Before I start, I want to put out a disclaimer for those with emetophobia: This blog post includes me talking what I was specifically scared of at university – These beliefs are not normal and should not be seen as ‘typical’ just because I experienced them. Next week, I will write about how I worked on these fears, so if you know that reading other people’s fears can reinforce negative beliefs in your head, wait for next week’s post!
My first year at university was very much a roller coaster ride, which was filled with me trying to understand who I am and who I want to become. The summer before uni started, I was probably at my worst mental health wise, and I was sure to not get back to that state again. So, I started uni with a fresh mindset, got rid of toxic relationships, and was excited to meet new people. Looking back now, I have enjoyed a lot of aspects of uni so far, and I have developed positively in so many ways. However, there were also a lot of challenges that caused anxiety during my time here. Let’s start with the hardest week I had at university – Fresher’s week.
Fresher’s week is the first week of uni, where all new students engage in activities together while the courses haven’t started yet. It’s supposedly the best week that students have, and is filled with amazing memories, but this was not really the case for me. While it sounds all fun and relaxed, the main focus for students is on drinking alcohol and partying – two things that triggered my phobia hugely. Of course I enjoyed parts of this week, but I was also on the constant lookout for things that made me anxious, and avoided a lot of aspects that I wish I could have simply enjoyed like most others. I saw and heard more vomit that week than any other week at uni, which is partly why this week was a challenging experience for me. But, as I am about to explain, there was so much more than just people vomiting that I was continuously anxious about in my daily life at university:
I was so scared of getting food poisoning that I did not eat at any of the campus eateries, and instead just ate ginger nuts in my room (which caused me to unhealthily lose weight as well). I sometimes would join housemates when they went to get food, and was always questioned, sometimes even interrogated for many minutes, about why I was not eating any food.
Bath is a city that relies on busses, which I tried to avoid completely during my first year of university. To me, busses were the form of transport I associated most with travel sickness. I avoided them, so that I would not get travel sick, and I would not see someone else get travel sick. If i were to get on a bus, I would make sure that I only ate dry food at least an hour before and took travel medicine when I was on the bus – keep in mind that these coping mechanisms were for a maximum 20 minute bus ride into town.
This is a bit of a weird issue, but one that stuck with me. The words ‘vomit’, ‘sick’, ‘throw up’, and such as, used to evoke so much panic in me by themselves that I avoided them as much as I could. When I read or heard them, my heart rate went up, I would start sweating, and felt very anxious, which lead to me feeling nauseous (which made me anxious, and so the anxious-nausous cycle went on). This was an issue when I started uni, as I felt that vomit was often used to tell funny stories, make a joke, or was even imitated, by people pretending they would gag or throw up at something gross. While for most these were some lighthearted jokes, they caused me to panic and often even have to leave to cry and calm myself down. This then reinforced to me that I was odd for not finding these jokes funny, which everyone else seemed to laugh about so easily, leading me to feel pretty bad about myself and be more upset. I tried to tell myself that people joking so easily about vomit just shows that it really is not that bad and is nothing to be terrified of, but trying to think more rationally did not take away from the instant emotional response these jokes caused.
The toilets were a big one for me, especially during fresher’s week. Sharing a toilet with 5+ people made me very nervous – what if I can catch something from the germs? What if I see vomit? Will that make me vomit? So, I pretty much always made sure to go to the toilets in other departments around campus, where I knew drunk or ill people wouldn’t go to.
The kitchen was also a place that made me nervous, as in my halls we had about 40 people per kitchen, due to us being fully catered. This lead to people leaving the kitchen constantly in a messy and dirty state, and it took me months until I cooked something that was not just uncle ben’s microwaveable rice (which I cooked often due to the food not being ‘exposed’ to the ‘germs’ in the kitchen).
And for the obvious one – binge drinking and parties. I myself have not drunk much alcohol at uni yet, which is now mainly due to me not liking the taste, but partly because I am not used to tipsy feeling yet. I have slowly exposed myself more and more to being around others drinking but I have to admit I still nowadays don’t find myself at ease when im around others who binge drink. When people started to drink in my halls, I made sure to lock my door and not drink much water, so that I would not have to leave my room to go to the toilet. There were times where I walked past someone throwing up or could hear it from my room, which always ended up with me having a panic attack. I would not eat for a while after an event like this, and often even avoided brushing my teeth as I was so scared of putting germs in my mouth, which could make me sick.
I know a lot of these experiences won’t make sense to people, which is one reason why I found it pretty hard to speak up about this. I was suffering mentally, while I was also aware of the irrationality of my fear and my coping behaviours, which caused me to be mad at myself and see myself as ‘stupid’ or ‘overdramatic’. This then lead to a constant cycle of hating myself, being scared, feeling unable to cope, and feeling like an outsider.
I would like to also stress, however, that my first year of uni was still one of the best years of my life. I met awesome people, made amazing memories, and have grown so much as a person. If you have emetophobia and are scared about university, I can reassure you that it is completely up to you to have a good time. You might struggle and have to face new situations, but it will be worth it! Don’t push yourself to do things completely out of your comfort zones, but instead take baby steps – I will talk about this more in my next post!
Do you have any questions or would like some advice? Have you experienced emetophobia at university as well? Feel free to contact me through the ‘contact’ tab at the top of the website, or leave a comment – I would love to hear your experiences or opinions 🙂