May 29, 2019
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
I was born sick.
On May 15th, 1992, my lifelong journey with anxiety began. My parents knew nearly right away that something was not right. Doctors, nurses, specialists all said the same thing – I was just a “fussy” baby. Sensitive to light. Sensitive to noise and to touch. Sensitive to the world around me. As I reached young childhood, my parents knew my behaviour wasn’t normal. I wasn’t “normal.”
But this was 27 years ago. No one talked about mental illness – especially in young children.
The very first panic attack I actually remember having was at just four years old. I was at pre-school, and my mom was 10 minutes late picking me up (and yes, I already knew how to tell time because I was obsessed with knowing at all times when things were happening – or supposed to happen).
While all the other kids napped without a care in the world, I cried in the corner, convinced my mother had died in a car accident. Of course, at four years old, I couldn’t express how I felt. Everyone thought I simply missed my mom.
I thought everyone felt that way.
At that young age, I honestly did not know that these thoughts and feelings were not normal. I thought everyone felt that way. Later, after I got proper mental health care, I would be diagnosed with severe OCD, Health Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, moderate Panic Disorder, mild Social Anxiety, and the worst of my disorders – Emetophobia.
I could write thousands of stories about my various anxiety disorders. Although each disorder has been difficult to manage in its own way, nothing has affected me like Emetophobia has. If you’ve never heard of Emetophobia, you are not alone. Many people have not. Emetophobia is the phobia of vomiting – and it’s more common than you may think.
When I was seven years old, already trying to navigate the world as an anxious child, I caught the stomach flu twice in a row. That experience was traumatic for me, and I developed a phobia of vomiting. Emetophobia presents itself differently in each sufferer. For me, I became terrified to eat. I thought “You can’t vomit if you don’t eat” – so I stopped eating.
I did not get a true diagnosis until I was 16.
I began to lose weight rapidly during some of the most important years of bodily development. I was sent to see specialists, psychiatrists, and pediatricians. It was then that doctors started to identify my anxiety – but only in very broad terms. I “worried” more than average. I had some “anxious tendencies.” I did not get a true diagnosis until I was 16.
Doctors were generally confused because I present similarly to someone with Anorexia Nervosa. I was scared of food, but it had nothing to do with my body image. Because of that, they did not know what to categorize me as. So I continued to suffer without the help I desperately needed.
For most of my childhood and early teen years, my emetophobia was all-consuming. My social life suffered as I missed birthday parties and get-togethers. I missed school, something I loved, and my grades suffered. My health suffered as well, I was diagnosed with severe acid reflux at just 12 years old, I had and still have chronic stomach pain. At one point, I had lost so much weight that I was nearly hospitalized due to failure to thrive.
My parents were stressed and at their wits end. Eventually, when I was 13 years old, they bought me a dog – something I had desperately wanted my entire life. My first dog, Toby, literally saved my life. My parents didn’t realized how therapeutic a dog could be – and neither did I. But slowly, with my new best friend at my side, I began eating again. By my later teen years, I was at a healthy weight. I still had frequent panic attacks, I still struggled with anxiety, but slowly I began to live with anxiety instead of just survive with it.
But my sickness is not who I am.
I am 27 years old now, and the journey has been long. I still struggle every single day with my anxiety. But through years of therapy and learning my own limits, I am not just living with anxiety – I am thriving with it.
My dream was always to write, but I never thought I would go to university. Eventually, I did. I majored in writing, and I published a book. I now work as a writer and editor, and I love my job. I’m married to a supportive man, and we have two dogs of our own. Fifteen years ago I never would have thought any of this was possible. I thought I would never leave my parents’ home.
I was born sick. And I am still sick. But my sickness is not who I am. And I finally know that.