Emetophobia – Nina’s Story

Around the age of three years old, Nina was taken to hospital by her Mum as she needed a small operation on her tongue. Back in 1964, hospitals were not as bright and friendly as they are now and the nurses seemed perhaps stricter and maybe even unkind!

Her Mum was told to put her into a cot with high sides and then she was asked to leave. The vivid memories Nina has of that day is seeing her mother turn her back and walk through the door and then she was gone. She cried and cried until she was sick all down her clothes. In her young mind, her Mum wasn’t coming back. One of the nurses spoke sharply to her which made her cry even more. She was cleaned up but in a rough and uncaring manner, she sensed the annoyance of the nurse over the mess she had made. She was meant to stay overnight but her Mum was summoned to collect her soon after the operation because her crying and vomiting were upsetting the other babies and children on the ward.

From the moment she arrived home, she couldn’t bear her Mum leaving her sight. She followed her everywhere, even sitting outside the toilet door until she came out. She cried consistently and even became hysterical at times especially when she was ill in case her mother left her again.

Nina’s anxiety went on to be a problem throughout her entire life. As time went on, her Mum would occasionally get angry if she was ill at night, she hated being woken up so Nina would be told off which made her panic more because she feared being sick so much that she had to have her Mum with her in the bathroom, yet she knew she would be angry. This increased her fear and belief that vomit meant something bad would happen. Things quickly escalated out of control.

After spending many appointments at the hospital or with doctors, trying to find out why she couldn’t cope with vomiting, she was always told that either she was attention-seeking or she would grow out of it. At Primary school, things went from bad to worse. If she felt sick herself or if another pupil was sick, she would run home or find somewhere to hide. 

Many times throughout her teenage years, a meal would consist of a slice of bread or a dry cracker, she had convinced herself that the less she ate, the less she was likely to be sick. When she had her first child at the age of 21 she stopped eating altogether for a few months, convinced that morning sickness was inevitable or that something was stuck in her throat. Later whenever either of her two children was sick, her husband had to look after them, she just couldn’t look at vomit, hear anyone vomit or even say the word!

Emetophobia completely took over her life for 57 years until she went to a workshop in March 2021 run by therapists Nik and Eva Speakman. After explaining her story, they explained that she had attached vomit to the traumatic memory of her Mum leaving her at the hospital. She had built up the belief that vomit meant something bad was going to happen and her Mum would no longer be around. They quite quickly made her realise that the evidence showed her Mum came back and she was in fact, always there! So her theory had no substance at all! Her emetophobia was just a symptom of the cause (thinking her Mum had abandoned her in the hospital). Her mindset changed in those few minutes!  They went on to explain that being sick, although unpleasant, is actually the body’s way of protecting us from harm. When we have a bug, the body works hard to remove it so that we can recover – this suddenly made so much sense to her. Vomit was protecting her, not punishing her. Since the workshop, she was ill herself and vomited without any issues or worries at all. Not only that but she has also been able to come face to face with vomit at work when a pupil was ill!

Since her recovery, she has had messages from many people asking for advice. Many are unable to believe that recovery from a phobia after 57 years is possible, especially when so many doctors said she would have to learn to live with it. Her fear of vomiting totally took over her every move for so long, but not anymore! If she can be cured, absolutely anyone can.