Help - my daughter has a phobia of vomiting

My 14 year old daughter has a phobia of vomiting. Thinking back she has had this for a number of years but it is only recently that this has come to a head. I think it started the night before a gymnastic competition - she was quite sick and I put it down to nerves. She gave up gymnastics soon after - I tried to get her interested in something else but have never managed. She starts something but has never carried it through and I just thought she has just not found her niche yet. Just recently I have noticed how OCD she is about certain things, in particular cleanliness and the dates on food. She is always washing her hands and is obsessive about whether other people have washed their hands before handling food. She also examines food very carefully before eating it and if it has the slightest imperfection she obsesses it is mould or something. She tries to avoid any situations that remind her of sickness (hence the gymnastics) - including her Grandma's house as she was sick the last time she was there, any clothes she may have worn when she was sick, and food that she reckons has made her sick. Don't get me wrong, she is not generally a sick person - I can probably count on one hand the number of times she has been physically sick. She also panics when her friends ask her to tea as she is afraid she will not like the food and it will make her sick. If she goes to school and a friend mentions she feels sick she avoids that friend all day and then feels really guilty. She is starting to have doubts about a school trip coming up in February and is worried she will not be able to go because of the fear of vomiting. I have tried to talk to her myself about it to find out what it is that she is so scared of - I've told her that vomiting whilst an unpleasant experience, will not kill her.

Should I seek professional help (which is quite difficult to get - I've been trying to get an appointment with the doctors all week without success). Or should I try and talk and support her myself?

8 Replies

  • Hello,

    I am 20 and I suffer from fear of dying (which looks a lot more than the one from vomiting) but the way you described the avoidance and fear of some activities and people it's the same.

    What I find helpful is support, never push her to do anything. Try to do what she likes and make her happy as much as you can while at home or just around you, make her feel good, rise her self esteem, tell he she could have the world and the fear can't take it away from her. Once you make her feel powerful in herself you will really see how she will start cracking her shell. Inspire her, it's basic human need. This anxiety makes you feel as if you're worthless and that you can't live like normal people. Make her believe that even with this on her mind she can get through it, cause she's stronger than that. Ask her to try cbt, alone is better than with therapy, at least for me. Just a notebook where she will write all the things she fears and why and will write down everything actually bad that happens while doing the things she's afraid of. Make her read them again at the end of each week.

    DON'T START HER ON pills, please, this will just let her suffer from this for longer. Pills are a temporary solution. I know it might seem bad, but pills will change her a lot and once she stops them, if they help her that is, it will come back. But worse.

    Be her support, fix her in a way.

    She's so young and she will change so much in the next few years so the best thing you can do is try to make her believe in herself and the fear will fade.

    Sorry for the long post. If I had to go through this at 14 I would probably want pills so it will go away and my parents will be so confused they won't know how to proceed too. I know what it's like, make her talk about it. Moms are the best therapists.

    Once you get through this together you will be happy you stuck around and suffered with her until she got better. It will leave you closer than ever.

    Hope she gets better :)

  • I was going to write a reply but you've summed it up quite well with this one.

    The only part that I disagree with is your insistence that pills will make her daughter worse. Unfortunately, this is a decision that only the parent, carers and their doctor can make. And I don't think anybody should convince another person that pills won't help.

    I personally wouldn't try to scare anyone from taking tablets, because I know that for some people the tablets are a much better choice than the alternative depression and anxiety.

    Whilst I get what you were trying to say (facing up to the anxiety head on and tackling it while she's young and capable is never a bad idea) I still think your post would have been more perfect without scaring her away from pills.

  • I do agree that pills are not the answer and only mask the problem. What I have done is bought her some mints and told her to eat one when she feels sick and this should help. I know it's a placebo but it does seem to help and if she gets over the sickly feeling she might stop panicking

  • Beautifully written. Your advice makes so much sense. I grew up in an unhappy home with super critical parents and have suffered from paralyzing anxiety and low self esteem my entire life. I tell myself they did the best they could, but it's left its mark on me.  You're wise beyond your years, and have the makings of a wonderful mom, if you're not a mom already. Bless you!

  • In regards to supporting her yourself - or seeking medical advice, it's a tough one, because I always try to wonder what I would want in their same shoes.

    I imagine that at my lowest and most anxious, having a supportive mum there would be second to none. Whilst at the same time, mums aren't invincible know-it-all medics and might not have all the answers, so sometimes a little help from a doctor to help both mum and child isn't a bad idea.

    If I were you I'd try to sit down with your daughter and really try to get her perspective on things. Ask her what sort of things trouble her, and at what times she notices her anxiety/nausea to be at its highest. See if there's any link between how you think she feels, and how she says she really suffers. Generally speaking, a patients own perspective is usually a fair bit different from those on the outside looking in.

    Once you've sat down and discussed what problems she faces and what she believes causes it and makes it worse, then you are in a position to ask her how she'd like to tackle it. Would she prefer to have you and her try and face it head on together for now? Or would she like to get stuck in and ask a doctor for their opinion?

    I imagine, your daughter would probably want to avoid doctors for as long as possible, and in this instance, there's no harm in having a chat together to both agree that when things get tougher, and if mother-daughter support doesn't work, then a doctor will always be there to ask for help.

    I guess that my point is that your daughter is probably the most important person to ask about this. She will instinctively know whether she wants to reach out for help, or to try and battle through on her own merit. Either way, and whatever she decides, your job then becomes monitoring and being a reliable way of checking how well she's coping. If you suddenly notice things spiralling, that's where I'd say the onus is more on you to encourage your daughter to go and get help from a professional. Until then though, I'd say there's no harm in you and your daughter having some chats to see how she thinks you can both beat this, together.

    It's worth mentioning and keeping in mind though that some mental illness is exhibited through eating disorders, vomiting up food and deniability. If you notice your daughter avoiding the topic completely, or flat out refusing to open up, this can sometimes be suggesting that they need more professional help.

    Best of luck

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I was hoping to try and cope with this myself but didn't know if I was taking on too much and possibly making the problem worse. She does know that she can talk to me any time and regularly comes to for a hug and a chat. Let's just hope we can beat this

  • Have her checked out by doctor and make sure you mention everything you said in your post. It might help her to relax knowing she is in good health. The Dr might even suggest counseling or meds. Your her mom and she knows you will say and do things to make her feel better so hearing it from an impartial person might be a step to take for her mental health.

  • Hey there, I grew up with this problem! I hated being sick the thought would terrify me and I too would avoid certain things/foods/places. I'm now 19 and this issue isn't a major one anymore. I tend to gag more than physically be sick now and I think that's down to how tense I am whilst panicking. I managed to get over the OCD part of it but it can still be a struggle at times. 

    I'm 19 and I suffer with health anxiety. It's hard but the sickness problem can get better. 

    Perhaps just keep reassuring her and letting her know that you understand. 

    Best of luck, take care.

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