Control Freak – The Emetophobia Story

This week, I’ve been nauseous every morning. Again. It tends to come back every time I eat, and then fades away for the afternoon and evening. It has been exhausting, but not as exhausting as my latest challenge to myself: To stop trying to control something I can’t control.


There are 2 words that don’t belong in the same phrase. Why? Because you simply can’t control your body’s instincts. It doesn’t matter if I never drink pink wine again, or if I swear off Gravol because it failed once when I was little, or if I wash my hands every ten minutes with bleach. I still can’t control it.

This is the thing that makes emetophobia and other health phobias stand out from the other phobias. It’s not worse, but it is unique. If you’re afraid of heights, or water, or airplanes, there is always a chance for avoidance. It may destroy your life, when you go to such lengths to avoid something, but at least you know that you’re not going to die in a plane crash if you never take a plane for your entire life. But vomiting? I can never know for sure. But trust me when I say that I’ve gotten as close as one can get.

This week, I challenged myself to let go of a couple of my controls, even though I half-believe that it’s not a good idea. Technically, anything I do to avoid vomiting is also improving my health, and comfort. But I’m doing it anyway, despite my lack of conviction.


If I let myself continue to plan my day around the Number 1 item on my to do list (“1. Don’t Vomit”), I enable obsessive controlling behaviour that feeds into my fear. These are the controls I have decided to start with this week:

  • Sitting forwards on the train
  • Not eating fast food

I know it seems like simple little things, but they make up the framework of an unhealthy attitude towards vomiting. My goal is to walk onto the train and seek out a seat that looks roomy, clean, and ideally, alone. I do not need to look for a forward-facing seat because “some people” (read: not me) get motion sickness from sitting backwards. My other goal is to eat fast food when I want something unhealthy, quick, and cheap, and regret it because it was gross, not because I’m afraid of how my stomach will react to it, or because I’m afraid of food-borne illness.


My days of letting go of controls have coincided with my days of being nauseous all the time, and that hasn’t made it easy. But there is something empowering in knowing that I made my decision for normal reasons, not for emeto reasons. There’s also something empowering in knowing that I have made it through almost a full week of nausea without having a full panic attack. I want to be hard on myself, because this morning I was hit with violent nausea suddenly, and I had to sit down and stop everything I was doing, and I could have been late for work. But the fact is that I talked myself down, I got back up, and I kept fighting. I may have let it stop me, but I didn’t let it stop me for very long.


Pepto Bismol! An old favourite, tried and… almost true. It’s failed me twice, in my entire life. I used to take it almost daily. When I got older, I realized that taking too much medication can make you vomit, so… I stopped taking Pepto every day. Huh. Anyway, it’s great for placebo-ing you out of a tough spot.


“Sick”. It has two meanings, not unlike “I love you” and “I’m in love with you”:

“I feel like I’m getting sick” = I feel slightly feverish, or have a sore throat, or fatigue. This might lead to future nausea and I’m freaking out about it.

“I feel sick” = I am already nauseous and I am FREAKING OUT ABOUT IT.

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