What It’s Like to Be Cripplingly Afraid of Vomiting

Emetophobia is the abnormal and persistent fear of vomiting, thought to be the fifth-most common phobia in the world. The most extreme sufferers devote their lives to avoiding anything that might bring on illness — including seemingly innocuous everyday occurrences like a catered office lunch, an alcoholic drink, oyster happy hour, or a child in line at the supermarket complaining of a sore stomach. And those avoidance strategies can get extreme: Some sufferers will refuse to leave the house, eat, take medicine, get in a moving vehicle, or have children (according to a 2008 study, almost half of female emetophobes will delay pregnancy or bypass it completely).

Some studies indicate that a fear of losing control underpins emetophobia, which, like other anxiety disorders, tends to impact women more than men. The interview below — with a 23-year-old from Mt. Vernon, Ohio — was only one of a number of conversations I’ve had over the past several months with emetophobes, an overwhelming majority of whom grew up taking care of a chronically sick parent, though not typically one who suffered excessively from vomiting per se.

Is vomiting your biggest fear?
I would rather face death than vomit. I recently had a cancer scare and throughout the whole process all I was thinking was, I’m going to have to have surgery and chemo and these treatments are going to make me throw up. What am I going to do? Most people would say, “You’re crazy! You’re going to throw up, and you’ll get over it!” But to me it’s worse than hearing I have cancer, that’s how bad it is.

How much time do you spend thinking about vomiting?
My main focus in life is to not get sick. It’s in my head every single minute of the day, especially when I’m alone…

Fascinating article about an usual condition — not that anyone likes vomiting, but she is going so far as to avoid having children lest she have morning sickness during pregnancy. And she is not currently working, to limit her exposure.