Why You Should Always Do What You’re Afraid to Do (Unless It’s Stupid and Dangerous)

Everybody has something they’re afraid of and that’s okay, fear is a completely human emotion. It’s a self-preservation instinct, something that tells us what we’re about to do or thinking about doing might not be the wisest idea. But when your life becomes ruled by that fear is when there’s a problem. For people with an anxiety disorder, we live with a constant sense of fear that may or may not have a reason or cause (except screwy brain chemistry). But if your life is ruled by one specific fear, that’s called a phobia.

Known as emetophobia, the fear of throwing up, is actually fairly common (the 5th most common phobia). Like all phobias, some people have it mildly and only get panicky when witnessing it occurring, and others can’t even leave their homes.

My GI Lyme symptoms started a few months after my family (including me) contracted a nasty bout of rotovirus. It was like the universe was playing some sort of cosmic joke on me. My doctors could find nothing wrong, and insisted it was all my anxiety. So we decided that must be it and off I went to exposure therapy.

It was rough. Imagine being told that every day for the rest of the summer, you would go to a room where people would put spiders on you to crawl all over your body. Or snakes to crawl on your chair. Actually, my therapist had a tarantula named Rosie who they used specifically for that purpose. I want to say Rosie was the only good thing about that place, but I’m sure others would feel differently.

First, we listened to sound bites of people throwing up. Then we watched videos of it. Then she gave me a lollipop to stick down my throat and make me gag. She did it with me so I got a double dose of anxiety. For most people this is just gross, but for emetophobes its actual hell. The one consolation I got was my therapist said that any time it got too rough, we could stop. But once the anxiety goes up, it eventually comes down, and I was determined to get through this thing. So I used that only once, and only after a marathon 3-hour session. I’m really stubborn.

My anxiety was coming down, but the nausea was unmoved. How shocking that therapy did nothing to cure a physical condition (and I might be a little salty about being told that it was all in my head). Eventually my therapist said “there is definitely something physical going on here, come back when you’ve got it figured out”. Since I do not have it all figured out, I have not been back.

Would I recommend it? If your fear is significantly impacting your life, then yes. Fear should never be allowed to hold you back. But if you get slightly startled by a spider on your kitchen window and prefer for someone else to handle its demise, then it’s probably not worth walking through the seven circles of hell for. Because you will walk through hell, but you have a goal. You’re going to get your life back. Because I promise you that you will. It will happen very slowly, but one day you will wake up and realize that you aren’t afraid anymore. You’ll realize that while you were powering through with that goal in mind, you were able to do things that you hadn’t been able to before. I’ve become the go to person for a stomach bug (probably because I have ALL the medications for nausea), and I’m okay with it. I no longer dread the day someone walks into my ER with severe food poisoning. Parties no longer have the looming threat of alcohol poisoning, but I prefer not to be arrested and no music needs to be that loud with so much bass. Also, those kinds of parties are full of people I don’t know and I don’t think I want to know, at least I don’t want to know them in their current state.

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