A 57 Year Phobia Beaten

Around the age of three years old, I was taken to hospital by my Mum as I needed a small operation on my tongue. Back in 1964, hospitals were not as bright and friendly as they are now and the nurses seemed strict and unkind!

My Mum was told to put me into a cot with high sides and then she was asked to leave. My most vivid memory is of seeing her turn her back and walk through the door and then she was gone. I cried and cried until I was sick all down my clothes. In my young mind, my Mum wasn’t coming back. One of the nurses spoke sharply to me which made me cry even more. She cleaned me up but she was rough and uncaring – I knew she was annoyed at the mess I had made. I was meant to stay overnight but my Mum was summoned to collect me soon after the operation because my crying/vomiting was upsetting the other babies and children on the ward.

From the moment I arrived home, I couldn’t bear my Mum being out of my sight, I followed her everywhere, even sitting outside the toilet door until she came out. I cried all the time and I became hysterical any time I was ill because I thought she would leave me again.

My anxiety went on to be a problem throughout my entire life. As time went on, my Mum would get angry with me if I was ill at night – she hated being woken up so I would be told off – this made me panic more because I feared being sick so much that I had to have her with me in the bathroom, yet I knew she would be angry. This increased my fear and belief that vomit meant something bad would happen. Things quickly escalated out of control.

I spent many appointments at the hospital with doctors, trying to find out why I couldn’t cope with vomiting, but I was always told that either I would grow out of it, or I was attention-seeking! At Primary school, things went from bad to worse. If I felt sick, I would have to run home sobbing. If another pupil was sick I reacted in the same way, run home or find somewhere to hide. 

Many times throughout my teenage years, a meal would consist of a slice of bread or a dry cracker, I had come to believe that the less I ate, the less the chances were of me being sick. When I had my first child at 21 I stopped eating altogether for a few months, convinced that I would be sick and always believing that something was stuck in my throat.
Whenever either of my two children was sick, my husband had to look after them, I just couldn’t look at vomit, hear anyone being sick or even say the word!

Emetophobia took over my life for 57 years until I went to a workshop in March 2021 run by therapists Nik and Eva Speakman. After explaining my story, they explained that I had attached vomit to the traumatic memory of my Mum leaving me at the hospital. I had built up the belief that vomit meant something bad was going to happen and my Mum would no longer be around. They quite quickly made me realise that the evidence showed my Mum came back and she was always there! So my theory had no substance at all! My emetophobia was just a symptom of the cause (thinking my Mum had abandoned me in the hospital). My mindset changed in those few minutes!  They went on to explain that being sick, although unpleasant, is actually the body’s way of protecting us from harm. When we have a bug, the body works hard to remove it so that we can recover – this suddenly made so much sense to me. Vomit was protecting me, not punishing me. Since the workshop in March, I have been ill once and vomited without any issues or worries at all. I have also been able to be around vomit at work when a pupil was ill!

Since my recovery, I have had messages from many people asking for advice. Many are unable to believe that recovery from a phobia after 57 years is possible but I am living proof that it is. My fear of vomiting totally took over my every move for so long, but not anymore! If I can be cured, absolutely anyone can.

By Nina

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