Thursday, March 6, 2008

The things we carry....

Lord I haven't posted in ages!
We are long back from our vacation now. I dreamt about the ocean every night but the dreams have stopped now, which makes me really sad. In fact I am entirely out of sorts lately. I don't know if it's the cold weather, the monotony of my life, or who knows what else, but I just feel down.

Last week was especially trying and now that it's behind me I think it's time for a little public service announcement. You see I have something called emetophobia, which in essence is a fear of vomit. There are several types and levels of severity, but most of us emetophobes are terrified to death of getting sick. To give you an example of just how serious this is, there have been instances of people jumping out of moving vehicles to get away from a car-sick individual. I myself once jumped out of a window, which thankfully was not high enough to cause too much damage, but I sure as heck did not care at the time. At another instance I sat paralyzed in a parking lot for two hours while halfway through my 6 hour car trip, unable to even think about starting the car.

It's funny that we can't always pinpoint how or why our fears emerge. My first memory of the phobia is from when I was about 10 or 11 years old, but the object of a fear such as this is usually just the tip of the iceberg, masquerading as a tropical island. There are so many layers that it is hard, if not impossible to get through, but at the core is the fear of loosing control. It certainly goes along with my personality - impressionable, self-aware, imaginative and uptight. But mostly, at the center of everything, I am frightened. Afraid of making choices, afraid of being alone, afraid of being sick, and afraid of living. Maybe because living means taking responsibility, maybe because living means that someday you will die. It is counterintuitive, and illogical, but no one ever said that mental illness is a rational undertaking.

This past week a stomach flu was running rampant in my work place. My boss and one of my coworkers got sick. I am pleased that despite a surge in my phobic feelings I handled it all very well, which is to say that I went to work every day, and had very few panic attacks. All in all it is a great improvement. In contrast, almost five years ago today, back when I was still in college and living in a dorm, I had spent nearly a week without leaving my room and without eating! I distinctly remember taking several hours to eat half a banana. The reason was not illness, I was too afraid to eat.

I know it does not make much sense. People who have never gone insane cannot grasp it. I think it was in "Girl, interrupted" where Susanna compares mental illness to a parallel universe. "People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can't answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It's easy." Some people slip in suddenly, others slowly by creating small opening until they fall in. "Another odd feature of the parallel universe is that although it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from." I remember watching "The Hours" with my family. I was so overcome with the emotions of the women in the movie I could almost taste them, because I knew what they felt, if only because I'd glimpsed it. I told my mother it was one of the most powerful movies I'd seen. Mom said she did not feel the same, but probably because she was too sane.

Still, I feel very optimistic. Husband thinks I am paying off some karma. If nothing else I have learned very valuable lessons about myself, about surviving, and about fear itself. It is almost like an old friend now, familiar and much easier to deal with. Perhaps it means that someday when it counts, I will not be made useless by my emotions.

For more info go to www.emetophobia.org

2 comments:

maeverin said...

i have told you in the past that i am also afraid of vomitting, but not to the degree that you are/were. I can't grasp how people can be so...meh...about it though. i would like to, so then maybe i wouldn't be so worried about it, but i personally find vomitting a very painful process, and like you mentioned, i hate not being control.
I can't say i've ever needed to jump out a window or even leave the room. between a cat and two large dogs who get into EVERYTHING i've gotten use to the sight of it.
but they have taught me something i keep forgetting, that vomitting is a very natural thing. you feel ill, stuff exits your body, sometimes at both ends, you feel better and move on. it really is that simple. anyway, this is what helps me.

El said...

Karina left me a link to this post in a comment of one of my own posts where I mention my emetophobia. I just wanted to comment and tell you how perfectly you describe something that I've never really been able to articulate. I know exactly what it's like to want to jump out of a window. I have gone days without eating and had panic attacks because I was so afraid. Thank you for the IES link, I have it bookmarked to look at later.