Scary mode

I’ve noticed something interesting: whenever life goes into Scary Mode, that’s when I tend to be strongest. I don’t know why it works that way but it’s often been the case. Financial disasters were the exception; those always just made my anxiety worse.

Yesterday was not a good day with regard to my husband’s chemo. He came home from work and said he felt very sick, but I could see it on his face before he said anything. He looked like he was going to vomit any second. Though I was scared, I switched into Get Shit Done mode, my usual modus operandi when things feel scary for real.

Time for a confession of sorts: vomit is my #1 phobia. Someone who claimed to be a friend “accidentally” sent me a graphic video of someone throwing up, claiming she didn’t know that was in it. But given the fact that she knew it was my hugest phobia, I found that hard to believe. That was just one small factor in my wake-up call that she wasn’t a friend I should have trusted. I seem to have that problem a lot, trusting the wrong people. I’m getting better about it, though—possibly by veering too far to the other side. I notice red flags sooner now and give people fewer chances.

My vomit phobia has gotten much better over the years. I can see it on a TV show or video and not replay it over and over in my mind anymore like I did before. If my phobia was at a 90/100 before, it’s probably at about a 50 today. (I’ve read that there are some people whose vomit phobia—also called emetophobia—is so bad, they can’t even handle seeing the word “nauseous.”) Now I’m only scared of seeing people I love get sick or of getting sick myself.

So anyway, back to the vomit phobia. I don’t know why I have it but I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. Many things I’ve read suggest it’s a reaction to trauma, some of which I remember and some of which I don’t. I have a lot of trauma I’ve suppressed and this is one manifestation of it. It’s also rooted in fear of losing control, which I also have and is a reason I don’t get drunk. But as you can imagine, it makes it challenging that my husband’s going through chemo. So far he hasn’t thrown up but today was definitely the closest he’s come.

I had to bring him things that I thought would help him feel better (not knowing if he’d barf in front of me.) I had to help come up with contingency plans in case it happens to him while driving. I had to take over dinner plans and come up with an on-the-spot solution for me and the one kid who was at home. And I didn’t freak out. I just got it done.

I think that realistically, he’s going to have to call his oncologist and ask for a lower dose on the chemo meds. He had to do something similar with his very first round of chemo, when they blasted him with full force and it was way too much. I think his current dose is not sustainable, especially given that the effects are cumulative and he’s only halfway through the first round so far.

I know that eventually confronting my fear is going to be part of the cancer journey. There will likely be a time when I do actually see him throw up. And suddenly I know that when it does happen, I’ll be okay.

Because whether it’s a fear everyone understands (like when he was in the hospital) or one nobody does (like vomit), when the time comes for me to be strong, I face it head on. Scary Mode calls for me to be strong and I know that I always am.

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