Emetophobia: How do I help my teenage daughter, and can anyone help me?

Hi, I have just joined here in my desperate search for help for my daughter & I. I mention the both of us because although she is the one suffering, I am also finding it difficult to cope.

My gorgeous girl is 14, & has developed a serious phobia of vomiting. It is all consuming. She has not been to school for 3 weeks & she has exams coming up. I am so worried about her I can't begin to tell you.

90% of our conversations are about how sick she is feeling. For a long time she has checked the dates on everything she eats, now she worries about who she has been in contact with, have they got a bug, she washes her hands more, (& asks if I have washed mine). She is losing weight as she struggles to eat because she worries it will make her ill. She can't sleep because she's frightened that if she falls asleep she will wake up being sick. She now spends all night on the sofa, TV distracts her enough to fall asleep for a while.

She has been given schoolwork to do at home but she never feels well enough to do it. She is getting further & further behind. School have been very understanding & are arranging a tutor, (but only for an hour a day). We have been to CAMHS & she will start seeing them weekly in a month's time.

In the meantime what do I do? I have never felt so useless. I try to reassure her but it doesn't help. I hate myself for it but when it gets to the 30th time that day that she says she's "definitely going to be sick", I am not always as sympahetic as I should be.

Is there anyone who can help us get out of this living hell?

23 Replies

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  • Hi there!

    I was really happy to see this post as I suffer from the same phobia and I've never met someone who has had it too. I know how horrible it is for your daughter and yourself. Mine is not as severe as your daughters but I've been through a year and a half of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and counselling and there has been some improvement but I have developed panic attacks because of the phobia so I've mostly learnt relaxation techniques. Also to help me cope with my psychological sickness feeling, I have peppermints as they naturally settle the stomach but I use it like a placebo and it is normally really effective. I don't know if it could maybe have a similar effect on your daughter but I mean it's worth a try. Finally, if your daughter would like someone to talk to about it, feel free to contact me. I would love to speak to someone who knows how I feel and vice versa for her. I'm in her age group also (I'm 17) so that might help too. What do you think? Was that helpful?

    Thanks, Beth :) x

  • Beth, so kind of you to reply. It's always good to know you're not alone.

    My dd will be having cbt as well as learning relaxation techniques, much like yourself. I may well show her your post, when she's having a good moment, & I am extremely grateful for your very kind offer of contact.

    I wish you well & thanks again for taking the trouble to reply :-)

  • It is no problem at all! Thank you for posting it! I was just glad to meet people who suffer from this horrible phobia

  • I am so saddened for you both.... that's an awful situation! I wonder if her GP has mentioned relaxants or anti emetic tablets, even just for short term use... maybe it could help break the cycle a bit? Might be worth running it past your GP if he/she hasn't thought along this route already? I understand she has exams coming up, but if she is feeling so ill... would it be better to leave them out this year. She is only 14 and has the rest of her life to learn, she could catch up later when she feels well again. I hope things ease for you soon... gentle hugs xx

  • You are not alone - l have suffered from the same phobia all my life. Its reassuring to know that you are not the only person who feels this way, as a child in the 60s l was treated as some sort of freak to have this phobia. l understand the constant hand washing, checking dates on food etc. Sadly the phobia has not gone away but l have learnt how to manage it. I still have days that l don't want to go out in case l'm sick, but the more l worry about it the worse the feeling gets. Its good advice to use peppermint to settle the tummy, ginger is good too. These can be bought as supplements in tablet form. A veggie diet cuts out a lot of the food poisoning risk from undercooked meat. It helps to use these methods for peace of mind.

    I really feel for all fellow sufferers living with this, but more and more people are coming forward to admit to having this phobia, so it is not as uncommon as you think. Hope this helps.

  • Thank you for replying,

    Ginger is somehing we haven't tried. She doen't really like the taste of mint so an aternative is great! She seems happiest with home-cooked food as she says she knows I wash my hands and am careful etc.

    It always helps to know there are others trying to deal with the same fears, I wish you well xx

  • Emet is an absolute nightmare - it can be helped with CBT but it is a long slow battle as it entails a lot of dropping safety behaviour which provokes anxiety and so makes you feel more nauseous. I picked up my copy of Overcoming Health Anxiety because it has a chapter on emetophobia (though the rest of the book is well worth reading) so that might be worth reading? Oh and if they suggest medication it may be worth steering the conversation towards mirtazipine rather than the SSRIs. The SSRIs all frequently produce nausea in the early stages which may make them difficult for your daughter to tolerate where mirtazipine as well as being an antidepressent and anxiolytic is also an anti-emetic and appetite stimulant.

  • Thank you for replying & the book you mention sounds interesting, she does have a tendency to hypochondria so may well have a look for that. :-)

    Your point about medication is interesting too & will be stored in my memory. It's strange you mention mirtazipine as my mam has recently been prescribed this to help with her dementia & it helps her sleep.

    Thanks again xx

  • I can totally understand your problem with your daughter, I too am emitophobic. I have always had it to varying degrees, but it first went to the extreme when I was 15 - I went to school with an ear infection and had a massive panic attack in assembly when I thought I was going to be sick. You are going to have to be patient, it will be slow progress. In that first year I did not go out for 3 months because the anxiety of sickness made me feel sick, I also only ate toast and plain hula hoops, when i did start going out it was only to post letters building up to my auntie taking me out into the countryside for walks, eventually I was ok enough to go to a life skills course (after 18 months, I managed to sit a few g.c.s.e's at home and luckily i had done my maths and science a year early) even then I would not eat out and buses were out of the question. It is probably the worst combination of phobia and anxiety to have, it never has gone away but for quite some time I managed to get near normal (my only safety was a carrier bag in the pocket - just in case) unfortunately the anxiety of my final university year and the horrendous sick season of the past winter has brought it all back...I am fighting back because I know what it is I'm fighting against. So advice would be to know exactly what it is you are fighting against and keep fighting, there will be good days and bad days...CBT is sort of useful but all they say is "what's the worst that could happen", it's good to try and be rational, but those irrational thoughts are very persistant

  • I really appreciate you taking the time to reply.

    After a period of eating very little she is now eating better again. She has always enjoyed a pretty healthy & varied diet, strange child, she'd rather have salad than baked beans lol. I'm hoping that we have sought (& received) help early enough that she will not restrict her diet too much. The problem is more one of quantity but we're now heading in the right direciton.

    Panic attacks are definitely a problem & camhs are intending to address this. I have experience of them myself having had ptsd some years ago so at least I can empathise with this.

    Despite comments from some of her schoolmates she is encouraged to go out. She'll often get anxious while getting ready but is still managing to do it at the moment.

    I'm grateful for your comments, you have reminded me that even if things get better in the short term this is something I will always need to watch out for.

    I hope you find a way to feel better yourself (again) & many thanks for your insight xx

  • Hi thomson, and welcome to the site - what a horrible situation for you and your daughter, I do feel for you!

    The organisation "NO Panic" has some useful resources - including a DVD on emetephobia - that might be a bit too much for your daughter at the moment, although maybe if she just started to watch a bit of it every day, it might help. It works on desensitisation, so it does eventually work up to you seeing someone actually being sick - not pretending to be :( - so if you tried it your daughter would have to take it very slowly, I imagine. They also have CDs on relaxation and panic, which might help your daughter - possibly before she actually tackled the vomit phobia?

    nopanic.org.uk/onlineorderf...

    I do relate, cos i used to suffer horrendous panic attacks that all centred around being sick, choking on my own vomit and dying :( and it's terrifying!! It does also sound to me as if your daughter has some degree of health anxiety - the hand washing, checking use by dates, etc - I do hope the CAHMS can help with this, hun!

    And - i know this is easy to say, but DO look after yourself! Being a carer of someone with these problems is terribly wearing - i know, I looked after my mother with MH problems - so you do need to build in some ME time - to soak in a warm bath, read a book, watch a DVD - whatever helps you.

    Good luck hun, and keep posting!

    Lots of love

    Rose

    xxxx

  • Rose

    Thank you so much for the link & info. Relaxation cd's in particular are a great idea, (which I should have thought of, doh! )

    I'll try some ME time one of these days lol. Between my dd & my mam's recent dementia diagnosis there's not a lot left, but I take your point & thanks xx

  • I have also had this phobia since i can remember. it has gotten quite a bit worse this year/ since last summer because i am 16 and have actually noticed the dreaded nuro virus and how horrible it is. that is my absolute worse nightmare, i would rather die than get that. i always worry that i will wake up in the night and have nurovirus- i am very careful who i see and if they feel sick or look ill. when i have panic attacks they make me feel sick so that makes me panic more that i will be sick. please try and understand her, it is honestly a horrible but common phobia and she probably doesn't mean about being sick, but shes just so worked up that it makes her feel physically ill. just take it slow and try and be really understanding. x

  • Paramore, thank you. Bless you, you sound so like my dd. Yes, waking up through the night with norovirus is her worst nightmare too.

    I will try harder to be understanding & I hope you are getting all the help you can.

    Take care xx

  • Hi, firstly I just want to say it's great that you're being so supportive of your daughter. I'm 21 years old and I've been suffering from this phobia for nearly my whole life and my family never took me seriously. Not just that, but I was actually made to feel worse a lot of the time but I guess mine is an unusual case.

    I went to the doctors three times before they took me seriously and referred me for some counselling. From personal experience, they often don't believe young people have the capacity to suffer from anxiety,phobias or depression. I think if you went with your daughter to the doctors they would be much more likely to refer her to a specialist. Sadly, though she may still end up on a waiting list for a long time. I was on a waiting list for more than half a year and when I finally got to the top of the list I had moved away to the other end of the country to University.

    Try and learn what kind of food she considers safe. I know for me I like plain things like waffles, potatoes - maybe with chicken or sausages. Things with vegetables mixed in like curry or pasta scare me quite a lot. Carrots and sweetcorn are renowned for being thrown up after all. Other things like eggs are scary too!

    I lost several stone to the point where I was underweight. I am now at a healthy weight again because you just start to get over each panic attack that little bit quicker. I struggle with sleeping for the same reason. One of the things I do is to use Avon's Sleeptherapy Mist, which you can buy on ebay or directly from Avon, and spray it on my pillow. I also use their Sleeptherapy balm, which you rub directly into your wrists and temples.

  • Pearle, thank you.

    Having had ptsd myself, (many years ago), I can understand & empathise with much of what she is trying to deal with. I have to say the gp has been great, referred us to camhs after our first visit & a couple of weeks later even rang them while we were with her to stress the urgency of her case. She's starting cbt with them in 4 weeks, which the gp says is pretty quick. I'm hoping (please God) that the relatively quick response will lead to a more satisfactory outcome.

    At the moment she is still happy to try most things that I make. I did well last night, she loved what I'd made & finished her plate :-)

    The sleeptherapy mist & balm sound great & I will definetely look for those!

    I'm glad to hear you're now a healthy weight & hope you continue to improve. Take care & thanks again xx

  • First chance to check back here since posting & am overwhelmed by the response! Thank you so much for your replies. I was feeling very low & now I don't feel so alone & have picked up some great tips that I'll definitely be following up.

    Again, many thanks & I hope those of you struggling with this find some relief xx

  • Oh God I want to leave. I can't take it any more.

    I understand she feels sick, I understand she's terrified of being sick, I understand it's easier for her to sleep on the sofa, that she can't face school, that her life is one huge worry.

    What I can't take is being told every night what a useless mother I am & that I don't care.

    Can someone please tell me how I'm supposed to react when every night is the sickest she's ever felt, when every day she is more convinced there is something "seriously wrong" with her. When she asks me to look at her throat for the tenth time in a day. What do you say when she writes a list of what is wrong with her & there are 27 things on there. How do you respond when she says she's burning up, you take her temp. it's normal but she insists the thermometer must be broken.

    Maybe I am useless, I certainly feel lost. I have no clue what to do or say anymore. I have said & done all the comforting things I can think of & I can't think of anything else.

    I am trying desperately not to join her in her world of fear but it's becoming increasingly difficult. Is the only option to accept that my life is to be ruled entirely by my daughter's fears? Am I being selfish? I feel I'm losing all perspective here & can't remember what is 'normal'.

    I'm sitting here with the phone number of a taxi co. beside me. I want to leave, just for a few hours. I know I won't, tonight, but how long can we go on?

  • I can (unfortunately) so sympathize with this post. My daughter has suffered from anxiety for years now. She is 13. I can recall that it started really impacting her and us (as a family) for about 4 years. It has gradually only gotten worse and worse. To the point where last year, as she started junior high, in a new school, she missed 3 months of school. Simply refused to go, complaining of constant anxiety and sore stomachs. We worked with countless professionals. Social workers at school, pediatricians, family doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, life coaches, nurses.... so many I lose count. No matter what the strategies she's taught or who she talks to... in her mind, nothing works for her. I feel like I'm often at the end of my rope. Like no matter what I say, it doesn't get heard and has no impact. I feel she doesn't do enough to help herself despite all of the professionals I've managed to try and help her over the years, but the reality is, in many ways, she doesn't know how to help herself. And the fact is I cannot 'heal' her from this. Patience is a virtue they say... I don't know how to re-fill my patience bucket, it's been empty for so long now. Frustration is at an all-time high. The relationship between myself and my daughter is getting eroded with every passing day and I don't know how to stop it. I too, on many days, just want to escape sometimes.

    I obviously want the best for my daughter and feel completely helpless as a mom when it comes to this. I've tried reaching out and taking Parenting Programs to try and figure out how to manage the behavioral swings that have also been an issue this past year especially with hormones raging on top of everything else.

    I can honestly say it's one of the most draining experiences I've ever gone through.

    I came across a youtube video last week. It's a video of Rob Kelly, Creator of the Thrive Programme from the UK. The tag line of his website is Cure Your Emetophobia & Thrive. After watching a good part of the video and going through countless testimonials, I ordered his books - one of which is geared specifically to teanagers. I have no idea if it will help, but at this point, we have nothing to lose.

    I also looked into hypnosis at the yoga studio down the street from me. They informed me that the younger the person, the better the hypnosis works. I'm scheduling an appointment ASAP. I'm also going to try Yoga classes WITH my daughter, partly for relaxation, and also to hopefully spend some quality time with my daughter. If she's even able to go through with the class.

    I've found that her anxiety has generalized over time. It's still about being scared she'll be sick (if she hasn't told me her stomach hurts at least 1 billion times over the past 4 years, she hasn't told me once) but it's also about being around groups of large people. She's skipping school not because anyone is sick right now, but because there are just too many people.

    She also has trouble getting into any type of vehicle to go anywhere. I had to almost physically drag her to the car to get to the pediatrician's appointment this week. She was just too scared of the car ride. Of being sick. Of taking the highway, of other cars... the list just goes on and on.

    I see it getting worse and yet there is nothing I can do. I'm a broken record. I repeat the same things over and over again. You need to breathe, deeply, you need to calm yourself, you need to use one of your strategies to reduce the anxiety. You will be OK. I'm here. You are safe. Use your positive self-talk, relax your mind. Believe that you are OK..... nothing works. I get woken up at 12:30am, or 2:00am... she has trouble sleeping... all the time. She often refuses to eat... she's losing weight again. It's a vicious circle that impacts everyone in the house.

    I wish I knew what to do for her. No matter which door I seem to open, the help they try to provide just doesn't do what it should.

    It is somewhat comforting to know that other moms feel like I do. Guilty, frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed-out ourselves, powerless, angry, sad... the list of feelings goes on and on...

    Thank you all for your honesty and, like everyone else on here, all I can hope is that everyone finds the strength and the tools that work for them, to get them through this, whether you're the one suffering from debilitating anxiety or the one on the other side, trying your best to support your loved one, who is.

    Vicky

  • Hi I'm hoping you will get my post ive been desperatately googling for help for my daughter who is 8 nearly 9, and suffers with exactly what you have described, it's actually so similar its made me cry with relief in a way because I'm not alone, the temperature taking, the 'I feel ill' 'am I ok mum' her temper at me (more than daddy) 'am I going to be IT?' It's driving us round the bend and I'm really hoping that your daughter has managed to find some relief and long term help for her worries? Mine has endless panic attacks and because the physical symptoms are making her feel sick she thinks she's ill, I'm a sufferer of panic attacks myself and I know how they feel, she doesn't listen to me at all I try to help her but nothing works. She's had some councelling at school, which helped for a while but then she's got worse again, now we are paying for a private therapist as I'm worried about her getting into puberty with this constant draining problem... Would be so grateful if you could get in touch with me thanks x

  • Hi Melons,

    Firstly i'm so sorry you and your daughter are going through this, it is horrendous I know. But, at least now you know you are not alone.

    The first thing I would say is have you been referred to camhs? (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). YourGP is the person to do this. There can be a waiting list which varies area to area so do stress the urgency of your situation and any impact on her education or weight.

    Secondly don't despair, there is help there and it will get better.

    Thirdly, it is important to take care of yourself and have some time out. Not easy I know but it is important so that you have the strength to help your daughter.

    Finally, will send you a pm as this is becoming a very long reply ;)

    Meantime, have a hug ((((((((hug)))))))

    Thomson

    X

  • How are you and your daughter now? I also have this problem right now I'm too scared to sleep too scared to brush my teeth your daughter has the exact same symptoms as me! What have guys found too work? Thanks hope you are okay!

  • Hi Tom :)

    Sorry for the late reply but I wanted to speak to my dd for her opinion before answering you.

    So, she is much better than she was. Only occassionally now does she believe she's going to vomit and she doesn't do half of the safety things she used to.

    When I asked her how she got better, she said she tried to counter every irrational thought with a rational one. It takes time and practise, but she did it. She really didn't have much outside help, just realised she needed to control IT instead of IT controlling her.

    She is quite comfortable now taking a drink of water from someone else's bottle. Something she wouldn't have dreamed of before.

    Hope that helps a bit. If you want to talk/know more just message me.

    Take care pet

    Thomson

    Xx

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