Sicko: The Emetophobia Story

Well, it finally happened: I’m getting sick.


Emetophobia lends itself to hypochondria quite nicely. Hypochondria, according to Google, is “abnormal anxiety about one’s health, especially with an unwarranted fear that one has a serious disease.” It’s an anxiety order which many can relate to – I’m sure most of us have given in to the temptation of WebMD, and subsequently diagnosed ourselves with cancer, or some rare terminal disease. Or even hypochondria.

When I develop a sore throat, my first thought is, “I hope this is a cold”. Colds don’t involve vomiting, you see, and once the cold hits me I settle down and stop worrying, because I know I can handle it. But for a while there, it’s pretty scary. I start to think of where I’ve been, who I’ve been around, and if anyone I know had a stomach bug. If someone I know has a stomach bug, I usually develop symptoms instantly. It never amounts to anything, obviously, but I can create the beginnings of an illness using only my mind. It’s the worst superpower ever.

Colds, then, are no problem. But what about the others, the grey-area illnesses? I struggle with coughs, because I know it’s possible for a really bad cough to make you vomit. Worse still was Strep, which I’ve been exposed to a hundred times but only ever experienced when I was on vacation, conveniently. The swelling in the throat, and the violent cough, and the inability to swallow left me in a constant state of near-panic.

Then there’s the flu, and this merits its own section.


Influenza is a virus (I think) that famously causes a fever, aches and pains, fatigue, chills, and sometimes cold-like symptoms such as congestion and cough. We all know this. We get shots for it (not me. Those can make you vomit).

And then there’s the “stomach flu”, or the “24-hour flu”, which is not the flu at all, so PLEASE stop calling it that.

When people say they have the flu, you never know if they mean the actual flu, or the vomiting-every-20-minutes “flu”. This really really bothers me. If anyone ever uses the word flu, I ask for clarification, and then correct them that they are not talking about the flu. It is the difference between a terrible virus that gets you down for a week or more, and the actual end of the world.

On the other hand, I can’t really expect other people to act differently simply to make it easier for me to obsess about vomiting.


This has come up twice in the past couple of weeks – two people close to me ended up with legitimate stomach-related problems, and weren’t able to hide it from me properly.

The real issue here isn’t that I was forced to handle anxiety about being helpless to stop myself from following suit. The issue is that people in my life actually have to consider my feelings when they are sick. Anyone who knows me well enough to understand this phobia, which is not actually a lot of people, has demonstrated in the past that they have gone out of their way to stop me from noticing the fact that they are sick.

The thing is, I am obviously aware of how bad these kinds of sicknesses can be. I am also aware that when I get sick, or I think I’m getting sick which always ends up being the case, people are sympathetic. I don’t know if this is cultural, or a humanity thing, but in general, people will help out sick people, do them favours, give them advice, listen to them talk about their symptoms and offer their sympathies. People have a lot of patience when it comes to sick talk.

And then there’s me – unable to support anyone who’s sick, crippled by the fear that I might get sick too.


Gravol is my feature this week, even though I’ve boycotted it since childhood. The weird thing about liquid gravol is that, back when I last took it, it would actually numb the back of your throat, to physically prevent you from vomiting. Is there a permanent version of this?


Side Effects: The list of things, always including nausea, which ABSOLUTELY WILL HAPPEN if you take this medication.

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2 Responses to Sicko: The Emetophobia Story

  1. Tony says:

    Just trying to help . . my wife has emetophobia. Together we created Phobias at the Movies. A site that gives people with phobias the ability to watch movies without fear. My wife has used our site, started with less graphic scenes and has had some success dealing with it. So please take a look and if you like please help us help others by spreading the word. Thanks you for the time!

    • icedcappp says:

      That’s such a great resource! Thanks for sharing – this will definitely ease the burden on my personal Movie Screening Staff (that is, my roommate, my sister, and my boyfriend…)


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