I have Emetophobia and I tour the world.
Trigger warning for those who have Emetophobia:
I use the v word.
This is my first blog post as a touring photographer and it’s honestly quite daunting. It’s something I haven’t really opened up about publicly to the internet.
You hear a lot of people talk about facing their various mental health issues while on the road. I like to think the one I face is a little more unique than others, although I would like to emphasize that I’m not trying to discredit the severity of other people’s mental health issues. Everyone’s mental health issues are completely valid and whatever you’re suffering from, it’s okay to feel that way.
Emetophobia, for those who aren’t aware, is a paralyzing fear of vomiting and people who are vomiting. The word is derived from the medical term for vomiting which is “Emesis”.
Believe it or not, it’s actually the 6th most common phobia amongst the population. Most people are too afraid to talk about it because they’re embarrassed by it.
I suffer from it and I have for 21 years now.
When I was 5 years old, I was in Kindergarten at Smalley Academy in New Britain, Connecticut. At around 3:00 PM, our teacher would invite the class up to the reading carpet for our end-of-the-day story time. Ravioli was for lunch that day (fuck yeah, that shit slapped), and much to my dismay, one of my classmates fell ill and exorcist-styled said ravioli all over the reading carpet. I watched it all happen.
I was beyond mortified, so much so that I couldn’t even ride the bus home that day. My mom had to come pick me up from the school. I was in a state of shock from watching this go down. I guess I had never witnessed someone else vomit like that. So this is the traumatizing, childhood experience that started it all.
I’m now 26, and this phobia still plagues my everyday life. Sadly, a lot of people see this as some sort of joke because they aren’t afraid of vomiting. It’s not something to joke about, and I am mentally gouging your eyeballs out if you taunt me about it. I don’t expect anyone to see it the same way I do, but I do expect people to respect that joking about it is not funny or cute and that it’s actually a form of sadistic torture to those who suffer from it.
As we could all probably guess, touring puts you in a lot situations that could jeopardize your gastrointestinal zen. From the copious amount of alcohol on the rider, eating dodgy food (let’s talk about my time in Asia), or, god forbid, your camp comes down with the terrifyingly contagious Norovirus (stomach bug) from possibly coming in contact with someone who had it amongst the hundreds of people you meet and the thousands of people you encounter via traveling and attending shows with large crowds everyday.
I’m not going to lie to you, I can put away some liquor. In my decade-long alcohol-consuming career, I have never vomited from drinking too much. I’ve come close, but never actually did it. I’m actually starting to believe this phobia has wired my brain to not allow my body to vomit. So luckily, in my occasional drunken night on tour, I have never puked from too much. I cannot say the same for those around me. I’ve watched some people blow their cookies violently from a little too much Tito’s and trust me, I can’t fucking handle it or bear to watch. It’s a beeline for my bunk and AirPods as soon as something like that happens.
Last year, I had the pleasure of touring across Asia with Polyphia for about 3 weeks. Asia is a crazy fucking place with staggering diversity, insane sights, vibrant culture, and crazy food. Due to my ball and chain of a phobia, I was extremely cautious and way too paranoid about what I was putting in my body over there. I lived off fucking McDonalds and apparently even that wasn’t safe because we got a few raw McChickens in Singapore. Obviously, before leaving for that tour, I did a fair amount of research on the massive continent. This is a product of my phobia because I knew what I was getting myself into. I read so many horror stories about travelers who would be glued to their hotel room toilet from something they ate. What scared me the most about going over there was the difference in health codes when it comes to food safety. We’re not used to the same bacterias that their people are, and vice versa. Our bodies don’t really know how to fight this new bacteria and that puts you at a higher risk of food-borne illness. It’s actually common for foreigners to get sick when they come over to America. So many travel bloggers would say “nothing is safe to put in your body”, “keep your mouth sealed shut in the shower”, “brush your teeth with bottled water”, or “everything you eat is a gamble”. Even the food in the 5-star hotel restaurants could sicken the fuck out of you. A few of our guys did become victims of food poisoning. So I was watching everything I read prior to traveling there come to life. My nightmare incarnate.
The really hard thing about touring Asia, however, is you’re flying damn near everyday. You’re pushing a shit ton of gear through an airport in fucking Thailand @ 3 in the morning when you’re already sleep-deprived and jet lagged. Imagine throwing food poisoning in the mix. Less than ideal.
I was spared from the worst of it and I think my caution had something to do with that. The last thing you want is food poisoning on a fucking airplane in a foreign country. However, I think I ate something in China that fucked me up because I was very sick to my stomach when I went to go see the Great Wall, which had me low-key panicking and kind of took away from the experience of being there.
That’s another terrible thing about being Emetophobic. Any little feeling of nausea sends you down a rabbit-hole of “oh no, is this really about to happen?”. So you get anxious about it, then that causes you to feel even more nauseated which in turn, causes you to panic more, which in turn, causes you to feel more nauseated, etc, etc. It’s agonizing.
So what would happen if I do vomit?
I haven’t vomited since I was in 5th grade, and it was terrible when I did. I remember my entire body going numb because of the panic. I knew it was going to happen which is a perilous feeling for an Emetophobe. You know when you just know it’s going to happen? Yeah, hate that. So now that I’m 26, how would this go down? Especially if I was on tour?
Trust me, I’ve thought about this. I’m always playing detailed scenarios out in my head. I would have a full blown panic attack. I’d probably shut down, cry, and some may say I’d be over-reacting, but to them I say “fuck you”. Honestly it’d probably be the most traumatizing thing that could happen to me. I’d rather jump out of a moving tour bus.
I really watch what I eat all of the time. Chicken is the scariest thing to eat. I only eat it fried. Grilled if I trust the cook, and I’ll still cut it open and look for that terrible hue of pink that indicates that it’s raw. I’m pretty sure I’ve offended a few people by turning my nose up to chicken that I was too afraid to eat.
A lot of my loved ones have been victims of my paranoia, and I do feel bad. I’ve skipped out on dinners, I’ve spent weeks away, avoiding someone because I heard they had a stomach virus, I’ve pulled crazy maneuvers to get away from a friend who had their puke face on, etc. And I do feel bad, but I’d rather feel that guilt than be in the vicinity of someone who is vomiting. I’m really worried about having a boyfriend one of these days and me being too scared to take care of him if he ever gets stomach sick. I bet I just sealed the deal on being single forever. Could this phobia be an obstacle in my romantic endeavors? I hope not.
Touring with this phobia has hindered my experience in some ways, but I also feel like I have defeated it in a sense because I’m constantly looking down the barrel of my biggest fear due to the wicked amount of traveling I do. I don’t plan on letting this demerit on my mental health stop me from doing what I love though. So I still feel like I'm 80% victorious over it. Small victories are still victories.
If you suffer from this phobia. I’d love to hear from you. Always looking for people I can relate to.