OCD

Facing my fears with CBT

So for anyone out there, in darkness with no hope. There can be and is a small light at the end of the tunnel if you look hard enough.

Im 40 now and have had Emetophobia for as long as I can remember. Throughout my life the severity has fluctuated and other illnesses such as OCD have become entwined.
From as young as primary age I can recall being afraid of vomit. Looking back there were tell tale signs from a very early age. In primary I convinced myself I was ill when the assembly had to sing “The lords prayer”. I have no idea why that particular song, but every time without fail my grandmother (whom adopted me) would be called up and off home I went. I would get home and instantly feel fine.

Other times I would stay up all night pacing around as my grandmother slept upstairs, worrying I was about to vomit. I never ever told her, but I think she was aware that I just hated it.

By secondary school my main aim was to get through the day without vomiting. It was constantly on my mind and I was analysing every situation. This is where OCD struck and I would have a series of rituals I would need to complete in order to stop myself and family from being sick. My number at the time was 3 but with 1 for luck. So effectively 4. I became slightly religious in which I had to say the same prayer over and over to satisfaction 4×4×4 times and so on. If my grandmother dared call me or interrupt, I would despair as the whole thing needed to be done again. I was missing out on time with friends due to the amount of time it took me to complete my rituals.

Then over a period of time the OCD stopped. I think I will always be slightly inclined to think of it, and even now I sometimes get a thought which goes something like “if you don’t move that shoe you will get ill”. However I now have the ability to ignore it.

By this time I was heading to late teens. Luckily alcohol has never been for me, I have never smoked or experimented with drugs. I remember when friends would vomit over drugs or drink and I would feel immense fear. If I could not run then I would go into full breakdown mode when I got home. Pacing about convinced I would be sick.

By the time I hit 19/20 I developed a real issue with food. I was convinced meat would make me sick and anything animal orientated caused panic. I remember buying a book with a list of all the E numbers and additives in food and it pretty much ruled me for a few years. After finding out what actual additives were made of, I restricted my diet to a tin of spaghetti which I had rigorously checked. Plain salted crisps and brown bread. That was pretty much all I would consume. It was actually a long time after my first child when I found the book and had the courage to throw it.

When I became pregnant with my first child, I almost aborted. I went on to have 3 children in the end and considered serious abortions for every one of them. I was convinced I would get terrible morning sickness and like many others report, I would choose a limb amputation rather than vomit.

Luckily I escaped with mild nausea with my first two. For every day of 9 months I was fraught with anxiety and can honestly say I did not enjoy any of my pregnancies. Any tablets were out of the question incase I vomited and when I became iron deficient I refused iron tablets and had to have injections. By the time I was due to give birth all I cared about was not being sick. I ended up giving birth at home with my first two as hospitals petrified me. I associated them with vomit bowls and by then I had started coping techniques by assuming home was “safe”. There would be nowhere to hide in hospital.

During the time my two boys were young we experienced all the sickness children pick up from school. My partner at the time would need to deal with them whilst I paced about cleaning anything they touched and restricting the sick ones to a certain toilet to be used by them alone. Shamefully if I heard a virus was doing the rounds, I would keep my kids off school for a week to avoid contamination. I constantly questioned them and made sure they didn’t sit next to anyone who had been off sick. My anxiety was through the roof and I became being scared of going outside incase I saw vomit on the floor. My first two relationships faltered as I was restricting my partners and could barely leave the house. I would randomly think of things like “buckets” and that would cause a huge anxiety attack. If I opened my cupboard and saw my bucket and mop I would break down. My partner at the time was supportive and suggested I get help. Although I had lots of therapy, it started with a kindly gentleman who became a crutch to me. You can imagine the trust I put in him and when he suddenly left the mental health trust I lost all hope. I went from psychiatrist to therapist with no luck. Each time I tried to find the root cause. It went from my troubled upbringing, to episodes of vomiting I had witnessed or had as a child. I knew the anxiety circle and fight or flight inside out. But nothing helped.

I vividly remember going to town one day and seeing vomit. It traumatised me and caused such a panic attack that from then on I stayed home. I avoided going to shops or going out near Christmas and New Year incase people had vomited.

I stayed in many rotten relationships purely as I didn’t want to be alone with my children incase they vomited. The children were often an inconvenience to me as I needed to focus on not being sick and I saw them as the ultimate carriers.

As my second son turned 1 we had a terrible family tragedy. I was literally the worst person it could happen to, already with crippling anxiety this threw me in ten times deeper and my mental state grew worse. I was prescribed valium and by this time I was desperate and reluctantly took it. I just wanted to sleep and get away from the thoughts, which still centred around vomiting but took a different direction. Due to my sisters death I obsessed over every detail and started to feel I was losing it. At one time I was begging to be sectioned. I was suicidal and not coping.

I was given a concoction of anti-depressants and sleeping pills which I had my partner try, like a guinea pig to see if he felt sick. These became my lifeline once I got on them. They relieved my anxiety and relaxed me. I became so dependant the doctors tried to stop them and so I resorted to buying them off the internet. Risking my life. But by now the long all night panic attacks were gone as I could send myself to sleep. My weight was roughly 6 stone and people often thought I was anorexic. By this time I was eating a little more, but the pure anxiety was burning off any calories.

I met my daughters father a few years after losing my sister. I had been the poorly person for years with my current partner practically caring for me, so I stupidly embarked on an affair. During this time I could be someone else. This man knew nothing of my sisters homicide and I pretended I was fine. Going out with him to places drove me to keep up the facade and pushed me to challenge the side of me that hid away. I began tasting life and seeing places with him and soon we decided to be together permanently. However I could not pretend 24/7 and soon we went downhill. I became pregnant again and we booked the termination, but I backed out on the day as I tormented myself and was worried I might vomit. In my mind, I had had two children and had been ok, why abort when you don’t know if you will vomit? The odds swayed towards keeping the baby.

This pregnancy was however much worse. I felt constantly sick and ended up on anti emetic chemo tablets. I spent the entire 9 months in bed and endured every pregnancy problem in the book. I was still taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills and was told there would be no home birth as my baby would go into withdrawal. I was petrified.

Once again as twice previously I had iron deficiency but this time intramuscular injections were not used much and I was under observation in a room for 3hrs after having it. During those hours I was panicky incase I was sick and was convinced something would happen.

Around a week before I was due, I enquired into a cesearean. I had become petrified about being caught out going into labour and was worried incase relatives could not get to my home for my two boys. I went from loathing the hospital to deciding it was the lesser of two evils. I begged for it to be over. My consultant said they would never consider an early c section and I would need to be 40 weeks. The day I hit 40 weeks I was straight up the hospital and persuaded them I needed it over. I was agreed a c section the very next day. That’s when panic hit me. For years I had said I could never ever undergo a c section and that I would practically die if I had to. But 9 months of this had taken its toll.

The night before I was told I needed to take tablets for stomach acids and I literally cried all night and right up to going into theatre. I had become reliant on Bachs rescue remedy and sprayed the entire bottle during the operation. When they tried to give me another stomach settling drink “to avoid me vomiting” I cried like a child and refused to drink it. I can safely say that during the entire operation I gave no concern to the health of me or my child and was focused on not being sick. When they advised me I might feel very sick when my blood pressure dropped, I panicked like mad but I survived! Afterwards I felt bouyed and proud. I had actually done it! For years this thought carried me on and I started recovering slightly.

Every now and then I would have a set back and it was after catching a bug after going snowboarding that I realised I was a wreck. That morning I knew I wasn’t right, my tummy felt bad and I was on and off the toilet. When I feel sick I go extra panicky and can’t be around anyone. I drove off and found a quiet spot where I took a few tablets and paced about like a mad thing. I actually had to defecate in a bush and suddenly I needed to be sick. I was absolutely petrified. Afterwards I felt calm. Was it really as bad as I had imagined? No.

I called home and my partner agreed to take the children out while I laid in bed. I was sick once more and then it passed. For a while I was quite surprised and hoped I had seen sense and that maybe I was cured.

Sadly it didn’t last and by this time had enlisted the help of a great therapist. We spoke of previous attempts and she asked for a main goal. What did I really want to accomplish? At that time my partners mother owned an apartment in Gibraltar and because I had never flown, I wanted to go. I wasn’t very hopeful. After so much therapy, including hypnotherapy, I could not see a light at the end of the tunnel. I embarked on CBT with this particular therapist and I clearly remember my appointment in which we set up a hierarchy of manageable things to work towards my worst fear. Vomiting myself.

She assured me she would be beside me and that I needed to be meticulous and committed into doing the homework as it was vital to standing a chance of recovery. When I had listed a few things like looking at pictures and videos I listed myself vomiting at nb 1. I laughed a bit and remembered saying “well you cant make me vomit can you?”. I thought it was pretty pointless as she could never carry that off. Her reply sent me recoiling in horror, “if I wanted to make you vomit I could get hold of something”. My face heated, my stomach rolled and I drove home really questioning if I could commit to this. I can honestly say I was shaking and petrified of that thought.

I was given the CBT questionnaire and once I got started I became resolute that I would go through with this. I had gone on for years just existing. At the start of my treatment I couldn’t even say the word “sick”.

One day I was online and totally off my own back found myself on a website called “ratemyvomit”. I was intrigued that people could post their own photos of something I had spent years avoiding. Tentatively I took a look. I was asked to rate each picture and was shocked to find myself rating them all really low. What on earth was happening?

At my next appointment I told my therapist who was delighted and encouraged me to keep writing my thoughts and outcomes. I had somehow skipped up my hierachy list by myself, missing smaller targets to go straight to higher ones. Next came videos of people vomiting, once again a slight unease but viewable and sometimes not what I expected. All the time the written aspects were showing me proof that whenever I had a troubling thought, it rarely came to anything. I could physically see that my thoughts were overly exaggerated. I went out in town during times when drunks would vomit and slowly exposed myself to things I had avoided for years.

When my therapy ended I was asked if I needed extra sessions. After a 9 month wait I courageously agreed to give my place up for someone else who was desperate.

Never the less I found myself on a flight to Gibraltar a few months later and had the time of my life!

About a year later I bumped into my therapist who was thrilled I had got to go.

Years on I still have slight set backs, but nothing like as bad. I no longer keep my daughter off school if vomiting goes around the school. I’m single, so have to deal with it if it arises, I can hold down a job now which was virtually impossible years ago due to the flare ups of sudden anxiety. I go to every town and have hardly seen vomit much at all. If I do, I can walk on past unaffected. It’s amazing how little you see when you are not looking for it.

And recently my oldest son gagged on a tablet and was sick in his room. Before I would have panicked ALL day in my room but I carried on and went to work. This is an accomplishment in itself.

I still use the CBT format if I feel low and try to remind myself how far I’ve come.

In all these years I have hidden my real fear of vomit from my children as I would hate to pass it on and so far so good.

So for anyone out there, in darkness with no hope. There can be and is a small light at the end of the tunnel if you look hard enough.

After therapy I completed courses in counselling and psychology and have a real interest in OCD.

I hope my story gives hope to others.

Becky knight

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