January 15 14

It’s considered 300.29 — Specific Phobia: Other Type — in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It seems a lot more real, doesn’t it, seeing it as a classification like that? What’s even more real, though, is living it.

It didn’t go away, nowhere near it. But it was manageable, for a good stretch of almost two years. I went off the Xanax for the first time since 1997, and was able to travel to Europe, to eat in restaurants, and go to the movies, and even ride a subway without having to pop any pills and do any meditative, deep-breathing exercises.

But somewhere in the last few months, it started creeping back in. I tried to push it away, to suppress, to pretend. But this little shit is relentless, it crawls right back under your skin. And doesn’t ask for your opinion in the matter.

So many — too many — of my waking hours are spent worrying about vomiting. Every single uneasiness in my body leads to constant questions—am I going to be sick? And the constant questions then lead to panic, which then leads to full physical symptoms, the same symptoms as one would feel when actually sick. Sweats, chills, nausea, shaking, stomach aches, dry mouth, racing heart. I once, recently, thought I might actually be having a heart attack. I have even been waking up in the middle of the night mid-panic attack, so apparently some of my non-waking hours are spent worrying too.

 

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to ask me if I’m okay. Why? Do I not look okay? Am I sick?

Boom. Immediate panic attack.

It’s a vicious cycle, this emetophobia one. A perfectly mundane moment can go from everything is fine to panic about the possibility of being sick to actually legitimately feeling sick to panic about feeling sick. I try to relax and breathe, but instead I panic and take Gravol and tums and drink peppermint tea and do just about any ritualistic behavior in my arsenal that I believe might make me not vomit.

 

Because that’s the goal, at the end of it all—to not vomit. To do every single thing in my power to not vomit.

 

But Ali, you’ll say. It’s just vomit. No one likes it, but once it’s over, you feel better.

Except that…I don’t. Feel better, that is. In fact, I envy someone who can just vomit and be done with it. It’s a crippling, crippling all-consuming anxiety disorder. And you still won’t understand this. You’ll still walk away from reading this not understanding how much this anxiety disorder affects me, how I am not actually just being whiney and a pain in the ass.

 

And I’m actually kind of glad—it’s so much better that you don’t understand this.

Imagine, if you will, that you are afraid of heights. So, what do you do, generally, is you avoid heights, right? Now, replace heights with many common fears—public speaking, snakes, flying, spiders etc. You have the power, for the most part, to avoid the things that scare you the most.

But when your fear is YOU, you can’t escape it. My fear is one that lives within me every minute of every hour of every single day of my life.

 

My body and my brain can’t win with each other. I know it’s not rational. I know it. But it doesn’t matter. In fact, I can count the actual times I have been sick  in my entire lifetime on only one hand—I didn’t even throw up during any of my three pregnancies. That’s a funny thing about the brain—I have literally trained it not to be sick, yet I can’t train it to realize it. But it doesn’t matter. It’s completely irrational.

 

How can you treat something irrational by thinking rationally?

You can’t.

 

The first time I remember that my fear was a different kind of beast was after my older sister didn’t make it to the bathroom and lost her lunch on the floor of the hallway directly outside of my bedroom door. It was cleaned up properly and I didn’t get sick from that particular bout of gastro virus that had descended on our home. BUT, for about four years after the incident, I refused to step right outside my bedroom door. I shimmied to the side and skip-hopped over the spot. For four years.

 

I am wary of circuses and theme parks, movie theaters and museums. Public places. Crowds, as you might guess, make me incredibly uneasy. Airplanes, boats, trains, cars, subways, buses. Complete and total fear, since not only are there crowds of people maybe, possibly harboring foreign germs, but there are the added anxieties of motion sickness and lack of control.

I have never been drunk in my 35 years for fear that I might vomit. I worry about food-borne illness all day long—and have given up almost all meats, especially chicken. If I didn’t prepare the food, I will be nervous, and I usually won’t touch it. Restaurants, potlucks, buffets. Nope.

I couldn’t survive without anti-bacterial sanitizer (no matter what recent studies say) and Lysol wipes, and buy them in bulk when I can. I am kind of obsessively clean.

I spend a lot of time on the CDC website, tracking gastro outbreaks in the US and Canada. In any given location, I immediately locate all exits and garbage receptacles, just in case I get sick. Office environments, elementary schools, doctor’s offices fill me with paralyzing fear. Other people’s children make me nervous. I am constantly aware of the health of those around me. I assess how they look, how they are eating, how they are feeling.

 

And forget about when an actual stomach illness descends upon our household.

And this most recent bout—where it ravaged its ugly way through my entire extended family—has basically sent me over the edge. Now, even weeks later, I can barely eat, I can barely sleep, I can barely step out of my house right now without feeling edgy, jittery, panicky, nervous, frightened.

I’m worried that my oldest daughter might have it too.

emetophobia

And that scares me more than anything.

Well, almost anything.

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  1. Thanks for sharing that Ali, I hope this gets better for you. xoxo

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    Comment by Sandy on January 15, 2014
  2. I became intimate with panic anxiety in the last year. I’m so sorry, I get it. Wishing for the best for you, your beautiful girl, and your whole family.

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    Comment by Amanda on January 15, 2014
  3. I’ve become intimately familiar with panic and anxiety in the last 12 months. I am so sorry because I finally get it. Wishing the best for you, your beautiful girl, and your whole family.

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    Comment by Amanda on January 15, 2014
  4. God Ali I’m so sorry. It is a beast. I’m fortunate to have had short lived anxiety issues so I just can’t fathom what you’re dealing with. I hope you can find a new med that can get it back under control. Hang in.

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    Comment by Sara on January 15, 2014
  5. I never would have thought this kind of condition was real because it sounds so extreme. I now have a teenager with this same anxiety – albeit not nearly as extreme was what you describe (luckily). It seems to have been triggered in her by an incident at her school a few years ago when someone got sick. I think she may have only heard about it and not even witnessed it directly. For the most part she manages well but sometimes she does not want to participate in things because she has built up a fear in her mind that someone may get sick. Her fear is more about others around her getting sick, not so much about herself.
    The irrationality is maddening. I feel bad for you but also for the people around you who have to try to talk you down from something that, 99.9% of the time, isn’t even likely to happen. Other than Xanax, what has helped you over the years, particularly when you were younger?

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    ali replied on

    Sadly, it’s very, very real. I really wish it wasn’t.

    Mine is more about ME getting sick, but others being sick around me heightens my fears, obviously, that I might catch it.

    talking down is something that doesn’t really work much…on account of it being completely irrational, yanno? But, yes, I don’t envy anyone who tries to make me feel better.

    What has helped me? Hrm…being aware really helps me, actually. Knowing there’s an escape route, etc. Reading really calms me—gives me something to focus on that’s not my panic. I have weird rituals that help me—peppermint tea. Braiding my hair. I find these very soothing and helpful.

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    Comment by Dallas on January 15, 2014
  6. Ali, thank you so much for sharing this and your experiences. This is a beautiful, raw piece. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. People – myself included – need to know more about Emetophobia (and mental illnesses in general, really) and what it can do to an individual. It might not be rational, but in my experience, most things involving serious anxiety in the so-not-colloquial sense never are, but that shouldn’t make them any less valid. Despite its presence and classification in the DSM, Emetophobia tends to get dismissed by many people, which isn’t fair. Sigh. Much love and all my best to you and miss Emily.

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    ali replied on

    Yes. It doesn’t often get taken seriously, even by some of my family members. It gets laughed at, because of the “no one likes vomiting” thing.

    xo

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    Comment by aly on January 15, 2014
  7. Ali, your honesty in this post is very touching. I have some experience with anxiety, both in myself and in my youngest son, who worries about so many things. It’s hard for people who don’t live it to truly understand how it can completely consume you; it’s not something you can just ‘snap out of’. I’m sorry you’re having a rough time these days, and I hope you’ll find something that will help to ease your anxiety. I found more balance in my mental/emotional sphere through learning yoga and meditation at a time when I was really struggling…. continuing these practices has made a big difference for me. Hugs to you.

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    ali replied on

    Oh yes, that’s just it, I think.
    People think it’s something you can just turn off.

    I wonder if I could benefit from yoga…although group classes give me (surprise!) anxiety.

    Thank you so much for sharing. xo

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    Comment by Lisa on January 15, 2014
  8. Mental disorders are very real and not something that you can just “shut off”. Oh how I wish it were that easy.

    I’m sorry you go through this. I know it is very real and I really hope Emily doesn’t also have to suffer with it.

    Hugs, friend.

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    Comment by Kristabella on January 15, 2014
  9. I’m so sorry that this has come back full force Ali. I know how you’ve struggled with it and have always been so incredibly strong. I will support you in any way you need it.

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    Comment by Sharon on January 15, 2014
  10. Mine is about different things, but oh holy hell anxiety has been ruling my life for way too long. Someone said to me the other day that I just needed to turn it off. Funny, but I’ll be 34 in April and I’ve yet to find that switch. Maybe it’s on my back out of reach? *eye roll*

    Hugs lady. That’s really all I can say.

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    Comment by Issa on January 15, 2014
  11. Thank you for sharing this post, the honesty and realness is beautiful. I wish more of The Internet was posts like this because THIS is the reason I read (and write) in BlogLand.

    xox

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    ali replied on

    Oh thank you. THANK YOU.

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    Comment by Feisty Harriet on January 15, 2014
  12. I know EXACTLY what you mean. Mine isn’t quite as bad as yours but it’s close. I always have to have a plan and am terrified of getting any gastric illness. (Interestingly, getting sick from drinking, while certainly nothing I like, doesn’t scare me as much. I guess because I have some degree of control and choice?) Yesterday I felt woozy and a little nauseated…which made me panic…which made me woozier and more nauseated…until I had MADE myself so sick that I needed to leave work.

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    ali replied on

    I’m so glad I wrote this post—there seem to be so many of us.

    And it’s interesting that you mention the control thing…so much of this had to do with control, eh?

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    Comment by kdiddy on January 15, 2014
  13. Ali, believe me, I understand. I completely understand. I could have written much of this myself. I get it. xoxo

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    ali replied on

    I had no idea!

    xoxox right back.

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    Comment by Nicole Boyhouse on January 15, 2014
  14. This is a real, honest, and raw post, and one of the reasons I hate when people say “blogging is dead.” I think it is amazing that you shared it.

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    ali replied on

    It’s not dead. Nope. I don’t believe it. not when there are people like me still telling our stories :)

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    Comment by jodifur on January 15, 2014
  15. This was so brave of you to write. A close friend of mine has great success treating anxiety at his clinic, which is located in NY. He often does intensive treatments for Torontonians (he is originally from here). If you feel like taking a road trip, you can check him out: centerforanxiety.org

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    Comment by diana on January 15, 2014
  16. Thank you so much for writing this. I thought for years that I was allergic to alcohol because I would have food poisoning like symptoms after consuming one drink. I went to specialists and no one could figure out a cause. So I stopped drinking. But it still happened when I thought I might have had something with alcohol in it… I’m beginning to realize (after 15 years) that I probably am having panic attacks from thinking that I might be sick from a drink. I’ve booked an appointment with a doctor for next week. Thank you for helping me out the puzzle pieces together. Maybe treatment for anxiety/panic will help me be able to enjoy a glass of wine.

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    Comment by Alison on January 15, 2014
  17. I’m so, so sorry. I had a year of severe anxiety, but not as severe as what you’re dealing with. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I hope you can find some relief soon and send it packing again. This time for good. Huge hugs.

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    ali replied on

    Thank you so, so much.

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    Comment by Jenn on January 15, 2014
  18. Oh, I could have written this word for word.

    I have exactly the same phobia that you have. I have had it since I was little and it has stayed with me and affected every aspect of my life. My life used to revolve around taking Gravol and carrying around plastic bags. But after a while I didn’t like taking Gravol because it makes me too drowsy. I suffered with this all through high school, all through university, through my twin pregnancy (!!!) and I continue with it to this day. It is such a specific fear that I have and you might be the first person who I have read about who has this specific phobia too.

    I have trouble going to crowded places for fear of getting sick and not being able to get to the bathroom or (preferably) outside. Unless it’s summer than there is no relief for me outside either. I can’t go to the concerts or to Wonderland or to anywhere that is crowded without an exit readily available. When I go somewhere I immediately find out where the exits are and then I make sure I stay relatively close to them if possible. I sit on the aisle at movies, I sit on the outside of the booth at the restaurant. I am in awe of Heather Spohr who puked her way through 3 pregnancies and still functioned pretty well. She didn’t seem to have any fear of puking in public bathrooms or on airplanes or anywhere really. She is my hero for this and someone who I actually try to “study” to try and become more comfortable with puking. Wish I could interview her. She should teach a course.

    I have twins in SK who bring home a variety of illnesses and I live in fear during cold and flu season. Thankfully they are not big pukers (so far). But when they do, my hubby knows that he is the one who will be doing the bulk of the caregiving for that particular illness. I wish I could step up but it is just so hard for me. I do my best and feel guilty about the rest of it.

    I avoid the ER like the plague because someone might puke there and then that might make me puke.

    If I catch myself in a mirror anywhere and I look pale (even if I feel fine) then my day is ruined as I think I am getting sick.

    I don’t drink (alcohol) at all for the same reason you don’t. I don’t experiment with food.

    I could go on and on.

    What I love about this piece you have written (there are so many things!!) is that I have been following you for a while now (on Twitter/FB and here) and I have never once suspected that you might suffer with anxiety at all let alone exactly the same phobia that I do. Which makes me realize that we “freaks” (and I say that with love) can look totally normal and live somewhat normal lives. And that we are not alone!

    So from the bottom of my heart, thank you thank you thank you for this.

    Carrie

    [Reply]

    Comment by Carrie on January 15, 2014
  19. Holy crap, Ali. That’s intense. I hope you’re able to get this back under control soon and find some peace of mind.

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    ali replied on

    Thanks Rebecca. SO much.

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    Comment by Rebecca on January 15, 2014
  20. We spoke on Twitter today, but I wanted to thank you again for this. Emetophobia is my daily hell and I’m striving to get past the cycle of anxiety. It’s damned hard, but it’s nice to know, as we said, that someone else understands – and that you’re also a fellow Torontonian! Hello!

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    Comment by Elizabeth Hawksworth on January 15, 2014
  21. I think that it is so important that every one reads this. No one understands until they’ve walked in your shoes, but at least they can be educated enough to not pass judgement…fluff it off…etc.
    People are rude when it comes to anything that’s not “normal”.
    I’m so sorry that you feel the beast creeping in. Remember that you got the best of it before and you can do it again.

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    ali replied on

    Yes. To all of this.
    And mostly to the part where you say that I got the best of it before and I can do it again. Because that’s the plan. Fight it. xo

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    Comment by Kimberly on January 16, 2014
  22. Can’t believe this! In the words of Elaine Bennis: Get well, get well soon, we want you to get well.
    But I’m sad that you suffer, so brave to write this.

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    Comment by Cheri on January 16, 2014
  23. When Nathan shut down from anxiety, it was triggered by Emily barfing. Barf is the one thing that triggers it the most — if we know anyone who has the flu, we don’t talk about it in front of him. My friend’s son is similar, but his is anxiety about germs in general.

    One thing that helped them both — that brought my Nathan back — was meeting with a psychologist. She gave him tools that he uses to this day to curb an attack. I’m not against medication, but his turnaround was so profound that maybe the right person could help you, even a little bit?

    Love you, lady. xoxo

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    ali replied on

    yeah. Trying to figure out the best course of action. As I said to someone else…I’m not opposed to drugs and I’m not opposed to regular old therapy, as long as it doesn’t involve exposure therapy, because that’s not an option. xo

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    Comment by Angella on January 16, 2014
  24. You are so not alone. I’ve had this phobia since I was young. I was doing really well with it until I had kids. Now I have three kids age 5 and under and they’re in daycare. A stomach illness has hit us every winter so far.

    For me it’s maybe not so much vomiting, although it is, but this anticipation. Will we get it? When? How bad will it be? Will I get it? I have a hard time getting through the winter. Night time is the worst. If I wasn’t so exhausted from being a working mom of 3 I’d probably never sleep. Just lie awake listening for someone getting sick.

    I think I probably need to seek some help for it. I’m able to hold it together and pretend I’m doing great but inside it just consumes my mind way too much.

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    Suzanne replied on

    Thank you, thank you Ali.
    Honestly, I read this to my husband and we both said, “whoooa” that’s me! Although not with vomit (ok, sometimes with vomit), but with needing to go to the bathroom!! I haven’t put it all together until now….
    I think everything escalated after having my two kids. Maybe a lack of control in my life or something? Kids tend to do that being that they are unpredictable little life bombs. I thank you so much and hope you continue to write about this… I have so many questions for you. When did you seek help? What did you say to your dr? How do you deal with it daily? Does your family understand it? Do you feel like it leads to other anxieties? Oh man…
    I really hope things get better for you!
    Already today I told myself its my brain and not my body and for a few seconds I felt a (teeny) bit better.. There’s hope!
    Thank you again.. Xxox

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    Comment by MJ on January 16, 2014
  25. Oh, I know exactly what you are going through. Irrational fears, anxiety, and panic are real and all consuming. I have illness anxiety disorder (drinking a cup of peppermint tea right now! it works!). I do see a psychiatrist once a month, take cocktail of meds, and have been advised not to research any illnesses or side effects on the internet.
    What helps me? Going to the gym and doing 1/2 hour of cardio (makes me feel stronger than the disorder), talking about it with anyone who will listen, and reading other people’s stories to know that I am not alone.
    You are totally not alone. I’ve met so many women who suffer with some form of anxiety disorder or panic.

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    Comment by Bella on January 17, 2014
  26. Thank you so much for writing this. I have the exact same fear–will I get it? My son got sick tonight and while my husband did most of the clean up, I still had to do some and all the laundry. I’m still scared to death. In fact, I came to your blog on purpose because I knew you were dealing with this issue and I wanted some support. So, thank you for putting yourself out there. I really appreciate it.

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    Comment by Micki on January 17, 2014
  27. I have just been reading Derren Brown’s book, and he has a whole section dedicated to ways to combat phobias, and it’s really fascinating. If you get a chance, check it out – the whole book is a good read. I’ve managed to get rid of every phobia I had.

    My fear of vomiting never reached the point of anxiety, but I have complete and total sympathy for you. I’m proud of you for writing about this, and I bet this post will still be less controversial than your jeggings one. :)

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    Comment by Avitable on January 28, 2014
  28. My “issues” (aka depression and “general” anxiety) seem to be more … um… socially acceptable (is that the right way to phrase that?) these days but when you break down the nitty gritty of my “general” anxiety it is still super weird to not want to leave the house or to be anxious about driving or to be scared to go to conferences when you help to RUN them or to go to meetings at your kids school or to answer the phone… all completely ridiculous things to be anxious about. And yet… anxiety is not logical. And those who don’t understand still tend to brush it off because those tasks are so very simple for them.

    So generalized or very very specific anxiety sucks. And I am so sorry you experience it in this way.

    OH… and I have passed it on to my kid as well. That just adds a whole other level of pain doesn’t it?

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    Comment by Tarasview on January 28, 2014
  29. Wow, I did not realize that this was such a major issue. I remember you talking about hating vomit in camp. I am totally familiar with anxiety issues, but my main issue is that I am terrified of pills and medication. Pills make me feel how vomit makes you feel. Thanks for sharing!

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    Comment by Abby on January 28, 2014
  30. I know exactly how you feel – I fight a different beast, but it’s from the same family. Love you for talking about these things. So important. xoxo

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    Comment by Allison Zapata on January 28, 2014
  31. Thanks for sharing. Until I heard this interview a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that fear of vomiting was among the most common fears people had. I learned that during this interview on a recent Fresh Air. Alas, I was in the car listening to NPR and arrived at my destination long before it finished. Click if you want to give a listen.
    http://www.npr.org/2014/01/06/.....of-anxiety

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    Comment by kim on January 28, 2014
  32. I can relate to a lot of what you said. I am so sorry you are going through this. Anxiety is definitely not easy to deal with. They say that once you accept that you have it, it gets easier. But it is very difficult to accept. You never feel “normal.” Yet, is anyone “normal?”

    I have written about my anxiety on my blog a few times. If you ever want to reach out, please do.

    http://myunwrittenlife.com/category/anxiety/

    [Reply]

    Comment by Brandy on January 28, 2014
  33. My one daughter suffers from panic attacks for a few years. She wants me to fix her and I can’t I tell. That is the worst for me. She attends school far away and has been to the hospital numerous times by ambulance because her panic attack makes her think she is having a heart attack. It breaks my heart. So when you say you worry your daughter may have the same, I feel for you. It’s bad enough to have to deal with your own anxiety but to add your children into the mix is even worse.

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    Comment by AlwaysARedhead on January 29, 2014
  34. Very well written. I have had anxiety disorder for quite a number of years now. I have been on many medications until I finally found the one that worked. A few years ago I started seeing a therapist and B”H she has been so amazing. She has helped me so much. I have not taken a xanax in a long time which I hope is a good sign that my anxiety is under control. I do know what you are going through and it is real. I don’t have the stuff/fears that you are going through but I can imagine. If you need me, I am here to talk. I have been through quite a lot the past couple of years. I hope to eventually wean off the medication but I need to feel ready. I already tried once and had a horrible withdrawal so when I am ready I will start.

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    Comment by Aliza Kessler on January 29, 2014
  35. […] out, but she has already helped me in so many ways. She’s going to try to help me deal with my severe anxiety and emetophobia, of course, but in order to get there, she’s going to have to dig through layer after layer to […]

    Pingback by A Work In Progress | Cheaper Than Therapy on February 11, 2014
  36. Oh HOLY SHIT! Thank you for that deep insight into this mental health disorder. I am grateful. I am parent to a girl with anxiety disorder and I struggle to understand it and that sucks a bit BUT having her be so very anxious that she can’t get to school sucks more and having her pull her eyebrows out because she is stressed is even worse and it’s very hard knowing she is always experiencing some level of fear that I sometimes have no real understanding of. I am super grateful that she does therapy with me and tries to get a handle on it with me. This is a hard disorder. I hope that the worry gets manageable for my daughter and for your entire family and you.

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    Comment by paula schuck on January 28, 2015
  37. Thinking back, I realize that though I knew you were scared to get sick, I just had NO idea the extent. But isn’t that part of the cycle? It’s impossible to stress the severity of something until it’s all laid out, usually after we’ve already had experiences with the person. Thank you for opening my eyes, and I hope on everything there is to hope that you find balance again.

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    Comment by Angie on January 30, 2015
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