Coping With Loss – Chapter 6 : Anxiety

At some point up until now, I have mentioned I suffer from anxiety problems. You will also hear me reference it more later, but today, I am going to finally sit down and write it all out. My anxiety is something that has mostly been explained through various questions and statements, but never in one complete sitting. While there is a lot to talk about regarding it, there is also a fair amount of mystery as to what it exactly entails.

When it comes to things I don’t like to discuss, my anxiety is probably up there in my top three (next to romance and personal opinions). Thinking about it, talking about it and most importantly, living it, are the hardest parts of my anxiety. I have endured it for over thirteen years, with this year, making it a problem I have struggled with for over half of my life. It is a problem I both hate and regret, because ultimately, it is a problem I gave myself, regardless of how consciously powerless I was in its creation.

I have emetophobia, which is the fear of vomiting. At first glance though, it doesn’t sound all that bad. I just have to avoid the things that normally make one vomit, like alcohol, drugs and tainted food. While true, it is not quite as simple as you might believe. Regardless of what bulimics might tell you, vomiting is not something you have complete control over. Sure you can force yourself to throw up, but that isn’t what I am afraid of. I am afraid of vomiting when I don’t want to, at times when my body is doing it as a natural response to removing poisonous substances from its system.

Because of this, the hardest thing I struggle with is eating. From the moment I start chewing my food, a billion questions begin to flood my mind, each one slowly making the food taste worse and worse, until I am so sick to my stomach I’d rather die than take another bite.

“Who made this?”
“Could this make me sick?”
“When was the last time I ate?”
“When does [pieces of food] expire?”
“How much can I eat until I am full?”
“What if this food is bad? Will I get sick?”
“How can I tell if this food is bad?”
“How long will it takes to digest this before I know if it will make me vomit?”
“Does this type of food feel bad to vomit?”
“Could getting sick from this food kill me?”
“Where will I go if I have to throw up?”
“What will the people around me think?”
“Do I have to go anywhere after eating this?”
“Will someone get offended if I don’t finish my plate?”

You get the basic idea, if every bite comes with all these questions, it makes it tough to actually want to eat anything. It is made especially difficult by the fact of eating being an important part of what keeps the human body functioning. If you starve yourself enough, you will eventually die. Since I have no desire to kill myself, especially through starving, while constantly surrounded by plenty of food that I just stupidly refuse to eat, I find minor ways to deal with eating.

The big problem, is that the feeling of nausea usually triggers my panic attacks. The constant anxiety of wondering what will trigger me to vomit also causes me to feel nauseated, thus creating a neverending cycle. I never have a single waking moment of being anxiety free, which over time has slowly worn me down, both physically and emotionally. Always afraid of a body’s natural defense against internal harm, while over-thinking everything from food to others around me, can certainly do that to a person. Describing the hellish day to day cycle I live is hard, but living it is harder.

So woe is me, I have this big bad anxiety issue. I am certainly not unique in that, plenty of people have crippling fears or anxiety that prevent them from doing the most basic of things. They all feel as if they are living through hell, they all understand that it is a misunderstanding concocted by their amygdala, tricking itself into thinking something is more life-threatening than it actually is. The difference, at least for me, is that mine is slowly killing me. With most anxiety or phobias, the fear is usually concentrated around a particular situation or object that most can either avoid or have someone else help them through. Being anxious while driving alone, or being terrified of spiders; these are things that with the help or support of others, you can manage to live a fairly normal life with. For myself, everyone, myself included, are considered a threat.

When I say I am afraid of vomiting, it is not just solely me. I am the type of person that will vomit myself if I am around someone else who vomits. This puts me in a situation where going outside, and being around others, causes me to become anxious. Regardless of who they are, or the trust I have in them, if they vomit, it could cause me to vomit myself. If they see me vomit, I would feel incredibly embarrassed and ashamed. So I do my best to avoid those situations, by avoiding most people as much as possible. My anxiety inherently causes me to isolate myself from the rest of the world. Others try to comfort me in saying there is no shame in vomiting, or that they could promise to make food that will not give me food poisoning, I can’t bring myself to honestly trust them.

So I am left in a rather unfortunate disposition; eating could kill me and people could inadvertently kill me. Starving myself will also kill me, and isolating myself causes issues in trying to get a job or going out with friends/family. I try my best to overcome these problems, I invite friends over often, and on rare occasions go out with them somewhere. I try to eat at least something everyday, regardless of how filling or healthy it is for me. Pushing myself has its limits though, sometimes I push too far and end up having a panic attack; which is equal to taking a huge leap backwards. Overall, my life has been a constant fight against myself, where the outcome cannot be determined by logic or strength, but by attrition.

Over time I have learned ways to trick myself into eating, completely ignoring food being one of them. Most people haven’t experience starvation in their lives, by which I mean not just missing a meal or two, but not eating for multiple days. It hurts, both physically and mentally, as your body begins to grasp at whatever it can just to keep itself going. Eventually, you get put into a dire situation, either eat something, or die. Since assured death is a natural fight or flight instinct, and fighting is the option any sane person picks, it tends to override the same fight or flight instinct I get from my emetophobia. However, this isn’t a beneficial long-term strategy. There is no healthy way to deny yourself food for multiple days without suffering some recourse for your actions. For me, the punishment was becoming a skeleton.

Most who have actually seen me know what I mean. I appear to be nothing more than skin and bones, minus my face, which seems to retain what little weight I have. This bothersome since I have a natural square build; broad shoulders, longer arms and legs, which makes my lacking weight all the more noticeable. If I had a nickle for every time someone told me “You’re so thin, you need to eat more” I would be able to buy a country and still have enough left over to live comfortably. Although it is unlikely they are saying it maliciously, I find it hard not becoming agitated when I hear it. So let me answer some of these basic questions:

Yes, I am highly aware of my lacking weight
Yes, I wish I could eat more like a normal person
Yes, I do try my best to keep myself fed
No, my parents aren’t starving me
No, I am not too poor to buy food
No, I am not trying to hurt myself
No, I am not; bulimic, Anorexic, addicted to drugs, or suffering from a disease.

Questions like these have been almost common for me over the past decade, with each new person I meet asking at least one of them. Though, if I had to choose one, my favorite wouldn’t be any of the questions, but rather a statement. I wish I was as thin as you. You wish? Why? You, just like everyone else, have the ability to look just like me. No folks, this isn’t some sorta lose weight fast scheme, it’s actually quite worst! Starving yourself!

Yes, for the low price of literally nothing, you can spend less time eating, and more time doing anything else in the world. Feel hungry? Drink some water! Still hungry? Have a cigarette. Continue this cycle, and only give yourself around four-hundred calories every two days, and in two years you will be thin, guarantee! If you’re even more lucky, you will cause irreversible harm to your body, and even die. So next time you think you can’t be as thin as me, just remember, you’re being completely insensitive in saying that, and you should be grateful you can even stuff yourself enough to gain weight. I am not some side-show freak or a weight loss genius, I am a mentally ill individual who suffers everyday, and you think casually wishing you had one of the side-effects would be great?

When I talked about my default emotion being frustrated, this is why. After spending so much time with this emotionally draining mental strain, hearing the surplus of off-hand comments and questions, along with the unintentional body shaming, bitter doesn’t even begin to describe me. I hate this phobia from the very core of my being. It came into my life without asking, caused me suffering and misery, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t even make sense! Want to know something amazing? In the thirteen years I have had this phobia, i’ve only vomited three times. Three! How many people with arachnophobia or agoraphobia or whatever phobia you have can say that in their entire life with the fear, only three times have they ever confronted it? Probably not that many, unless you are living in a bubble. The worst part is, after those three times, I was never cured of my phobia! I did the very thing I was afraid of, proving that there was nothing to fear in the first place, and somehow I am still dealing with the problem? What is even the point then? How can you legitimately say you are deathly afraid of something and then continue that mindset after being proven there was nothing to be deathly afraid of in the first place?

I hate this phobia, it has done nothing for me and taken so much. I have tried multiple times to look at it from a more positive spin, and the only thing it ever did was help strengthen my relationship with my mother. Mostly due to the fact that she was the only one who believed me about it at first. So thanks phobia, thanks anxiety, without you I might have loved my mother just a tad bit less if it weren’t for you. What a lifesaver, the thing that is slowly killing me.

I will probably continue this topic at a later time, discussing it was more for the sake of explaining my situation in a composed and well-thought manner. It is an unfortunate situation, one that I have twice in my life vowed to fix before the passing of someone. It is clear to me I might never overcome the twisted idiocracy I call a phobia. I hope that this clears some things up for those who might have wondered what it is that I deal with on a daily basis, and while there is plenty more to explain, for now, this will suffice.

(Bonus Points: Using the word Vomit is actually difficult for me, which is normal for those who suffer the same phobia. I specifically chose to use the word rather than ‘getting sick’ because it is common practice in trying to desensitize yourself to something you might fear. Just wanted to throw that out there.)