of 10, is a pretty awful thing to say. Both families drunk through the night and us kids were getting more and more restless. I remember asking my mum what the time was and she said Midnight; however, Richard (the spoilt girls father) kept buying my dad more drinks. I don’t know what time we eventually left but it was way past my bed time. We left the pub and I decided to walk on the inside row of the caravans while everyone else walked on the outside. Every so often I would peer underneath the vans and if I could see everyone else’s feet, I knew I was still heading in the right direction.
On one occasion, I stopped. I peered under the caravan to double check my route only to see, to my horror, Dad projectile vomiting. I jumped straight back up and ran off ahead. I wanted to get away. I wasn’t yet in panic mode but I remember my heart pounding so hard I thought it would explode. I felt very alone. I eventually got back to the caravan to meet the other family, who I assume had walked off a head while Mum sorted Dad out. I went straight into the bedroom and tried to sleep but I remember hearing someone else vomiting. I assumed it was my father. And that is the moment the link between vomiting and ‘ill’ clicked. Casualty had taught me that repeated vomiting was very bad and I had no real concept of alcohol and how it worked. I screamed at the top of my lungs and suddenly became very hysterical. I couldn’t catch my breath, I felt ill, sweaty and my heart was pounding so hard, it could have broken through my ribcage. I was terrified Dad was going to die. As soon as mum heard me crying she came straight in and soothed me. Explaining that it was Richard not Dad. I don’t remember much after that.
From then on, my phobia took over my life. I used to be terrified of theme park rides in case someone was ‘ill’. Once we had moved to Skegness, Dad often took us to the Pleasure Beach theme park and we were forced to go on the rides (I really didn’t want to but Dad had no concern for my fears and I can only assume he thought he was doing a nice thing.) One time Mum, Dad and my sister went on a ride called Surf Rider. I said I would rather go on the bee ride instead and would meet them after. I think I was 11 and it was round about the time I had my first panic attack so I wasn’t in a very good place. Surf Rider came to a stop and I waited at the gate for my family to appear. Everyone else got off but my family hadn’t. I didn’t really think too much off it until I saw my 7/8 year old sister, covered in my worst nightmare. Well, that was too much for me to handle, I started to panic. But this time we were in public and if there was one thing my dad hated, it was being shown up by his kids. He shouted at me while Mum took my sister to get cleaned up. I don’t know if you’ve ever bottled up fear before, it’s not a nice or healthy thing to do. But I had no choice. I had to suck it up or get smacked by Dad. I was concerned that my sister was ill and that I could catch it. When I was younger, the whole house caught a vomiting bug and while I wasn’t bothered by vomit back then, I suddenly remembered how fast bugs can spread. I don’t think I slept a wink that night. I had one ear open in case she was ill again.
Mum was becoming more and more aware of my phobia and seemed to be understanding. It became so bad that I refused to say ‘sick’ and even stopped the family from saying it. Just a mention of the work and it made my heart race. (I still hate that word now and will substitute it for ‘Vomit’.) It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t panic half as much when it was me being ill. In my teens, I got a bad case of heat stroke and spent all night with my head in a bucket but I knew I was fine. I could feel my pain. If I came across someone in the street vomiting, my heart would race but I only truly panicked when it was someone I knew. Someone I cared about.
When I was 17, Dad and my sister were absent in my life and it was just Mum, her partner at the time, Steve (I hated that guy) and I. Steve was living with us but tension had grown in their relationship and he would often make very snide comments to my mum. One evening after work, when I could tolerate his unbearable presence, we were sat in the living room together. Mum was in the kitchen, I know she’d had a glass of wine but I wouldn’t say she was drunk, not from what I remember anyway. It was clear that they had had a disagreement and Mum proceeded to cook with the kitchen door closed. I remember hearing something that sounded like water spilling out of the sink but I didn’t think anything off it but my anxiety was already raising due to the buying tension in the flat. Steve gets up and goes into the kitchen but oddly closes the door behind him. I was odd for that door to be closed at any time. I then hear him call my mums name several times and feeling the panic build, I get up from my sofa and head to the door. The next few seconds happened in slow motion. I opened the door to see Mum slumped over the dinning room table, vomit covering said table and Steve trying to arouse her. Well I full on freak out. I scream. I cry. I mourn as if I’ve already lost her. Steve shuts the door again, shouting at me to shut up but I’m too consumed in my grief to listen. I don’t know how long that episode lasted. It felt like hours. I remember Steve getting in my face with his teeth gritted, threatening me so I retreat to bed. I remember the time being only 7pm yet I desperately wanted this day to end.
That night, I didn’t sleep. I had one ear open for any worrying sounds. Someone gets up and goes to the bathroom. It sounds like vomiting. I stay there, in bed. Tears roll down my face. But I need to see if Mum is OK. I knew enough about alcohol now, to know that you shouldn’t be vomiting with a 6/7 hour gap in between. So logically, in my head, Mum is ill. I walk across the corridor to her room and ask if shes OK. I state that she shouldn’t still be vomiting and that we might need to go to the hospital. Much to my relief yet horror, it wasn’t Mum vomiting a second time, it was Steve. I am now concerned that there is a bug going around but mum reassures me that it was a dodgy bottle of wine.
This event was almost 10 years ago but I still get so emotional thinking about it. I can still feel the amount of fear I felt that day. I was so worried I would lose my mum when in reality, she’d just been drinking. My phobia demolished any rational thought that popped into my head and covered it in dark thundering clouds. I couldn’t live like this. So I tried to overcome it. I knew if I wanted to work in health care, then I would need to be able to cope in a reasonable manner towards actually ill patients. So what did I do? I watch vomit videos on Youtube. It was as disgusting as it sounds but the compilations helped me understand that vomiting is OK. It isn’t pleasant but it doesn’t have to be a life or death thing. I educated myself and it worked. Perhaps a little too well as it lead my to develop Bulimia but hey… I and now a healthy, functioning ODP, who can cope when it comes to vomiting patients. I still get nervous when my family are ill but I know what else to look for and when to call for help. If anything, health care was the perfect place for me to overcome my phobia. And I have no intentions of ever letting it return.