My OCD up close and personal; Emetophobia

This is the first instalment in this series where I go through each area of my overlapping OCD. Each installment will cover a different area/theme/fear of my OCD.

I have discovered through counselling that I have been suffering with OCD since I was around 10. I had a fear develop around age 10 of vomiting. I was very sick growing up, I seemed to have a lot of bowel problems and vomiting and I then began hand washing excessively. I would wash so often that my hands bled and I became very wary of food, I wouldn’t even touch food that I felt was old or had been opened to long, even in date food, if it looked funny it was a no and I started going through phases of eating the same food, so for months when I was around 15, I only ate battered cod, chips and peas, that was it, every day for months because I had eaten it and not been ill I thought it was a safe meal. Every few months I would brave a different meal and worry the whole way through, constantly asking whoever I was with ‘Is this cooked properly? Are you sure? Can you have a look? It looks pink doesn’t it? No? Are you sure? What about this bit? Are you sure I read the date right? It’s definitely in date? Okay what about this bit? Are you sure it’s okay?

My mum took me to the doctor in my early teens and told the doctor that I have OCD. I was mortified and embarrassed and denied having a problem. The doctor asked I keep a diary for two weeks with how many times I wash my hands and why I was needing to. I didn’t do the diary and I didn’t go back again. Mid-teens I was referred to counselling for anxiety because I was still having stomach issues. I got to a point I worried so much about loosing bowel control I wouldn’t eat four days before needing to go in a car so that I wouldn’t have an accident. There was one specific memory. I was in the car with my then boyfriend on the way to my sisters and she lived a 40 minute drive away so I didn’t eat for four days and we had picked up lunch to have at her house but I was starving and really trying to work through this anxiety so I reached back, took a sandwich and had one bite and after I put it back down, the cars all started stopping in front of us, stand still. My worst nightmare. I had eaten a bite of food and was now stuck in stand still traffic on the motorway. I freaked out. Full blown panic attack. I couldn’t escape. The fear of being stuck in this car, having an accident with all these people in their cars seeing completely terrified me and I flipped out. I was crying, I couldn’t sit still, I hit the dashboard because I wanted to get out of there. It was awful. Traffic eventually moved and all ended up being fine. I was referred to counselling but quit after one session because I felt there was more going on in my stomach. I was referred at a later date and quit again. I just felt that whatever the counsellor thought was going on with me, just didn’t fit with how I was feeling, they talked about health anxiety and hypochondria but this just didn’t feel like that was the root cause. Yes I had health anxiety but I felt like there was something else.

The Emetophobia has continued until this day. If someone is sick I have to know why. Is it food poisoning or a sickness bug. Sickness bugs are the main fear. When I catch bugs it can take me out for days and I get so worked up that I will catch it. If my children are sick, I can go into their room and comfort them but I can’t go too close or touch anything in the room, not the bedding or any teddies that get sick on them. There have been a rare few instances where I have helped bath them after they’ve been sick while my husband cleans up the room, but I will have to wash my hands multiple times and they won’t feel properly clean for a few days. If I know someone has been sick I will try to avoid contact for 48 hours. If I have eaten something I felt was under cooked or that I convince myself must have been out of date or old then I will set a 24 hour window and tell myself if I make it through that then I won’t be sick, but then I will get through that and think ‘well it could take 72 hours’ so won’t relax until that’s over then after 72 hours I will recall when I read somewhere it could take 10 days for food poisoning to happen after eating the affected food product so for a further 10 days I will be on high alert for any feelings of nausea or illness and mentally log what I am eating, and cut down on food so it’s easier to log and so if I am sick there won’t be much to bring up. I would worry about breathing in air that someone who has been sick has been near. I would worry about touching door handles and railings etc and even now will still use my sleeve pulled over my hand to open doors or press traffic light buttons. If I know someone has been sick in the last 48 hours what they have touched feels unclean and I won’t use the cup they used, or sit in the chair they sat in and everything would need cleaning.

I wash my hands when I get home because I can physically feel the dirt on my hands, even though I can’t see any dirt, I know if I have been outside and touched a counter or something then it leaves a physical feeling on my hand exactly where I have been in contact with surfaces so I will have to wash my hands to get rid of the feeling of dirt. I do this even if I have worn gloves during winter because I can feel the dirt has gotten through the gloves to my hands.

There were points growing up that I would feel sick and then every time I would feel sick I would do certain things convinced they would stop me being sick. I now know they were compulsions. I am not sure why I had these specific compulsions but two I remember clearly were eating a white chocolate magnum if I felt sick or smelling a McDonald’s cheeseburger wrapper and picking off the cheese remains from it and eating them. Sounds odd doesn’t it? I remember I use to do one or the other each time I felt nauseous and would feel better. I think this only lasted for so long before being sick or catching a bug then I would know they no longer worked. I would have a compulsion where if I felt sick I would have to cool my body temperature down to the point I would shiver. I would wet flannels and cover myself and open windows and turn fans on to get me as cold as possible. I remember one time I was at my friends house sleeping over which is also something I had a phobia of but I could stay over this friends house. I began feeling sick and said I needed to cool down and she got me a flannel to place on my forehead. I was sick during the night and she was amazing and cleaned it up for me because I couldn’t even face being near my own sick. I would get really nauseous if I got too hot and think that’s why I would have a need to make myself freezing cold. If I couldn’t cool down enough I would wet my hair to help get colder and make sure I was wearing light clothing. To this day when I feel sick I pray and will tell myself over and over again that everyone gets sick and think of celebrities and I remember reading once when I was younger that Sarah Michelle Geller went to hospital unwell on her wedding day and I always held onto that and I still think of that now as a way to reassure myself. I have learned that by carrying out these compulsions it has fed this phobia and is something I will work on during my recovery.

A x

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