A Petrified Stream

of Consciousness

From the mind of a self-determined emetophobic

Ruobing Chen

Design Editor

Content Warning: Vomiting, graphic imagery

Fear can really humble us. In the face of something that terrifies us, we are driven to confront the cause. This can help us survive––it is the body’s way of protecting us.

Unfortunately, fear can also be completely removed from any legitimate danger.

My fear, like those of others, has been a weakness that has paralyzed me, and continues to limit me.

It is often difficult to pinpoint where a given fear originates, but I remember one particular day in grade school that plays out in my mind as if it were a silent film.

I was with my father at an information session, listening to coordinators discussing the secondary institution and program I was applying for. We were sitting off to the side in a room crowded with people, each of them displaying emotions somewhere between boredom and eagerness. During the middle of the talk, my father began snoring beside me, earning us a few dirty looks, and out of embarrassment I shook him awake.

Barely a minute passed before I heard the snoring again and I realized that something was wrong. I sprang out of my seat in the middle of the presentation as I saw that he had started to throw up obscene amounts of blood and vomit—enough to scatter the entire crowd to the edges of the room.

I recall that even though I had watched the ambulance carry him out on a stretcher, what had just occurred did not dawn on me until after I arrived home in my friend’s car, like a morbid rush of adrenaline.

Although fears may plant their roots early on in our lives, one rarely realizes the degree to which they manifest until much later on.

It seems as though the more something is dutifully avoided, the more it tends to appear around you—rather, you notice it more frequently, and every encounter stays ingrained within your psyche. I have seen my cat hack out hairballs, listened to friends say they are about to throw up, and heard tales of my grandmother’s nausea from chemotherapy. I often cannot help but picture myself and those that I love having to go through these terrifying experiences, but they are just transient memories for them. Even for me, it is hard to understand why I fear just another natural bodily process; it is lonely having a niche phobia.

In theory, vomiting is something that protects us, as does excreting any other wasteful materials from our body. It is unavoidable and oftentimes necessary.

I like to think that the fear of throwing up protects me too. It has led me to be more attentive to my health and personal hygiene––my fear of being sick has prevented me from contracting as many illnesses as I might otherwise have. It has also made me more mindful of my diet so that my stomach is less likely to be upset, and has even helped me dodge some of the most perilous elements of McGill’s drinking culture.

But standing in front of the sink the morning after a night of hypocritically drinking to the verge of vomiting helped to sober up both my hangover and my inner thoughts. If I were really so terrified, I doubt that I would have placed myself into a situation where there was a chance that I’d throw up.

Now, I have finally grasped the situation: I do not want this fear anymore, because even though it might protect me in some ways, I want to live life without having to worry about something that I cannot control. I want to be able to drink with friends without being overly cautious of every sip; I want to hold back someone’s hair and comfort them, hunched over a porcelain rim; I want to take care of a sick loved one to my full capacity.

Perhaps it would really just take facing my fear once—vomiting once—to be able to experience life without it holding me back.

Still, that day has not yet come, and I will cower until it does.