So, it's 4am. About an hour ago, my little boy started throwing up. By a twist of fate, I was downstairs and well out of the way because I've been ill with the bastard nephew of flu all weekend and woke up feeling rotten so went to get a drink.
Thank God for Mr Disgrace. Thank God. He might drive a smarmy git car and be the most nosy neighbour ever and incapable of putting his socks in the washing basket, but the man can deal with puke - I'll give him that.
I cannot deal with puke. I am emetophobic, which is basically a debilitating phobia of vomit. I've been emetophobic for 25 years, and while it would be dramatic and untrue to say that it has ruined my life - I do have a lovely husband, much adored son and work doing my favourite thing in the world, after all - I can say with confidence that it has shaped it in a really shitty way.
At my worst, I was underweight and barely ate because I thought I couldn't possibly vomit if I had an empty stomach. I couldn't leave the house and suffered from many panic attacks per day. I worked and worked to get through that, and even now, over 10 years on, I feel thankful every time I travel on a bus or go to the supermarket or eat a curry, because I remember how it felt not to be able to do any of that.
When you first tell somebody that you're emetophobic, they don't really understand the implications. They might just assume that you freak out when you or somebody else vomits, but it's so much worse than that. They don't understand that it's all day, every day. You constantly evaluate how you're feeling, how those around you are feeling, what bugs are going around, when you last washed your hands, how clean things are, what risks foods carry. I know all the norovirus statistics, what to use to clean vomit up (bleach - only bleach. Nothing else works. Disinfectant might as well be plain water). I know which schools in the area are currently harbouring which viruses, I know the teeny tiny signs to watch for in my son that suggest that he might be coming down with a tummy bug. I am always on high alert, never relaxed and constantly running complicated vom-related algorithms through my brain.
I want you to know that I push myself. I've been through high school, A-levels and university with this. I have worked as an actress and performed on stage every night with this fear, every single time wanting to stop the performance and run of stage because I was so scared of being sick in front of the audience. I trained as a primary school teacher because I wanted to do the job so badly, and that meant putting myself in the line of pukey-kid fire every working day. I got married. I endured an extremely nauseous pregnancy and had my beloved son even though I knew it meant facing up to this situation on a regular basis. In recent years, I even started going to the cinema again after 15 years of making excuses to people about why I couldn't go. I hate the cinema - filthy germ box that it is - but my son loves it, so into the disease ridden pit I go. I deliberately do these things and more to face my fear and give it the finger as I try to prove that it can shape my life in a shitty fashion, but it cannot take away all of my options.
But then, here I am: Sitting downstairs and shaking while my stoic husband cuddles my little boy in bed, on puke duty. I should be able to do this. I know I should, but I can't. I'm having CBT for it at the moment and so far it's done bugger all. Well, maybe slightly more than bugger all actually, as I cleaned up a few vom splashes on the landing and marveled at how well they blended into our disgusting orange landing carpet (really must get a new one at some point) rather than being repelled at the sight. Oh, and I can now look and piles-o-puke on the street without going into a full on panic meltdown, so maybe all those hours sitting in a doctors room looking at photographs of people throwing up has done something for me after all. But it's not helped me to do what I want to do - which is to be able to look after my son when he's ill without losing the plot or give him a hug when he's been sick. If anything, I'm the one that needs the hug. Don't come too close though - you might have germs.