You know the routine: close your eyes and plug your ears. Take one finger out of an ear, perhaps saying “LA LA LA LA” very loudly, and grope around for the remote, wildly doing anything to change the channel, mute the show, or whatever. If you can’t do that you ask your significant other to tell you when the scary bit is over. This fear of vomiting can ruin just about everything in life, even your entertainment.
Most people with emetophobia are “lucky” enough to have their partner already in control of the remote and they tell you when you can open your eyes and unplug your ears. They similarly enable you in movie theatres. Notice I put “lucky” in quotation marks but not “enable.” That’s because it is enabling, which is always a dirty word and an unhelpful concept in the big picture. So you may feel lucky in the moment, but this avoidance is making your phobia worse, which is probably the last thing your partner wants for you. I know that my husband was always trying to “help” (there are those quotation marks again) but he was also trying to avoid getting screamed at or me having a meltdown of some kind.
I have to say that I love-love-love movies. Foreign films are ok but I’m not one to go to a film festival. I like American movies. I know and understand the formula, having taken a course once on scriptwriting. And it makes me happy that the hero or heroine always accomplishes their goal by the end, even if ten minutes before the end it looks like they won’t. I used to go to the movies by myself every Wednesday afternoon for 20 years when I was a minister. I worked pretty much 7 days a week so it was my self-care time.
I also love television. I grew up in the 1960s where you got one channel in black and white and the whole family sat around the tiny little TV set on Saturdays for Hockey Night in Canada, or Sunday nights for the Ed Sullivan show. By the early 70s my brother and my dad were dead and my sister was married and moved out. So my mother worked hard to buy that colour TV. The first thing we watched was Disney’s “Wonderful World of Colour” and I still remember a warm, happy feeling watching the opening animation.
Lovers of television and movies are often thought to be lazy bums. “Couch potatoes.” I am unapologetic. I love the genre – the 22 minute sitcom and the 44 minute drama. I’ve never been big into made-for-tv movies but I’m hopelessly addicted to Netflix, Crave and Prime right now. Binge-watching several seasons of an entire show can elicit squeals of delight from me.
I’m not sure when vomiting got to be a thing on TV and in movies. I know that in 1972 the movie The Exorcist came to the theatre in my home town. I was terrified of seeing even the commercials for it. Yes, it was the emetophobia, as I’d heard about the vomiting bit, but also the creepiness of the devil stuff freaked me right out. I did not see it and have not to this day. In 1983 Monty Python came out with The Meaning of Life and I heard about the vomiting scene in it from the psychologist who ran the first emetophobia group I was ever in. Now I have seen that movie since, and the vomiting is so fake it’s pretty ridiculous.
Vomiting slowly crept into a lot of movies, and a lot of TV shows, both comedies and dramas. I remember going to see The Green Mile in about 2000 and while there’s no actual vomiting in it, the guy opens his mouth and this grey cloud of sort of like flies comes out – it’s supposed to be the evil or pain which he absorbs from others and then it flies out of his mouth and away from him. I remember sitting in the theatre kind of cursing that movie. And crying afterward, because it seemed like emetophobia was going to ruin everything in my life by that point.
By the early 2000s we had a ton of reality TV so vomiting was one of the things that was, actually, real.
Here’s something I know now but didn’t know then: you can use the occurrence of vomiting in TV shows and movies to actually help your emetophobia, instead of avoiding it and making it worse. You just need a tiny bit of courage and no other skills.
- Tell your significant other that you are going to try to actually watch and/or listen to vomiting scenes from now on.
- Decide which you think is easiest to do – look or listen. Let’s say it’s “look.”
- You probably know when the scene is coming because people with emetophobia have almost a sixth sense about these things. THAT’S the time to hit the pause button on your remote. Take a deep breath and click “play.”
- Plug your ears or mute the sound if you wish, but try to watch the scene. Your anxiety will rise. That’s ok – it won’t hurt you. Just allow your anxiety to be there and don’t try to make it go down. No safety behaviours! Your anxiety will go up, but not too high – it’s just a TV show after all and it can’t hurt you.
- Rewind and watch it two more times. Be proud of yourself.
- Carry on and finish the show.
Next time, if you’re brave enough, try listening but with your eyes closed. Then the next time, put the two together and watch it all. Keep doing this. Like, forever. Your emetophobia will be knocked back a bit, and that’s a good thing.
PS – ANNA’S TOP 3 GOAT LIST – IN ORDER
Movies: 1. Schindler’s List 2. Star Wars IV 3. O Brother Where Art Thou
TV Shows (Dramas): 1. Downton Abbey 2. Breaking Bad 3. The Sopranos
TV Shows (Comedy): 1. Big Bang Theory 2. Seinfeld 3. Friends