My Anxiety Story | Living With Emetophobia

This is a blog post that I’ve been considering writing for a while but have been very nervous about posting. Seeing as it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought that this was a good opportunity to share my story. I suffer from emetophobia, which is a fear of both myself and other people being sick. I do refer to this in this story so please don’t read if you think this might be triggering for you. This is a long read, so get a cuppa and a biscuit ready!

I have had anxiety, and more specifically emetophobia, for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of a child being sick in the nursery playground when I was 3, and the blinding panic I felt as a result. I didn’t speak in public as a young child. I had something called selective mutism which is an anxiety disorder where you are unable to speak in social situations. It makes me sad that as such a young child I was already so anxious.

I started speaking in public when I started school, but I was always very shy, right up to University. Throughout primary school, every time a child in my class said they felt sick I would be restless and scared, willing the teacher to send them to first aid in case they were sick. I didn’t enjoy school, I cried a lot and, looking back on it, can recognise that I was very anxious.

My anxiety seemed better when I first started secondary school aged 11 and I was much happier to go to school. However, a month into term, during a Geography lesson, we were asked to hand in our homework and my heart dropped when I realised I had left mine at home. The teacher gave me a warning and told me to bring it next time. For most children, this would have been no big deal. For me, I was absolutely devastated. A few days later, I was kneeling on my bedroom floor packing my bag for school the next day. I remember twisting around to pick something up and getting a sudden sharp pain in my right leg. For the next few days I was in terrible pain and didn’t know why. We thought that I must have pulled a muscle in my leg and that it would sort itself out, but it didn’t. It got worse and worse until I was unable to put socks on because the pain was so bad. I went to A&E three times that week, as well as to the doctor and an osteopath. On my third visit to A&E, they realised that my right leg was freezing cold and I got admitted to hospital and diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This is often caused by an injury or surgery, and doctors couldn’t understand how I had got it. Eventually they decided that it was probably caused by anxiety, and triggered by how devastated I had been about receiving a warning at school. I went through physio and occupational therapy, and while I do still get some pain, I am very fortunate that the CRPS is as mild as it is, as it can be life limiting for some people.

Two years later we moved house and I had to start a new secondary school aged 13. Starting a new school where everyone already has their friendship groups is daunting for anybody. Unfortunately, I did struggle to make friends at first, often eating lunch by myself and spending break times sitting on a bench on my own. I was still struggling with the CRPS and I think a lot of people didn’t understand and thought that I was attention seeking. I did begin to enjoy school more as time went on, and I made a group of lovely friends who I am still friends with now.

Fast forward a couple of years, I was 16, and it was time to do my GCSEs. At this point I still did not know that I was suffering with anxiety. I would feel extremely nervous before exams, terrified that people might get sick with nerves, and during the exam I would be feeling so worked up that I could barely concentrate on what I was doing (with hindsight I can see that I was having panic attacks). After having to leave an exam part way through, my head of year referred me to the school nurse which I am so grateful for. The nurse was lovely and we talked through some of my worries. I decided I wanted to tell her about all my worries involving people being sick but I didn’t know how to say it. My mum suggested that I write it down and give it to her which I did. She was really kind and said that she recommended that I see my GP about it as they may be able to offer me more support. Following my visit to the GP I was diagnosed with an anxiety and panic disorder and was referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It was suggested that I started taking amitriptyline, but at this point I felt very worried about taking any medication and so turned it down.
I explained to my CBT therapist how terrified I was about the thought of other people being sick, and was even more terrified by the idea of being sick myself. They were very understanding and reassured me that I wasn’t the first and only person to feel like this. Up until this point I hadn’t realised that I had anxiety and so it was comforting to know that it wasn’t just me. I started undergoing exposure therapy, which involved me looking at pictures and videos of people being sick. I was also taught about what was happening to my body when I had a panic attack, so that I understood it wasn’t just my body shutting down. This CBT did make me feel like I could manage situations with people being sick a bit better, and so I decided that I did think I could manage going to University. Up until this point I hadn’t wanted to go, as I knew a big part of Uni culture was people drinking excessively and then being sick which I hadn’t felt I could manage.

I decided to go to the University of Reading to study English Language. The one thing I was really worried about was having to share a bathroom in case people were sick in it and then I would have to use it. I then found out at one of the open days that I was eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) due to both my anxiety and my CRPS. This meant that I could have an ensuite room at Uni, and the difference between a standard room with a shared bathroom and my ensuite room would be paid for by DSA. This meant that I felt able to go to University and I am so grateful that the DSA gave me that opportunity.

Aged 18, I started University. I was nervous but also really excited. I loved University at the start, I really got on with my flat mates, was enjoying my new independence and was interested in my studies. Unfortunately, this honeymoon period didn’t last long. I got seriously unwell with viral meningitis followed by post viral fatigue, meaning that I spent a lot of time in my room asleep. At this point, the doctor suggested I take amitriptyline for the migraines I was getting with the post viral fatigue. I was desperate for them to stop and so agreed to start taking it, which I did find also helped my anxiety and my sleep. I didn’t have many friends as I spent so much time on my own, and was still very shy so I decided to get in touch with a girl I had been good friends with at primary school who I knew was also at Reading. We became best friends again and I lived with her and some other friends for the next two years. During this time my anxiety was pretty low and I was leading a normal life and was happy.

The summer at the end of second year, when I was 20, I started not feeling very well. At this point I had not been sick since I was 9 years old. I started feeling sick a lot of the time and having panic attacks more frequently. I was sick once during this summer and that made things even worse. I started being terrified I was going to be sick again, which wasn’t helped by the horrible nausea I was having most days. As I had been sick in the middle of the night, I started getting terrified about going to bed in case I woke up sick and so was staying up until 4am most nights so that I could be sure I was okay before I went to sleep. I did manage to go back to Uni for my third year, but was still suffering with this nausea. I tried cutting things out of my diet such as caffeine, alcohol and acidic foods such as tomatoes, which didn’t make much difference. One afternoon I felt horrifically sick and was in a blind panic that I would be. I wasn’t, and when I woke up the next day the nausea had just gone. It was like it had magically disappeared, it was so strange.

I enjoyed the rest of my third year and graduated with a 2:1 which I was delighted with. I applied to do a PGCE for primary school teaching and got accepted by the University of Cambridge. I really wanted to be a teacher but there was one thing I was terrified of; that a child in my class might be sick. I decided I needed some support and found The Thrive Programme which I’ll leave a link to here if you want to find out more about it. It’s effectively about changing your thinking styles; increasing your self-esteem and lowering your social anxiety and locus of control. I got in touch with one of the consultants and started seeing him that summer. During that summer I also worked at a language school. My self-esteem was increasing and this was the first time in my life that I was honest and open with people about my anxiety and emetophobia. It felt so good not to have to hide it and everyone I worked with was really kind and supportive. This was a happy time!

I started my PGCE at the University of Cambridge that September, aged 21. I loved my time there, I was really interested in the lectures and seminars and enjoyed my teaching practices in school. My anxiety was quite low at this point. I did feel frightened if a child said they felt sick, but I never had a child be sick in my care so I didn’t have to deal with that. It got to April and I started not feeling well. I was feeling dizzy and after fainting I went to the doctor who diagnosed me with labyrinthitis, which is an inner ear infection. About a week later I started feeling sick a lot of the time. I got through the rest of my teaching practice which I was loving, but unfortunately wasn’t feeling well a lot of the time. I passed my PGCE and had a mini graduation ceremony followed by the May Ball which I have very happy memories of. I’d also got a job as a teacher at a local primary school which I was looking forward to starting in September.

At the end of the teaching year, I went back to the GP who suggested I go and see a private psychotherapist who I started seeing weekly. My medication was also changed from amitriptyline to mirtazapine and I was given anti-sickness tablets which I was taking at least twice a day.

In August, aged 22, we went to France. I was still feeling very nauseous a lot of the time and was having terrible panic attacks if I thought I might be sick. In France, I started getting very panicky about going on the motorways, and was getting myself in such a state that I was feeling I might be sick, which made me more anxious… it was a vicious cycle. The whole time we were in France I was desperately homesick and felt so anxious that I just wanted to be at home where I felt some level of safety. When we got back to England, we went on a walk in a local wood. I started feeling really sick, followed by extreme panic when I realised I didn’t have my anti sickness tablets or water on me. I was very nearly sick in the wood, and again in the car on the way home. This completely terrified me; how I’d gone from absolutely fine to nearly throwing up in a couple of minutes.

I started my job as a teacher, and while I loved working with the children, I hadn’t been given the age I had been trained for (which was Early Years) so felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water. By half term I was extremely unhappy and the anxiety I was having about feeling sick was growing. We went away for half term which was lovely but very difficult. I had such a severe panic attack on the motorway that I was nearly sick and have been too terrified to go on a motorway since then. The sickness feeling was getting more frequent and intense. I returned to work, the doctor having given me beta blockers and diazepam to take as well as my mirtazapine and anti-sickness tablets. I was starting to feel very sick at work, and had started getting very anxious about the half hour drive there and back. I started leaving work as early as possible so that I could get home before it started getting dark. Two weeks into this half term, I went to stay with my sister at Uni for the weekend. It was like that was the breaking point; I got hysterical crying about how sick I felt and that I just couldn’t go back to work. My sister ended up coming home with me because I wasn’t in a state to get the train, I had to take diazepam even to get on with her and still ended up having a panic attack.

I called in sick on Monday and went straight to the GP who said that I wasn’t in a state to be working and signed me off with anxiety. The next few weeks went by in a blur of feeling horribly sick and more and more panicky about going out. I started having panic attacks if I had to go out even just to the village and was very frightened about going in the car. I continued to get signed off work. I was terrified to leave the house in case I got sick when I was out and wouldn’t be able to easily get home.

After 4 weeks, after a lot of thought, I made the difficult decision to resign from my job. I couldn’t see that I would be well enough to go back at any point in the near future, and I didn’t want to have to keep getting signed off for week after week. I also thought it would be best for the children to have a proper teacher instead of having to keep having supply teachers to cover for me.

At this stage the GP recommended that I see a private psychiatrist. I’m very fortunate that this has been possible for me, but many other people wouldn’t be able to afford this. I don’t believe that seeing a good psychiatrist should be a luxury. When I first went to see him, just before Christmas, I was in a very bad way. He suggested that I sto p taking mirtazapine and go back to taking amitriptyline and also olanzapine. I was glad to stop taking the mirtazapine; my friends and family said that it had blund my personality and it seemed like I just didn’t care about anything. My best friend said that I had stopped laughing which makes me very sad looking back on it. I was very hopeful at this point that the medication would make me much better. I started taking the amitriptyline, increasing the dosage every couple of days as I had been told to. I began to feel extremely sick, to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt too sick to eat and often just held a ginger biscuit under my nose for the smell, praying that I might get some relief. I was in a constant state of fear, terrified that I was going to be sick. It felt like the rest of the world was happily celebrating Christmas and I had never felt worse. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain how awful I felt at that time. I didn’t see any hope for the future.

I persevered with the tablets and, with time, the side effects did begin to subside. Sadly however, it wasn’t the miracle cure I had been hoping for. With time however, things did begin to get a little better. I began to go down to the village with my parents, or drive a little way round the block. At first everything was a huge effort, but the more I did it, the easier it became. I started feeling sick a lot less of the time which made life far more bearable.

After two of my friends came over one day, I felt so sad that I had lost the independence they still had and got a fresh wave of determination to get my life back. That afternoon I got into the car and we went to a local National Trust place for a walk. The next day I managed to go into town for the first time in four months. I went to the cinema with my mum and a friend and I felt happy. I was no longer trapped at home unable to go anywhere.
For my 23rd birthday, my friends surprised me by all coming home and we went out for afternoon tea. I realised how far I’ve come; able to go into town with my friends (and mum) and have a lovely time without feeling too anxious and on edge in case I begin to feel sick.

So that brings us to the present day. I am still seeing the psychiatrist every few weeks. I am working through the Thrive programme (that I mentioned earlier) again in the hope that will help and I have also just started seeing a hypnotherapist. I am able to do far more than I could. I am still really struggling to go out on my own, every day I am terrified that I might be sick and I am on constant high alert for anything that could make me unwell. I am sad that I have lost my independence, I am still struggling to drive and can’t do things that I wish I could. But I am hopeful that one day (hopefully soon) I will be back to being happy and independent.

Well done if you’ve made it this far! I hope that this can help you in some way, whether it’s to help you understand more about emetophobia and anxiety or whether you’re suffering from similar problems yourself.

Stephanie x

24 thoughts on “My Anxiety Story | Living With Emetophobia

  1. I’m so incredibly proud that you shared this story! You’ve had such a tough time but you’re doing amazing. You’ve got this! Massive congratulations on how great you’ve done and the fact you’re coming constantly trying to help yourself!

    Neve x

  2. Emetophobia is horrible, it has taken over my life and I’ve had to leave sixth form and start again in September. I really feel for you💗 I really hope you pursue your career choice of being a teacher!

    1. I’m so sorry that you’re having to go through it too. Sending lots of love, hope starting again in September goes well for you 💕

  3. This is a wonderful story! You’ve worked through and overcome so much – you should be incredibly proud of yourself. I understand this must have been incredibly difficult for you, both to live through and to share with all of us, so, from the bottom of my heart, well done. You’re an inspiration!

    Ruth | http://www.ruthinrevolt.com

  4. I’m really happy you got the courage to post this Stephanie! I’m extremely proud of you and the strength that you’ve adopted through your mental health journey 🙂 *hugs* Continue pushing on love ❤️❤️

  5. Hi Stephanie, thank you for sharing your story.
    I knew nothing about Emetophobia, so I am really grateful to you for writing about it. I started suffering from anxiety a few years ago when I starting working at a really stressful environment. It went so far that I had to quit my job.
    It is a real inspiration to know that you are learning to deal with your health issues. I am very happy for you!

    Miriam | http://www.theopiblog.com

  6. You really have been through a lot and I think that you’ve made admirable progress considering. Not many people accept the fact that they need help so you are very unique and strong!Keep it up and be proud of yourself cause you deserve it!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s always scary to put yourself out there and talk about anxiety, but I think it’s such an important step in life as well. I have suffered from anxiety for most of my life and reading other people’s stories always reminds me that I’m not alone in this and that there are other people out there with similar issues.

    1. Thank you! I’m sorry to hear you’re suffering too but it does help to know that you’re not alone x

  8. Firstly, I’ll begin with saying you’re so so strong and I’m so proud of how far you’ve come!
    My anxiety stems a lot from being ill in public, and I can understand a lot of how you’ve felt in certain situations you described!
    Thank you for sharing your story and I love your determination!

    Claire xxx
    https://eclairscares.blogspot.co.uk/

  9. I loved reading your story because I have Emetophobia as well. Before I started blogging I didn’t know anyone who had it so it makes me feel less alone. It’s crazy how anxiety comes in waves throughout life. I’m glad you’re doing better, keep it up 👍🏻

    1. Aw sorry to hear you suffer with it too. I was the same and didn’t know anyone else who had it until I started blogging and it really did make me feel better and less alone x

  10. So brave of you to share your story! You’ve been through a lot, but are now on your way to healing. Take it one step at a time, and you will get there ❤️

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *