If you suffer from any mental health issues, you probably know that feeling when you are just so tired of explaining the same things over and over again. Sometimes, explaining my disorders or the reasons for my weird behaviour is embarrassing (which it shouldn’t be, but it feels that way), frustrating, or just plain hard. This post is about 25% silliness and 75% seriousness. It is also 100% true.
Question: “What’s wrong with you?”
Answer: Well, a lot. I have severe anxiety – and no, I am not just saying that for dramatic effect. After various appointments with psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors (beginning when I was 9 years old) the consensus is that my anxiety is actually in the “severe” or “extreme” category.
Question: “What disorders do you have?”
Answer: I have three disorders (possibly more, who knows) – generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and my favourite, emetophobia. Panic disorder is the least of my problems to the point where it rarely affects my life, emetophobia is the absolute worst thing that’s ever happened to me – and no, that is not a joke. See here.
Question: “How long have you been this way?”
Answer: Since birth, probably. Anxiety runs deeply through my family and it’s likely I just inherited a lot of my anxious tendencies. My first experience with panic disorder was as a kid, somewhere around 6-8, when I thought I was having a heart attack. Can you image in a six-year-old running up to you, crying, holding their chest, convinced they were in the middle of a HEART ATTACK?
My emetophobia began at age eight after I caught the stomach flu twice in a row. My anxiety was tolerable before emetophobia. Emetophobia caused me to have an eating disorder and panic attacks like I’ve never experienced before. So, yes, I am a seasoned anxiety veteran. I honestly do not know what it feels like to go a day without anxiety, to go a day without stomach pain, to go a day without worrying about “will today be my last day?”
Question: “How can someone be so afraid of vomiting?”
Answer: Unfortunately, phobias are, by definition, irrational fears. I understand it is irrational. I understand there are so many things more serious, more dangerous, and way worse than vomiting.
I can’t explain it. I can’t explain why I would rather die than puke. I can’t explain why an odd twinge in my stomach or second of nausea has the potential to make me shake, cry, and panic for hours. Emetophobia is more common than you think, and when it is severe, it is severe.
Question: “Why aren’t you eating/would you like more food?”
Answer: ‘I’m not hungry’ … is the lie I will tell you when I’m out and not eating. Or even when I’m at home and not eating. I am pretty much always hungry, but eating is scary and explaining that if you eat you might have a panic attack and you would rather avoid that tonight so you can have a fun time out without making your husband leave [insert event here] early is harder than saying “I’m not hungry, but thanks.”
I also never want more food, ever. If I’m out, I eat the bare minimum to survive and avoid suffering from low blood sugar. It has nothing to do with you. I promise. Also, if you’re reading this and you see me on a regular basis, please don’t pry if I tell you I’m not hungry. If you do, you are responsible for my panic attack. I hope you know that. (Just kidding, but also not really).
Question: “Do you not like or trust my food/cooking?”
Answer: No, I do not trust your cooking, I do not even trust my OWN cooking! This has nothing to do with you but to be honest, no, I don’t trust your cooking because that is what my anxiety disorder does to me. I don’t trust any food, ever, no matter who has prepared it for me, including my own mother who has, in 25 years, cooked for me almost every single day and has never given me food poisoning.
Question: “Do you not like or trust me?”
Answer: I like and trust you! Most likely, I’m not sure who’s reading this. Anyway, if you are my friend, I love you. You’re awesome. Thanks for putting up with all the times I’ve canceled on you last minute or made excuses that you knew were probably not true.
When we hang out, it might seem like I don’t pay enough attention because I’m so focused on stopping that just-about-to-happen panic attack. When you ask to hang out and I can’t for whatever reason, just know that I really, REALLY want to. I have cried so many times over missed birthdays, parties, and even coffee dates.
Question: “What can I do for you?”
Answer: Most likely nothing. You can acknowledge my disorders and mental health issues, you can tell me that you love me no matter what, you can read up on anxiety and emetophobia so you’re better informed. Other than that, there is nothing you can do.
And that is okay. I see a counselor, I have an extremely supportive husband, and right now I am doing very well. Even though my emetophobia has flared up, I have not stopped eating and even manage to eat small dinners every single night.
So, if you want to do something for me, all I want is that you understand, even if you don’t really understand. Don’t be offended when I can’t eat dinner at your house. Don’t hate me if I have to cancel last minute. Talk to me. I am very open about my anxiety and would love to answer any questions you have but were too scared to ask me about.