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Sick phobic DD - it is starting to really affect her life. Any success stories in dealing with it?

(25 Posts)
sandyballs Wed 10-Jun-09 14:54:56

I'm wondering whether the GP could help with some kind of therapy for her.

A bit of background. She's 8 years old and has had a worry about being sick for approx the last 2-3 years, but it seems to be getting worse. It has gone from a worry to more of a phobia and looking on the internet and reading on here I can see there is a proper name for it, Emetophobia.

She has rarely been sick in her life and I wonder if this is part of the problem, it has happened so rarely that she has built it into this huge thing. I can't pin point an exact occasion when it started.

She has a night time ritual where I have to promise that she won't be sick during the night and I have to promise to check on her every 30 minutes in case she feels sick. I have done this for a long time but am now trying to convince her that it is unnecessary, she hasn't been sick for years, she probably won't be, if she does we will deal with it.

She refuses to stay overnight on sleepovers with friends or even at her grandparents due to her fear of being sick. She's embarrassed by the fact that this is the reason and will shout and get very stroppy and angry with me before admitting that it is the case. She has always been very sociable and loved going to friends houses, as long as she doesn't stay. But last Sat she refused to even go to play so this phobia and anxiety is obviously getting worse. I took her twin sister (DD2) there and DD1 came home with me. She seemed to regret this later and we talked about how this problem is affecting her.

The following day (Sun) she was due to attend her best friends party and had been looking forward to it for ages. She was ready and standing by the door with the present, then burst into tears and said she couldn't go, she'd be sick, I wouldn't be there etc etc. I was very firm with her and told her it wasn't an option to not go, she had accepted the invitation, her friend would be disappointed if she didn't, and she had to. She seemed to accept this, went and she had a lovely time, which makes me think maybe I give her too much choice about staying or going at these social things, when she didn't have a choice she seemed to get on with it.

Sorry this is so long but it really seems to be affecting her life now and I'd love some ideas from anyone who has been through this.

sandyballs Wed 10-Jun-09 15:16:19


CMOTdibbler Wed 10-Jun-09 15:28:00

The GP will be able to refer her for therapy to deal with this phobia. It's obviously interfering with her life now, and she just needs to get the tools to let her overcome it

MegGriffin Wed 10-Jun-09 19:33:08

Sandyballs I honestly could have written that myself. My DD who is 9 is suffering exactly the same problem including the bedtime rituals where I have to promise her she wont be sick. I approached the school nurse as it has got progressively worse and was affecting all parts of her life including school. The school nurse referred her to CAHMS (child and adolescent mental health service) who are now helping her with CBT. It's very early days for us as she has only had about 5 sessions. We go roughly every two weeks. I can see it is going to be a very long process and I really hope she will be able to live a normal life in the future. I really understand how you are feeling. When I read your thread I had to double check it to make sure it was not one I had written in the past as it sounded so much like our situation here.

sandyballs Wed 10-Jun-09 21:37:26

Thanks for replies.

That's very interesting MegGriffin. Similar age as well, how long has your DD been like this? Has she been sick very often, or not, like my DD? It's so difficult isn't it to see them so stressed by something that 'could' happen, but probably won't and it's no big deal if it does. But it obviously is to them. Does your Dd have any other what I would call OCD symptoms as I wonder if this is linked to this kind of phobia.

HuwEdwards Wed 10-Jun-09 21:41:27

Dumbledorsgirl, I am sure suffers from this (I'm sure in her MN guise she's been quite open about this so I'm not speaking out of turn here I hope)- in fact I think there was a support thread many moons ago. Hopefully one of the sufferer's may see this and be able to give you some insight.

eskimum Wed 10-Jun-09 21:44:13

Take her to the GP and ask for a referral to CAMHS. Best to nip these things in the bud and sort them out whilst young.

In the meantime, as you will undoubtedly have to wait to be seen by CAMHS, do a bit of research on vomit phobia and cognitive behaviour therapy and think about what you can be doing to help her.

It sounds like her fear is not just fear of being sick, but being sick whilst being on her own without you and not being able to cope with that. Gently try to find out what it is that is so scary for her in her mind.

People with vomit phobia often imagine that being sick is far worse than it actually is, that it is the worst, most totally unbearable experience ever and they may imagine it lasting for hours and being left helpless unable to cope etc. Whereas actually it's quite quick, unpleasant and yucky, smelly but really thats it.

What would she do if she is sick, how would she cope, who would she ask for help in whatever situation etc

Talking about it in this way would be more helpful than the reasurance she seeks from you at night, that she won't be sick etc, as this keeps the idea in her mind that being sick is something terrible that she needs to avoid at all cost, going, ifswim.

Dumbledoresgirl Wed 10-Jun-09 21:48:18

Yes here I am. I do indeed have emetophobia and I think, from the sound of your OP, that your dd does too.

You can try approaching your GP but I have to warn you you may well not get anywhere with it.

Do you know (have you asked her) what is at the root of this phobia? I agree that she may well continue with her phobia because she is rarely sick (I am sure this is why I am still phobic) but I think there is likely to be another underlying cause.

sandyballs Wed 10-Jun-09 21:57:10

Thanks for joining this thread, it is reassuring to hear others have this problem, although obviously i wish you didn't!

i have tried talking to her many times and she just gets angry, defensive, embarrassed. It's hard to talk to her about it. I'm hoping as she gets older she will open up more but I want to do something for her now, not when she's older, particularly as it seems to be getting worse. Maybe I should try again with the talking, be more insistent!

how does it affect your life Dumbledore, as an adult?

MegGriffin Wed 10-Jun-09 22:14:04

Sandyballs, my DD's phobia started we think when she was in reception. She does remember a child being sick who was also in the lunch hall. She has got worse over the last few years and in the last six months it got very bad for her. She is afraid of being sick or of anyone else being sick. She has not been sick much either, like your DD. We also think that she may have made it worse in her head as she has not been sick very much in her life and has not been sick for at least two years. The only other OCD symptoms she has shown is hand washing. Whereas you would normally tell a child to wash their hands before eating, she has taken it very literally and at one point would not eat things like crisps if it meant she had to touch them. We did go to the doctors a few times but they were not really that helpful. One day at school DD got very distressed and I arranged to meet with her teacher and deputy head. They suggested I spoke to the school nurse. I met with her on my own and she made the referal. We did not have to wait long, no more than a month before she got an appointment with CAHMS.

Dumbledoresgirl Wed 10-Jun-09 22:16:44

Well I completely recognise the angry and defensive reaction for starters! I think that is actually part of the fight or flight response all phobic people experience when confronted with their particular stimulus.`In other words, it is part of her panic mechanism. I am just the same if my children say they have a tummy ache say, or don't rush to eat their food. I often become aggressive and angry towards them when I am not feeling anger towards them but simple pure fear.

I could go on for days about how it affects me as an adult, but the simplest way to explain it would be to say I have the same fears as your dd every night except my fears are that my children will be sick. I am phobic of vomiting myself but because I have rarely vomited in all my life, I don't fret about it like your dd does unless I actually feel nauseous. I am also reluctant to let my children go on sleepovers simply because I don't want to have to invite the friends back to my house overnight in case they are sick.

I am interested to know what caused your dd's phobia though. I always thought I had had my phobia forever until I really thought about it and recalled a couple of times when I was sick as a very young child (less than 5) and realised I had not been scared of it. That told me my phobia developed after the age of 5. I think my phobia is based on the fear of suffocating while vomiting as I remember I could not breathe when I was being sick and I also remember a friend telling me of someone who had died by choking on their own vomit. When I am feeling phobic, when one of my children is ill, I can only describe my reaction and feelings as being akin to how you would feel if you were dying or one of your children had a life threatening illness. That is how severe it feels.

Other emetophobes I know though have much more upsetting reasons for being phobic. I don't want to give details publicly, but I do feel it would be very relevant for you to try and find out why your dd is as scared as she is.

Any questions you want to ask me about it, please feel free. I am totally happy talking about my phobia in whatever detail is asked of me. smile

Dumbledoresgirl Wed 10-Jun-09 22:28:23

If you want to CAT me, I have a very comprehensive article about emetophobia I found once online which I would be happy to email you. I have it permanently on my pc because it explains the phobia so well.

sandyballs Wed 10-Jun-09 22:35:05

Thanks so much everyone for being so open about this.

Meg - my DD hand washes excessively, and has also started brushing her teeth twice every morning. Her duvet has to be completely straight every night before she can sleep (that's after the promises about not being sick grin), thinking about it she has quite a few OCD traits. Socks and pants trouble her, they have to be spot on before they feel comfortable. But I've usually put it down to the fear of being sick and the fact that she needs to be 'in control' of some aspects of her life, hence the OCD bits. Not sure if that is relevant though really.

Dumbledore, it's very helpful to see an adult's perspective in this. Very interesting too, to see that you have rarely been sick. DD's twin has been quite a sicky child so maybe her phobia started there, although she always sees her rally round quickly and there is no big deal.

sandyballs Wed 10-Jun-09 22:36:11

That would be very helpful dumbledore, how do i CAT?

specialmagiclady Wed 10-Jun-09 22:44:21

I have a peculiar phobia (hiccups, related to emetophobia which is getting better from exposure - I have two kids and I now know the fear is far worse than dealing with the sick!) and my really helpful therapist said "it's ok not to like them. They are quite annoying. It's ok not to like sick, it is a bit yucky. It's also part of life, so we just have to get your reactions to it to be a bit more normal.". It really helped, but I don't know if it would help a child. Just to know that it was a normal thing that had got out of hand really helped.

Mintyy Wed 10-Jun-09 22:52:59

Sandy - I would urge you to persist in trying to find cbt or similar for your dd. I have had this phobia for 30+ years and the only thing that has helped me has been cognitive behavioural therapy. I have some idea as to why the phobia began - but that has not helped me to overcome it.

If your gp is unsympathetic, try elsewhere. But do look in to cbt, it is very effective in treating phobias and ocd. Good luck to you and your dd. Please don't ignore it (I can see that you are not), she needs to be helped smile.

Dumbledoresgirl Wed 10-Jun-09 22:53:03

To CAT you click on the little red exclamation mark on the blue bar with my name in it.

Not vomiting frequently is pretty much par for the course in emetophobes. Not all of course, but most emetophobes have not vomited often and therefore have not become used to vomiting, hence the fear iyswim.

Your dd does seem to have other issues though. I mean her OCD traits. Some of those may be related to a vomit phobia, eg handwashing, but others eg the straightened duvet may be unconnected, unless she is like me and has certain superstitions that she thinks will stop her from vomiting eg the duvet was straight the other night and I didn't vomit so if I make the duvet straight every night, I will not vomit then either.

Yes I know it sounds silly, but I can relate to that as well.

Dumbledoresgirl Wed 10-Jun-09 22:54:57

Hello Mintyy! smile

I did not mean to suggest that knowing why your phobia started would enable you to be cured of it (I sure am not!) but it might be something Sandyballs could use to talk to her dd and reassure her until she is able to get professional help.

Mintyy Wed 10-Jun-09 22:59:14

DG - smile

specialmagiclady Thu 11-Jun-09 08:37:29

I might add that I got some therapy by slightly hamming it up in the GPs surgery. God that sounds awful. What I mean is, I was genuinely frightened that I was going to harm my children and I allowed myself to work myself into a state - tears etc - in front of the GP, that I wouldn't normally have got into unless my son was hiccuping. IYSWIM.

Which is all to say don't be proud. Sounds like this is a problem and if you have to really embarass your daughter by talking OCD etc, that's what you need to do to get treatment.

I didn't go on school trips because I was so scared people would be sick in the bus. Missed out on some brilliant stuff that I loved (eg skiing etc) because of it.

Dumbledoresgirl Thu 11-Jun-09 09:55:23

Oops, I realise this morning I told you how to report my post sandyballs, not how to contact me. blush Anyway, I have CATed you now.

MegGriffin Fri 12-Jun-09 21:20:55

Your dd does sound quite a lot like mine. I think if she is quite bad it may be worth seeking additional help from CAHMS for CBT. I can't tell you how effective it is yet as we are so early on in her treatment but I have seem a tiny improvement in her. I was so relieved when someone actually said they could help because I was literally exasperated by dd and just could not help her, I did not know how to and was afraid I would make her worse. As I said before the doctor was not that useful but the school nurse was spot on and was able to refer her without consulting the Doctor first. I was also lucky as dd was so affected by all this she was willing to try anything to stop her feeling like this. If you need to know anything else I will try my best to help you.

corblimeymadam Fri 12-Jun-09 21:29:30

Message withdrawn

Toffeefudgecake Fri 12-Jun-09 22:34:00

My son (9) has the same problem. In his case, it started with OCD-type behaviour last summer and then developed into a fear of being sick. He actually feels sick and then becomes convinced that he will vomit. He is a highly anxious child and I think the anxiety has just settled on this issue. He gets it every time he goes out anywhere (often has to leave the cinema during a film, hates eating in restaurants or at friends' houses, etc) and especially when he is going to school. We were referred to CAMHS last summer and he is just starting the CBT treatment now, so it can be a long wait. I would advise you - as so many others have already - to get down to your GP ASAP and get the ball rolling. If things get really bad, you can sometimes get referred for an emergency meeting with someone at CAMHS (this happened in our case), which can tide you over till the treatment starts.

We are now recording every incident of anxiety, with a rating for the fear and a description of what my son thinks will happen. He has been given guidance in challenging the negative thoughts (eg reminding himself that the feeling of sickness will pass) and ideas on distracting himself (eg thinking of a happy memory, talking about an interesting subject). The therapist has also explained to him the cycle of stress, so that he understands more about what is going on in his body. This is very early days, but I know that CBT has a good track record in treating phobias. I have also been encouraged by a friend of mine who is a clinical psychologist at CAMHS - she said that it is a lot easier treating children than adults because children are often more adaptable, whereas in adults the negative thinking may have become more entrenched.

With respect to your worry about whether you did the right thing making your daughter go to the party - yes, you did. If at all possible, it is important for the child to learn that her fear is unfounded and she can only do this if she goes through the cycle of facing the fear and finding everything is all right. I do this every morning when I take my son to school in spite of him crying and telling me that this time he really, really is sick. Sometimes it gets too much and I can't make him go either because he is too upset, or because I have become convinced myself that this time he really is ill. It is very difficult. It reinforces the fear if you let the child avoid the situation they are afraid of - but you have to make a judgement and it isn't fair to force a terrified child without giving him/her the tools to fight back. I hope CBT will give my son useful skills for life.

I wish you the best of luck. And take good care of yourself as well - I know how stressful and tiring it must be for you.

sandyballs Fri 12-Jun-09 23:01:13

Thanks so much for all the other replies since I last posted, I don't get to check this every day so there is often a bit of a gap!

Thanks for Dumbledore for your info, that was very useful.

Meg - it's interesting as your DD sounds so similar, I really hope the CBT treatment helps her, let me know how it goes. I'm going to look down that route now with the GP or school. Funnily enough, DD has been better the last few days, i have only checked on her in bed about two times each night, and she seems more settled in some way but that may obviously change again.

Belgianbun - that's fantastic that CBT has helped you so much. It's also interesting to see that so many people say that this kind of fear/anxiety started at a similar age of 8/9. I wonder why that age.

Toffeefudge, your poor boy sad, I really feel for your son as it sounds as though this has got really bad for him. Thankfully DD will still eat in restaurants and go out with us anywhere without too much anxiety, it tends to get worse when we are not with her. Reading your post makes me realise that I need to get help for her before this escalates as it is a very debilitating phobia isn't it. i really hope CBT helps him get over this. Interesting to see that he had OCD tendencies too, there definitely seems to be a connection.

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