It's coming up to the end of June and just like everything else, whether we have kids in school or not, we tend to think of this time as an "ending" time. The good news is that many of my clients have now come to the end of their therapy and are headed out to experience the world with new skills and tools for coping with their anxiety. Of course they are still on wobbly legs, which is as true of a re-birth as a birth. It's scary to end your therapy and strike out on your own to see what you can see and let those anxious times come upon you. Some people feel confident, but most are unsure they have what it takes. They do!
So with the end of this time for a few and others dropping off the wait-list I now have some openings again. Of course, the times are rather select and it depends on your time zone and your availability. While I still encourage people to find a therapist "in the flesh" and offer to speak with them if they wish, many have had bad experiences with therapists who just don't understand the phobia and they really want to work with me. That being said (and I get it), I promise you that there are thousands of therapists who can help you get through this. They may have never heard of emetophobia, but if they really listen to you they will come to understand it.
I hope for many of you July 1st will be a beginning time. Time to address this before next winter!
It's June, or in emetophobic language, officially "not-winter!" The sun is shining, the outdoor patio furniture is being used, kids are outside playing and most emetophobics take a sigh of relief. Because if winter is over then "winter vomiting virus" aka "norovirus" season is over for another year.
First of all, that's not really true. It's winter in Australia and the Australian emetophobics are scared as hell right now. They're also traveling to the northern hemisphere by the plane load, and will bring the virus with them (sorry Aussies, I don't mean to blame - lol). Secondly, even if it is true that there are less "stomach bugs" about, that very fact is making your phobia worse.
It's true. The one thing that causes phobias for sure is avoidance. The more you avoid what you fear, the more afraid of it you'll become. I believe this is why emetophobia is so severe in most people who have it. Adults naturally "avoid" vomiting because they just don't vomit very often. Once every few years if you don't like it; once every 20 or so if you downright hate it; and if you're emetophobic you can go for a lot longer. But this "natural avoidance" as I like to call it is doing more harm than good. If adults were sick every few weeks, before long you'd probably not be afraid of it.
So how do I not avoid it when I'm so afraid of it, you ask? Good question. The best way is to start a program of gradual exposure which gets you talking about, and looking at, vomiting every week somehow. My program, as you can see from the "Resource" page, is very VERY gradual. It starts with just looking at the word "vomit" and goes on to drawings of cartoon people just not looking well, etc. But it's exposure nonetheless. And it gets you away from that dreaded avoidance which is only making you worse.
My best advice to northerners is to GET HELP NOW when the season is calming you down some. Don't wait until September when you send the kids back to school and freak out! It's much better and easier to get a good "run at it" in the summer so that by the time fall rolls around you will have some skills and tools to use to ease your anxiety.
Good luck everyone!
Living with emetophobia is not really about the fear of vomiting. In one sense, vomiting has nothing to do with your fear or phobia. I tell all my clients: your problem isn't vomiting. Your problem is anxiety.
It's just that things to do with vomit trigger the anxiety or panic attack. So getting over emetophobia is more simple than you think. Because it doesn't matter who is vomiting, who has norovirus, whether you feel nauseous or sick, how often you've washed your hands or anything else "out there in the world." None of those things matter. All that matters is your ability to control your anxiety. Because right now, your anxiety probably controls you.
Therapists measure anxiety on an 11-point scale called an "SUD" scale which stands for Subjective Units of Distress (or Disturbance). There are 11 points because zero is one of the numbers: 0-10. Zero represents no distress (anxiety) at all. 10 is the worst possible panic you could ever imagine.
As I am working through gradual exposure with clients I am constantly asking them for an SUD number. (It probably annoys the hell out of them!) But the numbers are important because they're your numbers. Hence the term "subjective." 7 is 7/10 for you. Perhaps that's when you start to feel your heart racing, but for someone else it's when they have sweaty palms and tingling feet. Everyone's numbers are different, but the numbers help us to get an idea of whether your anxiety is rising, lowering or staying the same.
But the numbers also serve another important purpose. They let you know how scared you are. Often phobics think of themselves as either "freaked out" or calm, but there are a lot of numbers in between those two and learning to recognize each one of them is key to overcoming your anxiety.
Let's say that you are feeling 1/10 for a baseline. A little stressed perhaps, but no noticeable symptoms. If your anxiety rises to 3 or 4/10 you can probably lower it again just by taking a deep, cleansing breath and then concentrating on slowing your breathing right down and dropping your shoulders to a more relaxed position.
If your anxiety rises above 6/10 being able to control it is more difficult. Up at 8 or 9 you're not even able to think straight. But often it is those numbers between 4 and 7 that give phobics the most trouble. It's there that you can feel a lot of body symptoms such as increased heart rate and breathing, tingly hands or feet, dizziness, nausea, etc. So if you notice your anxiety that high, it's time to try to relax. Breathe slowly. More slowly! Don't hold your breath at the top or bottom of the air - keep it moving. Relax shoulders, stomach, face and jaw. Then take a numerical reading again. Are you at 3 or 4 now? Great. Because it's much easier to lower it from there. More concentrated breaths, more relaxed muscles.
Just the act of "taking a number" can help calm you down. Whatever the number is, you can lower it! Just practice, practice, practice. If you need some help click on the "Resources" section and then "Relaxation Recordings." Good luck! Before you know it your fear of vomiting (or fear of norovirus) will be much better.
I had to apologize to three of my emetophobia clients this past week for a photo I posted on my Resource Page
of some vomit (no people in the picture). I had found a photo which I thought would be good to put between another photo of vomit and the final photo on Level 8 of two people in a parking garage. Long story short: I posted the phot in HUGE format without realizing it! I had printed it out for my binder in the thumbnail version, and didn't realize the clients were looking at this ginormous zoomed-in view! Anyway, the clients all did extremely well in looking at it and I was very proud of them. But I have indeed made that photo smaller now!The photo, as well as many others I show clients to have them gradually desensitize to vomit, brings up an interesting topic which is the title of this week's blog. How much of our inability to cope with vomit is anxiety and how much is disgust? With anxiety, therapists use a standard "SUD" scale of 0-10 which stands for "Subjective Units of Distress." We ask clients (constantly, to the point we're annoying) to "give us a number." But the emotion of disgust is one of those interesting emotions that, at least at higher levels, is tied to anxiety. It's why some people faint if they see somebody with horrible injuries: the anxiety goes too high and all the blood drains from their head. The way I like to describe it is this: "When disgust goes too high, it pulls anxiety up with it." What does this mean for emetophobics? Well, is the glass half-full or half-empty for you? If you're the half-empty kind of person it means that you will have to learn how to cope with some pretty disgusting stuff in order to get better. Sorry. If you're the half-full sort of person
you can look at it this way: the perk of desensitizing your anxiety to vomit is that you also desensitize to disgusting things! So like...you could become a nurse in the end or one of those TV CSI people who examines bones and severed heads and such. (Can you tell which sort of person I am? haha)If you think you're the kind of person who gets disgusted easily or gets squeamish then it will be an important part of your
recovery to desensitize to disgusting things in general. The more you can handle looking at awful things, the less your phobia will be triggered in your everyday life.
Finally all my schoolwork is completed, resume updated, forms filled out, supervised hours all done, references and transcripts arranged for and criminal records check sent in and back. The whole package has been sent off to the registering body for consideration this October, and God-willing and the creeks don't rise I'll be a registered clinical counsellor before 2012. It takes such a long time! But I have a friend who's about to be licensed as a psychologist in California and she needed to complete 1000 hours of supervision first so I can't complain.This summer I've been taking it easy with a fair bit of time off to relax and enjoy my garden, Vancouver and the little fishing village I live in called Steveston.
I also bought a used bicycle and have taken up riding for exercise. Other than a nasty spill on Thursday and a skinned knee, it's proved to be very beneficial.One of the things I've been working on in my time off is an update and minor re-organization of the Resources page. Instead of just 8 categories of gradual exposure I now have 10 plus four more in the "miscellaneous"
sections. After working with over 30 clients the past year I noticed what was in the wrong order and what was missing. I now have a level called "sentences" which comes in after "words" and before "drawings." I also added a level of pictures of people around toilets - something that many emetophobes have a problem with. In the miscellaneous section is a page about animals, hospitals, a simple picture of a water fountain and a "is it soup" quiz that demonstrates how we assign
the property "disgusting" to some things which look exactly like other things that we don't deem disgusting at all. I haven't finished the "sentences" section yet, and I also hope to add another level soon called "in vivo" which means "in reality" - things that people can gradually begin to do in real life such as not washing hands so much, not disinfecting everything, not throwing out food, etc.I really hope that the new resource page helps a lot of therapists in treating emetophobia and also understanding it so that as many people as possible can overcome this phobia! Stay tuned for my fall newsletter!
Emetophobia doesn't get a lot of press. In fact, most doctors and therapists don't even know what it is. So I'm doing my best to spread the word and you can help. If you're on Facebook go to www.facebook.com/emetophobiahelp
and click "like." Then, when the wall posts go through your news stream click "share" on those so that the word gets out to your whole network. This way the word will grow exponentially. I've also posted an "Event" for April 1, 2011 that I'm calling "Fools for Emetophobia." It will be an international emetophobia day. Emetophobics everywhere will be encouraged to "get some press" on that day. The more people know the more therapists will inquire about how to treat it and then millions of sufferers will finally get the help they deserve. Yes, I dream big! Thanks to the beautiful template I used for this website, I've chosen the sunflower as a "brand" symbol. Keep your eyes peeled for it everywhere!
Emetophobia can be difficult to deal with at the best of times, but during the holidays it is even worse. Most people suffering from anxiety, panic and the fear of vomiting try to stay indoors if they can. They don't want to go out where they will encounter people who might have a norovirus. They don't like to eat out because they fear the food may be contaminated if they don't prepare it themselves. Most emetophobia sufferers also try to stay away from children because they believe that they carry a lot of germs.At Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's there are traditionally family gatherings and often not at the emetophobic person's home. So all of their fears can be present at one time: going out, not preparing the meal, being around other people, especially children.I remember those days and I only wish that I could have had some wise advice in those days. Yes, it will be stressful, but there will be much joy in it too and don't forget that. Here are some tips for helping you get through the holidays when you fear vomiting.
- Remember that being "around" people will not make you sick, even if they are sick. You have to ingest the virus. So always wash your hands before eating or putting them in your mouth. If you do that, you are just as safe as if you were attending the festivities in a bubble.
- Trust your relatives to cook the food properly. Don't ask questions about it. Continually questioning is an anxious behavior, not a calming one.
- If there's something you don't want to eat, just don't eat it and don't feel bad/guilty/obliging. You are a grown-up and you can eat whatever you want. Hold your head high and just say "no thank you."
- Don't continually question people if they talk about not feeling well or having been sick recently. Again, this is anxious behavior. You can't possibly hear an answer that's going to calm you down.
- Enjoy yourself! LISTEN to conversations, play games, catch up with relatives, smile at babies and children's happiness. Savor every delicious morsel of food. Avoid sitting in a corner freaking out - get out into the conversation instead. Keep busy.
- When you hear the voice in your head freaking out and being anxious try just saying "stop" and going on to distract yourself with something else. Even if you say "stop" five thousand times over the holiday, it's better than saying five thousand terrifying things to yourself and nothing else.
- As a Christmas gift to yourself, or a New Year's resolution, get some counseling and get over this phobia once and for all. My website will tell you how. You deserve this!
- Finally, these are religious holidays. If you are a person of faith, pray and ask God to help you conquer this phobia. Note that God needs soil to grow seeds - they won't grow on your coffee table, no matter how much you pray. Emetophobia counselors and therapists and emetophobia treatment programs are the soil you need!
All the best to everyone this holiday season!
I've spent the better part of yesterday and today designing and writing this new site and blog.
So many people commented on the page design for my emetophobia resource page
that I decided to use the same template. It is beautiful, isn't it? There's something about sunflowers and the colour green that just emit life and growth as well as peacefulness!Almost all of the information is the same as what was on my old site, however I've gone over it all and updated it whenever necessary.
I've also added links and updated the resource page to add books, magazine articles and scholarly papers. I hope you have time to read through all of this site as well as the many emetophobia resources. Then if you have a website and you're "out of the closet" as an emetophobe please link back to me and send me your link.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Can phobias such as emetophobia be cured? What about other anxiety disorders such as OCD or panic disorder? How about depression? These are questions I get asked a lot, especially since I entitled my own story “cured of emetophobia.” It’s a misnomer. Anxiety disorders such as OCD, phobia, panic disorder, etc. are not diseases
therefore they cannot be cured
. They are "disorders" meaning there is a problem with the way your brain processes data. Things that are not dangerous cause anxiety when they normally wouldn't. Irrational things are acted upon, which leads to temporary calm (such as rituals in OCD). This is a screw-up in brain "wiring." Depression is a mood disorder
which involves the chemicals of the brain as opposed to wiring. Sometimes anxiety disorders respond to fixing the chemicals for depression - we don't really know why. So if you’ve been prescribed an anti-depressant for your anxiety, it will probably help you a lot.
Both anxiety and depression respond to treatment (therapy), and both respond to medication. So between those two things you can experience an anxiety-free life and a depression-free life. Unfortunately, you always have to keep using the tools that worked to make you better in the first place. Much like addiction, the alcoholic can be successfully treated however they can never drink again. They have to always be working at the factors that accompanied their alcoholism. Phobics have to always be working at the factors that contribute to their phobia/anxiety.
I still have the tendency to become anxious in any given situation. But I have become so expert at implementing the tools of "positive cognitions" + "relaxation ability" and "body awareness" that I can recognize anxiety rising in its very small, insignificant stage and simply take one long breath and it's gone. So....what does that mean? Does it mean I still have an anxiety disorder and always will? Maybe. But for sure it means I have a relaxed, peaceful and joyful life and I never give vomiting a second thought.
I moderate the largest emetophobia website in the world (www.emetophobia.org
). In talking with thousands of emetophobes there for the past ten years I notice two very prominent things among them. The first is hopelessness - "I will never be cured" - and the second is a kind of denial that has no words. If I could put words to it, they might be "I'm not able (or willing) to put in the work that it takes to recover from this phobia because it isn't fair that I've got it in the first place so I will just try everything in my power to never vomit again and that's all I care about." Now nobody says this
and probably nobody consciously thinks it. But subconsciously, it's there.
Is there a cure? It’s the wrong question. It’s like asking “is there a cure for not being able to run a marathon?” No. But you can train for a long time and run a marathon, and if you keep your training up you will always be able to run a marathon. Those who can hope beyond hope and who can muster up the courage and the fortitude to do whatever it takes to get over emetophobia can have a 100% anxiety-free life like I do. There are no limits to the human spirit.