Let’s face it, no one likes feeling or being sick, in fact, most people really hate it. But emetophobia is something on another scale entirely. There are other things I’m scared of too, like eels and spiders. But again, different scale entirely. The slightest hint of feeling sick will have me hyperventilating; I avoid certain foods that may have made me feel sick in the past or are more susceptible to giving you food poisoning; I don’t drink and avoid people who are drinking; I’m even scared of cold & flu medicine because one time I felt sick after taking it; I’ll avoid social situations to no end where I might come across someone who’s ill.
What I’m trying to say is that emetophobia is no joke. For me, it’s a true phobia that affects all areas of my life every single day of it. If you want to understand how badly this affects my daily life, I wrote a newsletter all about it a while ago here. So getting pregnant, something that’s associated with sickness, is a pretty big deal to me and not a decision I took lightly.
For me, family has been something I’ve always wanted. Growing up in a close family and loving children (basically, I’m just a big kid myself!), my goal in life has always been to have a family. We got our lives started, bought a house, got ourselves jobs we loved, got married, and suddenly, it was time for us. But the obstacle in my mind has always been whether I’d feel sick during pregnancy and how I’d deal with it.
Basically, I just had to throw myself in at the deep end. I’ve known for a long time that, while there are certain mind tricks such as breathing exercises, visualisations and so on that can and have helped me to an extent with my emetophobia, the true way to help myself is immersion. I’ve been told several times that immersion therapy is really the only way to cure emotophobia, and this is the strongest form of immersion. But it’s not easy. I’d put off and put off trying to deal with the phobia because I knew it would mean a journey that got harder before it got easier, and the thought of immersing myself into a world I didn’t want to deal with was just as scary as the thing itself.
But before I get into my tips for dealing with emetophobia, let me give you my light at the end of the tunnel: pregnancy helped me with my emetophobia. No, I’m not cured entirely. I still don’t think that, without the help of professionals (another really scary thought), I won’t ever be, but the fear is diminished to the point where it’s bearable.
And no, it wasn’t easy – not at all. There was a point around 8-9 weeks where I didn’t think I could deal with it any more. I’ve always wanted more than one child, but I told Ben this was it – I couldn’t do it again; I didn’t even know if I could go on with this. It was exhausting and terrifying. Luckily for me, it was mostly feeling sick, but that in itself I think was worse – the fear of what could happen is all-encompassing.
But I broke through it. It got to the point where I could talk about feeling sick without hyperventilating; I could feel nauseous and not have a panic attack; I even experienced being sick and I survived. And I think that’s what really helped the most.
Now I’m 20 weeks and feeling oh-so-much better. I never take life without nausea for granted as it is, but having my appetite back is the best. But that feeling of achievement – I made it through the first trimester filled with nausea and survived! – has lasted, and the phobia is diminished. I ate in various restaurants on holiday and didn’t panic in case I felt sick; I tried different foods out and was fine; I felt sick in public and it wasn’t the end of the world.
I’m sure if you’ve dealt with emetophobia, or are still dealing with it, you totally understand these feelings. But believe me, pregnancy isn’t the worst thing that can happen, and honestly, however terrifying that immersion is, it works and feels SO much better.
Anyway, here are my tips for dealing with emetophobia during pregnancy:
Tips for dealing with emetophobia during pregnancy
Find the difference
For me, there’s a difference between feeling sick because I’m anxious or panicking, feeling “actually poorly”, and just being pregnant. Learning the difference between these is key. I’ve managed to hone it so that now I’ve come to understand that the anxiety nausea I feel is just that – it’s not something that’s going to make me ill, and it’s something I can overcome. Feeling “actually poorly” is something different again and is accompanied by different symptoms, such as stomach ache. And the being pregnant nausea? Again, different. And once I’d managed to identify the pregnancy sickness in comparison to the others, it meant I could change my thinking towards it – brainwashing myself if you will – with the following point:
Sickness means a healthy pregnancy
Okay, so this isn’t strictly true – in fact, there’s probably no correlation at all between these things, but it was something people told me and I kept in my mind to keep me positive. If I was feeling sick, everything was going as it should be. Symptoms meant that things were going to plan. I’m very susceptible to suggestion, so if I tell myself that feeling sick with pregnancy is a good thing, I can make myself think that too. Slowly, slowly, I began to believe it, up to the point that when the sickness disappeared, I was worried!
It’ll all be worth it in the end
Just remember what’s to come of this pregnancy in the end, what the main goal is – a healthy baby. I had to remember that in the end, all this will be worth it. And it will be.
One of my biggest sub-fears of emetophobia is feeling and being sick while at work or out and about. Basically, I didn’t deal with this well at first at all and spent a lot of time working at home just in case, but over time, I started to learn how to deal with feeling sick, learning the difference between really feeling sick and just pregnancy nausea (as I mentioned above), how I could calm myself down, how I could deal with it, and how I could personally deal with situations where it was unavoidable. This was mostly with the nausea relief (below) and making myself feel more safe in situations – I need to have a bit of an escape plan still, but that’s better than not dealing with it at all!
As soon as we found out I was pregnant, we stocked up on all nausea relief immediately. Like that day. I went straight to our Morrisons order and added ginger biscuits, crackers and peppermint tea. But that wasn’t arriving for a few days, so Ben went straight the next morning to Tesco to stock up for me, even though I didn’t have a hint of a symptom yet, but I was prepared. And the biggest thing here was:
Having snacks available 24/7 was absolutely key – I can’t stress this enough. I didn’t even care if these were healthy or not – I needed food to fuel my body growing a tiny baby, but the food also helped me not to feel sick. It sounds totally counter-intuitive, but as soon as I felt a wave of nausea, grabbing a biscuit or a cracker would help massively. It felt like the hardest thing ever to force down food while feeling this way, but people kept recommending it, so I had to do it. And it worked – IT WORKED!!
Everywhere I went, my handbag was full of random snacks for just in case. As a result, I created something that worked well for me. Introducing: my snack pack!
- Ginger biscuits
- Cereal bars/breakfast biscuits
- Mints (spearmint ones from Aldi, although these turned into an aversion for me a few weeks in!)
- Peppermint teabags (which I never actually used, but it made me feel safe to know I had them to hand)
- Bottle of water
Other good additions to my snack pack that weren’t quite so transportable include:
- Flying saucers
- Ice water or very cold blackcurrant squash
- Ginger ale
- Red or coke flavoured ice lollies (and I don’t even normally like coke!)
- Fresh air.
Find out what works for you – it may be listed above or it may be something else entirely – and keep these things with you or nearby at all times.
This was a random one, but it became apparent after a couple of weeks that my prenatal vitamins were really not helping me, as in, I would take them on a morning and feel terrible for a couple of hours. I finally realised the connection one day so ordered some chewy prenatals instead. These have worked wonders as they’re basically little gummy sweets. I think the problem for me was the swallowing action with a big pill made me feel worse, so chewing these really helped.
It turned out that if I was busy, it would really help to stave off the feelings of mild nausea that were there a lot of the time. If I could get immersed in a piece of work, a book, holding an interesting conversation or being out and about somewhere interesting, I would feel a lot better.