I stumbled off the bus and ran for my life, across the street to a deserted curb. Digging my fingernails into my palms, I gasped for breath, my heart racing.
Was I going to die here?
Was I going to go crazy?!
I threw myself to the ground, sat cross-legged and clutched my purse. I rummaged for my container of pills and grabbed a tiny blue one, shoving it into my mouth.
Just as I swallowed the Ativan, I started to wretch, my throat burning and my mind screaming "it's the end of the world! it's the end of the fucking world!" until it went black, my head making contact with the building behind me just a little too roughly.
Okay, so I'm alive today. That means it wasn't the end of the world. But for a good hour (that felt like an eternity), I was certain it was.
I suffer from panic disorder. This was a panic attack. One of the symptoms is stomachache. And it escalated, because....
I'm emetophobic. I have a severe, clinically diagnosed phobia of illness and vomitting.
Even typing that 'v' word I feel a little (read: a lot) queasy.
This phobia is something I've struggled with all my life.
Every single year of my existence, flu season has been torture. Unless you have a phobia like this, you have no idea. Every moment of the winter, I'm petrified. 'If I sit next to her on the bus and she's sick will I get sick and throw up and panic and die?' Or 'he just coughed so he's got a cold and he's going to give me his cold and when he gives me his cold I'm going to start coughing and coughing makes me anxious and I'm going to cough to hard and it will make me throw up and then I'm going to implode!' On and on it goes.
When people complain about getting over a stomach bug, I try to be comforting and happy for them but inside, I feel nauseaous and anxious.
When I go to the movies, even amazing Oscar-worthy movies like Bridesmaids, I have a great time until the scenes with 'jokes' about puking. Then I feel like I'm going to puke. So I excuse myself, attempting to calmly say I have to refill the popcorn or visit the bathroom, when really I'm going to run for the exit and sit outside the theatre and teach myself to breathe again.
When I go to the doctor, she can't use a tongue depressor or take a swab of my throat because that scares me. And I haven't been to a dentist in years. For a while I couldn't even brush my teeth for fear of being ill.
No one in my life understands. A few of my friends and my mom try, they really do... But then they say "I know you don't like vomit but this is really funny...". I'm sorry, it's not that I "don't like" it. No one in their right mind "likes it". It's that I have a panic attack when you mention it. It's not funny. I'm not overreacting.
Just ask Howie Mandel or the International Emetophobia Society. This is a real illness. It's not a prank. It's not a box to tick on your Tumblr 'lol omg I haz these phobias!!1!' quiz.
I can attest that this is not an easy thing to discuss. I've struggled with it for 20 years (that's my entire life) and have never written about it, despite the fact that I write about practically everything. I don't even talk about this with my closest friends and family because I'm terrified they'll ridicule me. I only once opened up about it to a therapist.
So if someone in your life suffers from this (or any other) phobia, take it seriously. Even if you don't understand it, be compassionate. And for the love of God, fast-forward that Bridesmaids scene.