“Is the fear of throwing up ruining your life?”
This is the question I asked in my most-commented-on blog post to date. Two years after writing about my fear of vomiting, the comments are still coming. Over Christmas break it was a rare day that didn’t bring more comments. Men, women, teenagers, and even children have written to tell of their own fears of vomiting, stories that break my heart to read.
This may seem to be a strange question to ask on a religion blog, but why is it that so many people fear vomiting that there is an actual name for the fear (emetophobia)?
Scott Stossel is a man so riddled with fear that he needs an expertly timed pharmaceutical/alcohol cocktail to get through a simple speech. As a 7-year-old boy, he was so worried his parents would die while out for the evening that he wore out a path in his bedroom carpet.
Stossel is also paralyzingly afraid of vomiting. So much so that in desperation his therapist convinced him that he would only conquer the fear by actually throwing up. After weeks of putting the dreadful task off, Stossel found himself in the bathroom of the counselor’s office with a nurse dosing him with ipecac to induce his most horrifying fear.
Guess what? It didn’t work. His anxiety level was so high that, although he felt sick, he did not actually vomit. His therapist, having never administered ipecac unsuccessfully, was as perplexed as he was.
Stossel’s article for The Atlantic (which I read and laughed till I cried) ends with this non-conclusion: Basically, there is no cure for anxiety. Even after decades of heavy-duty medication, Stossel still struggles.
If he played guinea pig for any and all anxiety treatments and found no cure, what hope is there for the garden-variety worrywart?
That’s the question I wrestle with when answering the poor souls who have so honestly responded to my blog post. What comfort do I (who just checked her Facebook and freaked out when she saw half the city of Wichita has the flu) have to give?
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ.”
Here, perhaps, we find some degree of comfort. If there is no cure for anxiety, can we at least find something redemptive in this particular “affliction?” Is it possible to see anxiety as what some call a “thin place,” a place where we, as we share in the sufferings of Christ, are especially vulnerable and where God is especially close?
Stossel closes by saying, “I do know that some of the things for which I am most thankful … not only coexist with my condition, but are in some meaningful way the product of it.”
If increased dependence on and greater intimacy with God are products of my anxiety (and believe me they are), is it possible my anxiety and (gulp) even my fear of throwing up are not curses but blessings? This may not be the panacea my readers are looking for, but it’s all I have and, for me anyway, it’s enough.