I’ve spent over 12 years learning the ins and outs of my own anxiety.
It took me ages to understand that my panic attacks were induced by emetophobia (the fear of vomiting). This was my journey:
Step one: Throw up all over your sparkly butterfly t-shirt as you’re running down the fifth grade hallway.
Step two: Fear food, because if you eat, you’ll have something to throw up.
Step three: Become acutely aware of everything that you did on the day you threw up, from the colors you were wearing to the conditioner you used to the foods you ate. (Teal and black, herbal essences chamomile, lucky charms.) Become superstitious enough to avoid all of these things for years.
Step four: Tell yourself that Tums taste like candy. Begin enjoying them on a regular basis.
Step five: Begin to experience panic attacks. Become unsure whether your nausea is panic-induced or illness-induced, but it doesn’t matter because now you’re in the endless upset stomach loop.
Step six: Visit multiple therapists for said panic attacks. Each one will fail to help because you are not ready to help yourself…because even admitting your fear will make it happen.
Step seven: Alienate yourself from friends as they start drinking, because drinking will make you puke, so you can’t be doing that.
Step eight: Admit to one person your fear. Let them laugh at you. Continue running from vomit.
Step nine: Begin to realize that maybe they were right to laugh, maybe you should learn to laugh too. Experiment with telling more people about how scared you are to puke.
Step ten: Realize that you are not alone in this fear. Listen to other people tell you the weird things they do to avoid throwing up, and understand how silly it sounds as an outsider. Shout about how scared you are so loud that the fear itself shrinks into something you can step on. Squish your fear so small that it can no longer chase you down your fifth grade hallway.
Step eleven: Eat lucky charms for the first time in a decade.
I thought I was crazy for fearing something that happens to everybody, but I’ve come to learn that part of this fear has to do with a lack of control.
A stupid 24-hour bug threw me into a new reality of constant anxiety.
I spent the next few years calling out of school whenever someone around me puked. I’d hope and pray that my brother and I wouldn’t get carsick on our summer road trips and dread that seven-hour drive for months. I wouldn’t listen to the song “Unwritten” because one time, I heard it while I was puking. I wouldn’t eat for very long stretches, fearing that food would make me vomit, which would make me nauseous out of hunger, which would send me into a panic attack, which would make me more nauseous and so on.
My anxiety presents itself physically—as an upset stomach—which created a spiral for what felt like forever. I couldn’t tell anyone what I was afraid of, even though I knew exactly what it was. I was so scared to admit my fear that it loomed heavier and darker with each therapist appointment throughout adolescence.
But, the simple act of naming my fear and giving it the acknowledgement it begged for forced it to become manageable.
I’m proud to say that I’m finally at a point in my life where my once paralyzing fear is now something that my friends can laugh with me about. I get to play around on aerial silks and hammocks all day, free from the anxiety that I once had about inverting and spinning and swinging and all the other fun things that can potentially induce nausea.
I am not entirely free—I still sometimes slip into panic and choke back a swig of Pepto, but the shackles are loose and the chain is long enough that my life feels like it belongs to me, instead of the voice of unreason in my head.
With this, I ask you to call out your fear.
Shout it from the rooftops. Talk about it until you’re blue in the face. Talk to it, until it feels like something that can no longer control you. Fear is only as real as you allow it to be in your head; see what you can do right now to take back your power.
Author: Audrey Gebhardt
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman