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I have a phobia.
I have a phobia? Aren’t phobias only reserved for recluses who live in little run-down cottages in the woods or “crazy” people who can’t function in the real world?
People with full-time jobs, an active social life, and a decent upbringing with at least some money in a savings account don’t have phobias, do they?
Well color me fooled, because they do—and I am a perfect example.
I was enlightened about my phobia about three months ago.
I had just gone through some major life changes: moving to a different state, being unemployed for the first time in many years, turmoil in my relationship, health problems my family members were facing—and I found my stress and anxiety were through the roof.
Now, this wasn’t necessarily a completely new thing. I have been having bouts of stress, anxiety, and depression most of my adult life. I had always “just dealt with it,” which mainly consisted of stuffing my feelings deep, deep down where they would sit and stir and eventually come out in some unhealthy way, or self-medicating, usually with alcohol.
This time was different. I decided to enlist the help of a professional and sort this all out because, quite frankly, my soul was utterly, completely, hopelessly exhausted.
I met with my psychologist a few times. I was comfortable admitting I had anxiety. I was even comfortable admitting I believed my anxiety was a result of unresolved conflict and trauma that had been building up over the years.
What I was completely lost about was why exactly I was so anxious all the time.
I couldn’t put a finger on it. I just knew that almost anytime I was around other people, I was extremely nervous and stressed out. So much so that I often cancelled plans at the last minute or missed out on opportunities because I “wasn’t feeling well.” Even going to the grocery store would set my heart pounding and my hands sweating. I stewed over this for several days.
Then one day, as I was driving to my psychologist appointment at the Anxiety Clinic, it hit me as I was sitting in traffic:
I am completely and paralyzingly terrified I’ll throw up any time I’m in public.
Wait, excuse me? Can this be real?
I started laughing. That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever realized about myself. I thought it over, spun it around a few times, and I ended with the same result. I’m terrified of throwing up in public.
I debated if I should even tell my psychologist this. It just sounds so ridiculous, doesn’t it?
I ended up telling her, fully expecting her to start laughing at me and to call me crazy. But, you know what she did? She looked at me straight in the face and said, “That’s so interesting, I had another patient tell me the same thing this morning. That’s actually a phobia, it’s called emetophobia.”
My mind was blown. I felt like heaven had opened above me and there was a choir of little angels sitting on clouds singing just for me. You mean I wasn’t the only one who has felt this? I have a phobia? Somehow, just being able to label what was going on was such a relief.
We dove into where this fear came from and all of the dots started connecting. It all made perfect sense. Certain events and situations had created this mindset that was literally taking over my life. It was like the road map to anxiety was all leading me straight to where I was that day. It was almost absurd to think I wouldn’t have manifested all of that trauma into a phobia and anxiety. I finally felt like I could start the healing process.
I by no means have everything together, and I definitely still feel that monster called anxiety creep in once in a while.
However, I have learned a few key things that have significantly helped my healing and I would love to share them with you in hopes they may be of benefit:
1. We are all “crazy.”
Like it or not, we all have destructive thought patterns that creep their way in from time to time. I always felt so alone in my anxiety when in fact, I was far from alone. Just knowing that other people had the same phobia as me and that it had been significantly studied somehow made all people that much more accessible and endearing to me.
We are all struggling. Our collective pain and trauma as humans unites us. Compassion is so important—both for ourselves and for others. Instead of beating yourself up next time you feel anxiety or depression, just sit with yourself for a moment. Breathe into that feeling. Where is it coming from? What is it trying to tell you?
2. Anxiety is actually your body doing you a favor.
No, we don’t live in caves anymore, but back when humans did, anxiety may have been the only thing we had to thank for saving our hides.
When we sense a threat, anxiety kicks in. Our heart rate and breathing increase to get more oxygen, and our blood flows from our brains into our limbs in case we have to run, which can lead to dizziness and strange sensations. Sweat starts to form on our skin as a protective lubricant. Our bodies shut down certain systems and turn on others that we may not recognize. Food stops digesting, and this can make it feel like we are going to throw up.
Our body is trying to protect us, but it really just feels like we are about to die or have a heart attack. Next time this happens, try to have gratitude for the incredible process your body is doing for you. Acknowledge it, and tell your body thanks, but this is not necessary—there isn’t a tiger chasing me.
3. Talk about it.
Be open and honest with yourself and others. I guarantee your friends and loved ones have all felt uncomfortable emotions as well.
Keeping these feelings shut away in silence only helps to perpetuate the stigma of mood and personality disorders. There is nothing wrong with you.
Sometimes just voicing that I’m anxious to a friend makes me feel better, and I know they are there to support me. If you’re able and you feel it may be helpful, see a professional and tell them all the messy details. There are free or low-cost options in almost every community.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Eat healthy food that will nourish your body, get enough sleep, and realize it’s okay to say “no” when you are feeling overwhelmed. Exercise in any way you are able. Go outside and connect with the earth and fill your lungs with fresh air. Do yoga, meditate, practice self-care.
I joke about being an old lady at 34, but I have a routine that I know works for me and that I have to stick to. If I get out of sync with this routine for more than a few days, I can start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, and anxious again.
I know life can be busy and feel like you’re being pulled in a million directions. Figure out what works for you and try to stick with it, even if it’s just 10 minutes of meditation before you fall asleep. Don’t let anyone try and make you feel bad for making yourself a priority. When your mind is healthy, you can be that much more present for the ones you love.
Anxiety is still a regular feeling I battle, but with the help of professionals and some hard work, I have been able to start healing.
If you also suffer from stress, anxiety and depression, I know how hopeless it can feel, but there are good people who want to help you. There is nothing flawed about you and you are definitely not alone.
I’m right there with you, the woman who was once terrified of throwing up all over the organic vegetables at the farmers market.