Saturday, October 28, 2006


You can probably see from the time that I'm once again up late and can't sleep. As usual, I'm watching the World Series of Poker, which seems to help me relax in the wee hours. What makes this time different is that I know its not insomnia. I have suffered most of my life from panic disorder. I get panic attacks regularly but they vary in severity. Some attacks go away in minutes, and I am able to talk myself through it. Others get so out of control that I tremble uncontrollably and hyperventilate. Sometimes, it has required a trip to the ER for medication to control my overwhelming emotions.

Over the years, I've been able to spot trends in my behavior. I have realized that almost all of my attacks happen at night, as I'm about to go to sleep or as I am awakened from a state of sleep. Also, I have realized that most of my attacks occur when I feel sick to my stomach or when DH is sick. Ever since I was younger, I have had a fear of being sick or seeing others get sick. When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I had a habit of being sick in public. I always assumed that the humiliation from those traumatic events caused me to be overly cautious today. Obviously, that is an understatement. I did some
research online tonight (since I had nothing better to do with my time) and I think I may have unearthed my true problem.

It is called emetophobia, or the fear of vomiting. I know that vomiting in itself is an unpleasant experience and it may induce fear in anyone who has to go through it. However, being as part of a phobia, emetophobics have irrational tendencies, in which they change their daily life to avoid being sick or encountering others who may become sick.

According to the IES, emetophobia is the 5th most common phobia in the U.S.

Anyway, I seem to exhibit many of the habits of emetophobics. Some are on a small scale and others I follow to a tee. Here is what the website had to say about symptoms of emetophobia:

"Dietary restrictions are universal among emetophobics. Most emetophobics have a list of foods they won't eat because they suspect them of being likely carriers of food poisoning; many avoid other foods because they associate them with a childhood episode of vomiting (guilty). Some of the foods emetophobics avoid have no obvious relation to either of those. Since most food poisoning is caused by unsanitary preparation rather than tainted food, phobics are roundly meticulously hygenic cooks. (Easiest way to lose an emetophobic? Lick the spoon while cooking.) Ironically, emetophobics are sometimes suspected by others of having eating disorders (yes!). A person with even severe emetophobia will generally eat enough to stay healthy, although it is not unheard of for emetophobics to be hospitalized for malnutrition. This is different from anorexia nervosa inasmuch as the emetophobic is not particularly concerned about weight gain or loss. "

"...Others stay away from children altogether due to the fact that children become ill more often than most adults. Nearly all emetophobics report being unable to care for their children and other family members when those people fall ill. Some will sleep in another room when a family member is ill (guilty). One phobic reports sleeping with the window open in winter in an effort to kill the virus. Some even fear catching illness from animals, making pets an uneasy choice for them. "

"Although more common in children, emetophobics frequently have superstitions about their trigger event or subsequent times they vomited. These can include avoiding the pajamas they were wearing when they vomited (guilty, but it was a jacket) or even the same color pajamas; refusing to drink out of a color of cup they drank from before they vomited; being anxious even about the day of the week they vomited, or the month, even blocking out pleasant memories of a year in which they vomited; avoiding music that was popular at the time; etc. Even the children who do these things understand that these totems are completely unrelated to vomiting; these behaviors serve to illustrate the irrational nature of the phobia. "

Here is what they had to say about how it happens:

"Nearly every case of emetophobia was triggered by a particularly traumatic episode of vomiting that occurred between the ages of 6 and 10 (yes!). Most of these incidents came on unexpectedly (yes!). After the frightening emetic incident, most phobics were very careful to avoid vomiting. If they experienced it at all, it was with a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety. So they never came to experience vomiting as something normal or routine. Some emetophobics say their parents were not supportive of them when they vomited as children (yes!), and some say that their parents even made them vomit. However, many emetophobics have no idea why they have this phobia."

More important information:

"Although they're not apt to vomit, emetophobics can work themselves up into frenzies of anxiety or even actual nausea simply by being exposed to people with gastrointestinal trouble (guilty). At the merest suggestion that someone with whom they are breathing common air has a GI complaint, the emetophobic will get panicky. They will watch for symptoms which are all too easily psychosomatic (guilty again). This tends to snowball as panic attacks get much worse as the phobic experiences real or imagined nausea. One problem universal among emetophobes is an inability to distinguish nausea from normal gastrointestinal feelings (yes!). Here are some of the things people feel happening in their alimentary canals. They all feel different:

-stomach emptying
-intestinal motility
-intestinal gas
-acid reflux
-stomach fullness

The emetophobic at a young age failed to distinguish among these feelings and recognizes many non-emetic feelings as nausea. This is analagous to someone who hasn't learned to distinguish "friendly" noises at night from noises to be concerned with. Many emetophobics acknowledge that what they report as nausea isn't the same as what normal people mean when they say they have nausea. Despite this realization, which occurs on some level in almost every emetophobe, they continue to derive anxiety from their ordinary gastric feelings."

So, as you can see, I've come to some sort of revelation about my panic disorder and the potential trigger for my attacks. I also read a bit about the treatment options, which include hypnotherapy and cognitive/behavioral therapy. I'm not sure if I will seek treatment right away but if it continues to interfere with my life or threatens my relationship with others, it is nice to know what the disorder is and how to get it taken care of. I just wish I could get some sleep. Thank goodness the weekend is here!

1 comment:

Mel said...

I know this entry is insanely old, but this is exactly how I came to find out about my phobia...
If you ever need to talk..join others like you and I here: