This is a very personal post that I debated writing but it’s actually helped to get it all down ‘on paper’. Life is hard for me at the moment and here’s why.
Emetophobia is not talked about, despite being one of the top 5 most common phobias in the UK.
Emetophobia is a phobia that causes overwhelming, intense anxiety pertaining to vomiting.
Having suffered from emetophobia to varying degrees of severity at different times of my life since I was a teenager, I always knew being a mum would be tough. I got it under control after following the Thrive programme with a CBT therapist in 2013, but sadly this all-consuming phobia has reared its ugly head again in recent weeks and I am having an incredibly rough time with it.
During the therapy I came to understand that given my having no problem with me being drunk sick, I found that I was at my most anxious when the threat of a tummy bug was imminent. The thought of picking it up somewhere but not knowing for sure, or when or where- was terrifying to me. I was petrified.
It’s ironic because I love food so much. And was a binge drinker in the past. But for some reason aside from over worrying about cooking food the right way and ordering certain things when eating out, it hasn’t affected my passion for food.
After a couple of months following Thrive, I was so much better. I was able to handle these situations more calmly.
Fast forward four years and I have my own human child. And no one to care for him, but me.
Baby sick never bothered me- it wasn’t real sick it was inoffensive regurgitation of my own breastmilk- a mechanical baby thing. I was fine with it. Last winter though, Zac had weaned onto solids and was attending a childminder’s with other children (and their germs and bugs). The anxiety surrounding my emetophobia returned. I remember catching a bug last December (which gave me diarrhoea only) which Zac avoided- but the fear was back. I couldn’t control what he picked up and how the hell would I cope?
By some miracle he stayed well, aside from the regular colds and a bout or two of conjunctivitis and eczema outbreaks which are now under control.
Fast forward to 3 weeks ago, when I lost the plot.
I should probably mention that a lot happened in one go. First baby daddy pulled off his magical disappearing act once again after spending so much time with us, regularly and consistently for months and months. This has been disappointing to my boy who had come to expect his visits and still often points at his picture and says ‘no daddy?’ to me, which breaks my heart a little more every time.
So one Saturday after a morning trip to soft play and a nap, I was carrying him from his cot to the kitchen when he brought up a projectile mouthful. It blindsided me but was small enough for me not to panic. I put him down, cleaned it up and that was it. A minute later, he started to cough but before he was able to really cough he sort of gagged and threw up. Loads. All over my bedroom carpet.
I froze in total panic.
He was choking towards the end, trying to catch his breath, crying and looking at me for assistance but I froze where I was standing.
I phoned my mum and had a panic attack down the phone asking her what I should do, she told him to comfort him immediately. He ran to me and I bent down to pick him up and he immediately put a sicky hand in my mouth. The thoughts and fears coursing through me were terrifying – I could have quite happily jumped out of the window there and then. Mum calmed me down enough for me to go and stand in the bath with him to see if he needed to be sick again but my reaction had terrified him and he was screaming and clinging to me, frightened. I was appalled at myself but just couldn’t get it together.
Anyway fast forward to a kind friend who came over and helped me clean up and peel me off the ceiling. But from that day on, we entered the darkest few weeks yet. I was overwhelmed with anxiety and the feeling of aloneness, and Zac either picking up on my discomfort or going through a developmental phase completely transformed into a non-sleeping, crying, whinging, tantrumming devil child.
A couple of days later he threw up again – as he tried to cough. I realised that he had a chesty cough but the phlegm was getting caught in his throat and making him throw up. Once I knew what it was- a mechanical fault – I was able to deal with it and comfort him as I should have done that first time.
But then I heard about a sick bug going round which had taken out one of the girls at Zac’s childminders. I couldn’t think of anything else.
For over a week, I walked around like a zombie, hands shaking, unable to smile, constantly obsessing over it, falling to pieces every time he cried, walking away from him mid tantrum and crying on my bed, I didn’t eat for about 4 days and at night I lay awake wide eyed, shaking.
I haven’t heard from baby daddy in 2 weeks now either, which has added to these crushing feelings of aloneness. I can’t call on him now for help of any kind. That weird family structure that had built up over the last few months had crumbled into dust and it felt so so sad.
I knew I had to get some help to get the emetophobia under control or my chances of being a good mum would be shot to shit. He would be ill at some point and I had to be able to handle it like a normal human being rather than unravel and freeze in panic.
Fast forward to the present and I have had my first session with a new CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapist and I am hopeful that I will learn strategies to reset my thinking, pull myself out of my anxious thoughts and not let it completely overwhelm my life. It feels like there is this big black cloud hovering over us at the moment; it’s changed how I interact with my son. I can’t relax, day or night. I see him as a ticking time bomb that I’m afraid of.
But he’s not. He’s my little boy. I made his body with my own so how can I be afraid of it? How can I not go to him if he’s unwell and needs me? How did this phobia and anxiety stop my mothering instinct in its tracks?
Phobias are the very devil- and the anxiety that surrounds them and all other mental health disorders are the ominous evil spirits that cloud your consciousness and affect how you live, breathe, think and feel every single moment of every day and night.
I am so grateful to be starting CBT and I really hope that I am able to learn to control the anxiety and start enjoying motherhood again because at the moment I’m not. Every day is a struggle.
I have a long hard road ahead of me but with the right help and as much self-care as I can give myself, I will bloody well beat this fear and be the mother my son needs me to be.