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Woman who developed severe vomiting phobia because of winter bug finally conquers fear after 11 years of it ‘taking over’ her life


Beth has lived with emetophobia and anorexia since she was 10 (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

Beth Allen was 10 years old when she first developed emetophobia – an intense fear of vomiting, or seeing other people being sick.

It started when her family fell sick one Christmas from a nasty vomiting bug.

The mental health vlogger and speaker from Newark, Nottinghamshire, says the whole experience was so traumatic that the severe fear of getting sick like that again started to ‘play on a loop’ in her head.

Beth, now 23, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I can remember it clear as day as if it were yesterday.

‘There was a lot of tension in the house as my parents were trying to cope with being ill and looking after my sister and me too.

‘Once I was better, I was terrified that it would happen again. I started to wash my hands more frequently, avoid people who had said they felt ill and shut myself away in my room where I felt “safe”.’

Her fear of being sick started to ‘take over’ her life from that point.

‘I didn’t want to do things teens do like parties and drinking’, she says.

‘I went to one party and a friend of mine threw up because they’d drunk so much.

‘That was enough for me. I rang my parents, crying down the phone and they came and got me.

‘I started avoiding going out at all. The winter was especially terrifying for me. I missed out on a lot.’

To cope with her fear of vomiting and how she isolated herself, she started self-harming at the age of 13.

She says: ‘I would self-harm because I was SO scared. It was like being in a trance and once I was calm again I would feel so guilty of the damage I had done to myself.

‘I scratched my chest so badly and I could only wear high-necked tops. I still have the scars now.

‘The pain of self-harming distracted me from my mind telling me I was going to be sick.’

As well as self-harming, her fear of vomiting started to affect her relationship with food and she developed anorexia because of it.

To avoid feeling sick, Beth became picky about her food, especially meat. She would question how long it had been cooked for and would poke it around her plate.

Beth suffered in silence for three years (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

Sometimes she would chew her food and then spit it out in the bathroom where her parents couldn’t see her.

Eventually, all of this control over her food lead her to develop body image issues. She quickly lost weight and she felt like she had to keep going.

Beth says: ‘It was like a war in my head.

‘My emetophobia would be so obsessed with keeping me clean and away from anyone. Anorexia wanted me to be this perfect person and purge what little I ate.

‘It almost felt like the two hated each other and simultaneously worked so well together.’

For Beth, daily life was terrifying. She felt like a prisoner in her mind and she thought about being sick every minute of every day.

‘It was that constant,’ she says. ‘It was the first thing I thought when I woke up and the last thing I thought about at night.

‘I’d wash my hands at least once an hour. I questioned everything I touched.

‘I would never go out unless I had to. And every time I did, I would come home crying and panicking that I had caught something.’

Beth the night she broke down (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

Almost everything was a trigger for her but Christmas time was especially problematic as it reminded her of the bug where it first started.

‘I can remember my sister getting ill one time and I stood outside barefoot in the snow rather than being inside the house,’ she says.

For the first three years, Beth didn’t speak about her phobia or eating disorder.

Her family knew about her struggles with emetophobia but she says they didn’t understand it at all.

However, they organised for her to go to therapy and she was also referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for cognitive behavioural therapy when she was13, then 15 and then 17.

Beth described it as being like a ‘sticking plaster’. It would work for a short time but then old habits would come back.

‘I wasn’t dealing with the root of the trauma’, she says.

‘I know that for my family, dealing with me in that moment of panic was very hard for them. I didn’t tell any of my friends for fear of being seen as weird. It was a shameful thing to share in my mind.’

It wasn’t until Beth was 21 that she finally sought proper help for her emetophobia and anorexia.

Her boyfriend encouraged her to get help (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

She adds: ‘I was getting in the bath and looking at my body and I just broke down. Not just weeping but that deep cry from the pit of your stomach.

‘I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. It was do or die – literally.

‘My boyfriend, Phil, 42, found me on the bathroom floor and we both decided it was time to do something properly about this.

‘He assured me I was worth more.’

Beth saw a doctor and was told that she would be admitted to an eating disorder unit if she didn’t put weight on in the next three months.

She was breathless all of the time and struggling physically and mentally.

She was offered therapy on the NHS but due to the long waiting lists, her parents decided to pay for Beth to have it privately – something she has continued for the last two years.

She says: ‘It took a year to untangle the memories and trauma and another year to build this stronger version of myself.’

Beth has now been in recovery for two years (Picture: Beth Allen/Metro.co.uk)

Over time, Beth has slowly managed to put on small amounts of weight, a few pounds at a time. She says it was hard for her and a ‘real battle’ to challenge the obsessive thoughts.

She continues: ‘I did it with the patience and love of my other half and my family.

‘I made friends through my recovery too which was wonderful. When I finally got help, I had something called humanistic integrative therapy, which bases itself on healing the mind, body and spirit.

‘It’s a very deep level therapy but it’s so worth it in my experience.

‘My therapy sessions are now once or twice a month, which is a huge step for me, especially at this time of year with so many bugs around.’

Beth adds that recovery has been a ‘massive rollercoaster’ for her – though it has been mostly positive.

She says: ‘It’s about remembering that recovery isn’t about getting rid of the feelings but learning how to cope with them and that’s when their power dissolves and they almost disappear.’



BEAT

If you suspect you, a family member or friend has an eating disorder, contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or at help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk, for information and advice on the best way to get appropriate treatment

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