Today I have the privilege of sharing Courtney’s personal experience with emetophobia. I know what you are thinking. Emeto…what?!
I had the same thought when I stumbled upon a blog post Courtney wrote about her struggle with emetophobia. Her blog post was intriguing, and I knew immediately that I wanted to learn more about Courtney and this rarely spoken about mental health condition.
According to Anna S. Christie from the Emetophobia Help website, “Emetophobia is more properly referred to as Specific Phobia: Other Type: Vomiting in the DSM-5. ‘Other Type’ refers to situations that might lead to illness, choking, and vomiting. Most sufferers of emetophobia fear vomiting themselves, while a smaller percentage only fear seeing or hearing someone else vomit.”
This is not the run-of-the-mill disgust most people feel when they think about vomiting or witnessing someone vomiting. Emetophobia is a serious, life-threatening mental health condition. The symptoms are severe and debilitating.
Emetophobia can present like an eating disorder, and in fact, often is comorbid with an eating disorder. It is also commonly comorbid with anxiety and other mood disorders. There is not much information on the condition, which is why I believe it is so important to share Courtney’s story.
So, without further ado, let’s look at the world of emetophobia through Courtney’s eyes.
My name is Courtney, and I live in England. I live near the coast which I love because the ocean is my favorite place to be.
I love to read romance novels, and I am very passionate about animals and conservation. I have two cats and a dog.
I am a mental health advocate. I work part time, and I volunteer at a mental health charity for young people. I also advocate on my blog, where I chronicle my own mental health challenges. I believe that everyone should speak up for the voiceless.
As a child, I was often very sick. I remember drinking a strawberry milkshake and eating a cheese slice and throwing it up.
I knew I had a problem when I was about three or five, so my parents brought me straight to the doctor when they noticed my problem became worse.
It started when I began to hide food at home down the side of my parents’ sofa, and I was refusing to eat certain foods. Then I quit eating my packed lunch that my mum would make me for school. I was avoiding 90% of my food palate, and I was eating a limited amount of the foods I considered “safe.” If I was too scared of eating food in public, I would hide to eat.
I have a list of “safe” foods that I eat. They include chips, mashed potatoes, carrots, sausages, bacon, beef, chicken, breaded chicken, crisps (plain, chicken, and cheese), ham, rolls, thin bread, burgers (but not in a roll) and hot dogs.
I also have weird food rituals like not eating toast in the morning because I believe it will make me sick. If I have a ham roll, the roll must be room temperature, but the ham must be cold.
Weirdly, I don’t mind others vomiting, but I do hate the sound of it.
Seeking Professional Help
I first sought professional help in 1999, but I didn’t receive proper help for emetophobia until about 2015.
At first, I was diagnosed with an unspecified eating disorder, but after having therapy with Suffolk Wellbeing, it became very clear that it was emetophobia that was causing my struggles.
I also have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and I was recently diagnosed with avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Avoidant restrictive food disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder where a person is restrictive and selective about the foods they eat.
I was relieved when I was diagnosed because finally I could begin to understand what was wrong with me. And instead of people finding me weird or labeling me a picky eater, I had a name for my ongoing struggle.
Courtney’s Treatment Protocol
I never had a specific medication prescribed to me, but I had a therapy called the Thrive Programme that Rob Kelly produced. It was amazing; it completely changed my life.
The Thrive Programme consisted of 40-minute sessions focused on trying to change how the brain is wired. I had sessions with a consultant and a book to follow. The Thrive Programme helps to discover what type of personality traits you have and how to challenge them.
Courtney’s Life Today
I still struggle every day, and I mainly only eat my “safe” foods. I am pursuing more help, and I have been referred to an eating disorder clinic. My emetophobia plays emetophobia every day, even though I try to hide it. I still constantly believe that I will be sick if I eat certain foods.
I wish everyone knew that it’s not that emetophobics don’t want to eat. It’s that we physically can’t eat, and it’s not all about weight loss.
Emetophobia isn’t just people who are extremely picky eaters. It is a serious mental health condition that can be life-threatening.
If you get nothing else from Courtney’s story, I hope that you internalize the fact that emetophobia is not a simple fear of vomiting. According to Anna Christie from the Emetophobia Help website, “Most emetophobics report quite sincerely that they would rather die than vomit.”
Those with emetophobia are often misdiagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) because of their extreme rituals to avoid vomiting and extreme reactions to feeling they might vomit or encounter someone else who is vomiting.
Emetophobia is a life-threatening condition that can lead to dire consequences. Although it is often linked to eating disorders—like Courtney’s is—for most, it is not about the weight loss; it is about controlling their environment to avoid vomiting at all costs.
I hope this blog post will lead to someone having a moment of recognition as they read Courtney’s story, and that they will now have a name for their nameless struggle. If you see yourself—or someone you love—in Courtney’s story, please seek professional help.
For more information on the Thrive Programme that Courtney found so helpful, visit their website.
For more information on avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), check out the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) helpful article.