Monday has been my “mental health day” for a few weeks now. Unofficially so since November, when I began attending a support group local to me for people who were feeling down and struggling with life, but more so ‘officially’ this year (alright, this month) when my therapy sessions started.
Every Monday late morning/early afternoon I have a CBT session so I thought, I’ll dedicate my Mondays to looking after my mental health. Obviously I do a lot of self care throughout the week and take time out for my mind daily, but I wanted a day to really delve into how my brain is feeling, how it’s working at the moment, what is playing on my mind and what I’ve not noticed so much in the last week.
I don’t do a formal assessment – other than the questionnaires associated with my CBT – and I don’t journal (because hand writing stuff hurts so much physically – long-standing wrist issue). I would like to make writing part of the Monday schedule, but since I failed at that two weeks running I’m not going to put any more pressure on myself. I still have to remind myself that if I only do my therapy, then that’s OK. Because showing up for that therapy – even though it’s only by video call – is Hard AF.
(For the record, it does not help your pre-appointment nerves when your laptop decides to start in safe mode (for no clear reason), then spends forever fighting over what activity takes precedence (preferably whatever I indicate I’d like you to do, if you don’t mind), and makes you ten minutes late because the Teams app keeps wanting you to sign in even though you are already signed in and you just wanted to follow the bloody link to the meeting that took an age to find (because the laptop was running s-o-s-l-o-w).)
So yes, not exactly my finest Mental Health Monday on that front I’ll admit.
Therapy itself was ok, not as bad as I feared, although coming out the other side I’d say my “Cautiously Optimistic” assessment of it was far more “Cautious” with a sprinkling of “Optimistic”. I didn’t know what we’d be doing other than focusing in on one of my many behaviours that reinforces my belief that at random times I will throw up and never stop. Anyway, long story short (I’m not going to put all the contents of my therapy sessions here, by the way, that’s not my intention for my blog this time around) we’ve agreed that I’m going to contact my doctor and see if/how I can begin reducing my anti-anxiety meds, because I need to be able to feel as much physical anxiety as I can handle in order to try to retrain my brain that anxiety is manageable.
So I came away from the session feeling cautiously optimistic, but also a bit flat. I just felt like I was raking over old ground – even though I know I’m not because I’ve never broken it down and tried to address little bits of it at a time in this way. Talking about it is all good with me. Writing, no problem! Doing something about it – what we’re all about in therapy now – isn’t so fun. Especially when I have the double-edged fear of this therapy a) undoing all the good work I’ve done myself to get into a place I can cope with life pretty OK while b) not even managing to make any progress on either “curing”* or managing the phobia.
So I felt a little flat, and I went onto YouTube remembering I had a Tedx talk saved from a woman who has “overcome” emetophobia. I figured, Mental Health Monday, is there a better time to dedicate to listening and learning more and exploring ALL the angles? My CBT is a big part of my current recovery plan but it doesn’t have the be the only thing – that idea lifted my spirits no end. So, I watched this talk and I agreed with her, but it seemed to underline how I felt towards CBT. That I might just be putting myself through horrible feelings and coming out of it still with this crippling phobia. Because this is a bloody difficult phobia to handle; it starts at a very early age in most people and most sufferers learn to live with it over time, as the traditional and apparently most effective phobia cure isn’t ethically possible with this one.
*Plus I have never truly believed that all mental illness is curable, because nothing can erase either your past or your memories, but that’s a topic for next time.
Although I totally understood every word this young woman discussed in her short Tedx talk and agreed with her, I needed something more uplifting, something to drive towards. I wanted a story of women who are thriving while living with emetophobia and not letting the phobia stop them living the life they want to build for themselves. I went on to watch a few more videos other emetophobic women have made. Now, these were mostly women talking about emetophobia in relation to pregnancy and motherhood – but it hit the right note for me.
One reason I’m doing this therapy now is to be able to handle my fear well enough that I don’t pass it on to my children. I’m doing this therapy now so that I feel confident that no matter what happens during pregnancy, labour and birth, and my kids’ lives, I will not be the mum who is never there.
I’m doing this therapy now for a lot of reasons – but those two, I will admit, are the major ones.
Watching these videos made me think…maybe it’s time I added my voice – my actual voice – and face to raising the tricky and largely unknown world of emetophobia? In a spur of the moment decision, I set my camera up and talked for half an hour. I didn’t even say anything particularly useful, instead I used it more as a starting point for me to further develop into a vlog if I feel it’s a good path to take. It felt like the right thing to do in the moment, it felt like it would help me, and it did. Whether I’ll post it is for another day. Maybe I’ll never do another one, maybe I’ll do them weekly – a bit like my writing, it’s going to depend on how well I can teach myself to thrive with brain fog/writers block/stage fright.
The thing is, only emetophobia sufferers themselves can ever have any idea what life with emetophobia is like. We can try and create analogies to make non-emetophobes get an idea but truthfully, it is impossible to understand it unless you are living it because you’re afraid of something that can happen wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. It is with you everywhere you go because it is a fear of something your body is designed to do to protect you. True of many fears, but emetophobia makes a supreme example of it. Which means we need to talk more about it. A lot more.
Hearing another person talk about emetophobia, or watching them speak about it, is a bit different to reading something by someone else with emetophobia. Whether sufferers feel able to read or listen to people using words like ‘sick’ or ‘vomit’ will depend on where each individual is in their day and in their overall journey – another thing that makes it so hard to even mention emetophobia let alone get a conversation going about it – but it makes sense to have multiple options. You also reach different audiences with each method.
But the critical difference I personally discovered today, is that you can read something and think to yourself, “Wow! That’s so me! I can’t believe this person experiences this exact same thing!”… yet hearing or watching someone speak about their emetophobia provokes discussion. It stirs something inside you, it makes you want to use your voice as well, to comment or to speak to someone and say “Hey, does this make sense to you too?”, or maybe even “I’m so, so glad I’m not the only one living with these horrible fears/habits/anxieties/behaviours/avoidances”.
Whatever you are going through, you’re not the only one to experience it. Trust me.
There are hundreds of thousands of emetophobic individuals in the world.