broken walls and narratives

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Archive for the tag “emetophobia”

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

H. Bradford

11/28/17

(Trigger warning for anyone with emetophobia or an aversion to stories about gastrointestinal illness…and anyone who doesn’t want to read about gross sickness stuff)

I haven’t really written anything this month.  Sorry that the one thing that I took time to write is about…getting sick.  But, it was a big event this weekend.  This narrative is not flattering or fun.  It is the story of me and my pal, Norovirus.  I feel that if we were both characters in a novel, there is enough tension and antagonism that we might even love each other…in that Batman/Joker sort of way (that the “other” defines you).  What a weird thought.  I had a lot of time to have weird thoughts this weekend.   Norovirus is my nemesis, but like any nemesis, it grows familiar through obsession.  It was certainly no stranger on Thanksgiving.


I’ve come a long way in my journey to overcome emetophobia.   In other years, I had panic attacks as the holidays approached since it is prime time for winter vomiting bug…aka…norovirus.  I would fret over my food and stay inside.  But, having come a long way, I didn’t think much of it this year…or at least not as much as other years.  Even though Thanksgiving at the shelter inevitably means norovirus.  As predictable as the shortening days, the shelter will experience norovirus in November.  Sure enough, many residents, though mostly children, vomited through my nine day stretch of shifts.  One person vomited in the kitchen and in the office.  I always find this befuddling.  The kitchen and dining room are the absolute worst places to vomit- seeing as norovirus can spread through vomit particles launched through the air.  Yet, this seems to rank highly on everyone’s Top 5 Best Vomit Spots in the shelter.  In any event, it isn’t really surprising that at 2am on Thursday night I began to feel a little ill.  At first I thought it was hunger, since I hadn’t eaten since 6pm.  I ate some leftover stuffing, but became increasingly bloated and uncomfortable.  At 4am, the liquid diarrhea began.  This was followed by nausea and a single retch.  By 4:30, I had used the bathroom three times and felt that this was just the beginning.  I decided that I needed to leave (leaving my coworker alone and rushing home).


I drove home without incident, hurried to unlock the door, and raced upstairs to the toilet to dry heave twice and turn around for some more diarrhea action.  This was about when the searing stomach ache began.  It felt as though someone was stabbing me in the stomach with scissors.  The next two hours was a lovely relay race from my bed to the bathroom to take turns retching and shitting green swamp water.  (Yes, this is all very unpretty, but this story isn’t meant to be attractive).  I dry heaved hard four times at six a.m.  (I am not sure why nothing comes up, but it had already been four hours since I had eaten so maybe there was nothing to come up.)   My usual sources of relief: emetrol and pepto bismol did nothing.   I felt weak and was not able to drink much, but sometimes sipped tiny amounts of water through my teeth.  The stomach pain continued nonstop for eight hours.  This time was spent in moments of fitful sleep or pitiful whimpering.

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My trusted allies failed me…


I watched the time.  Time is a friend when stomach bugs hit.  The worst symptoms don’t last forever and do tend to slow down over time.  It took time for things to slow down.  It took eight hours for the stomach cramps to go away.  The nausea did improve and the dry heaving stopped (mostly because I willed myself to stop it- as I was too worn out to endure the effort of punching up my innards).   But, the diarrhea was remarkably constant.  Another remarkable characteristic of the diarrhea was how uncontrollable it was.  While I have certainly had my share of the “green apple trots” as my grandpa used to call it, I have never had uncontrollable “trots.”    Yes.  Indeed, the deluge of darkness arrived without herald or the slightest urge.  In other words, I pooped myself….more than once…without even feeling like I needed to go, was going to go, or that “going” was going to happen.   It was as if a magical spigot was suddenly turned on…and ta da!  That was a first in my life time.   Now, admitting this makes me feel like a swamp monster.  But really, it was not in my capacity to predict or control this bodily function.  That is humbling.  And disgusting, of course.  But, as I mentioned earlier, time is a friend.  By the late evening on Friday I was able to suck on ice and everything had slowed down.  However, I was met by a new symptom: severe body aches. Image result for green apple


Being sick is a learning opportunity.  The body aches were severe and made it hard to rest.  Still, they were preferable to the other symptoms.  I could not take any Tylenol because I had no desire to ingest more than ice.  So, I just wined quietly to myself as I curled up into various positions.  These body aches, while annoying, at least show that my body was trying to fight the virus.  The lower half of my body was where most of the pain was concentrated.   I guess that when the immune system makes antibodies, it also releases histamines to the infected area- which dilate the blood vessels and allows for more antibodies to pass through.  But, the histamines can pass to other areas of the body, where they trigger pain receptors.   I am not knowledgeable about health or medicine, but it is comforting to think of when I don’t feel well.   Once I felt well enough to drink enough water and have something in my stomach, I eventually took some Tylenol and this pain subsided (but by then it had been another eight hours).  From then on, I slept until about 2pm on Saturday.  This meant that I spent about 34 hours in bed (or between bed and the toilet).


When I awoke, the sun was shining and it was a balmy 34 degrees F.  I put on several layers and decided that the most logical thing I could do was celebrate my recovery with a brisk, wintery hike in the Superior Municipal Forest in search of a geocache.  This was certainly an ambitious goal after sustaining myself on ice cubes.  I didn’t have my appetite back yet, but set out anyway….since I was done being sick.  Nope, I wasn’t done being sick.  I went for a hike, against my better judgment, feeling weary and light headed.  But, I stayed out anyway (yes, I know this was foolish but I wanted to be better and was tired of staying in bed).  I didn’t find the cache, but was determined that the hike was what I needed.  After an hour of hiking/searching for the cache, I returned to my car.  Even though I felt rather weak, I decided to try to find another cache.  I also failed to find this one.  By the third attempt to find a cache, I felt that I could no longer stay awake.  I promptly went home and fell asleep for several more hours.  However, by the time I awoke, I did have my appetite back and a bit more energy.  By Sunday afternoon, I had indeed recovered (and had a more successful attempt at hiking and geocaching).


The illness gave me a lot of time to think.  My roommates were gone-celebrating Thanksgiving with their families over the weekend- spare one roommate who I don’t know well yet.  The internet was not working Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  So, I was alone and a bit bored.  Even the television converter box was malfunctioning.  I didn’t have the energy for reading books- so I mostly sat in bed and thought about things.  The topic at the top of my mind was norovirus, of course.  There is something so terrible about norovirus.  Really, there is very little that can be done to prevent its spread.  While it is only spread through the oral-fecal route or by airborne vomit particles, it is extremely virulent.  A tiny drop of vomit or pooh contain millions of viral particles.  It only takes a few to become sick.  At the same time, many cleaners do not destroy the virus.  For instance, clorox wipes do not destroy it.  Alcohol sanitizer does not destroy it.  At work, I bleach surfaces and door knobs at night, but it isn’t actually known how much bleach is needed to destroy norovirus.  The diluted bleach solution that I use to clean the office and shelter may be as ineffective as the commercial cleaning supplies at the shelter.  Therefore, if norovirus is around you…it is safe to assume that you will probably become ill (though hand washing does work and is probably the only way to really avoid it.)

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Kills 99.9% of germs.  Guess what that .1% includes?  Hmmph….I say rise up against the .1% and take back the means of cellular reproduction!!


I also thought about viruses themselves.  Viruses are just plain weird.  Scientists had no idea that they existed until speculations in the late 1800s that there might be something smaller than a bacteria.   There really is something impressive about the idea that viruses were discovered at all- considering they are so tiny and not even alive.  Norovirus was discovered in the 1920s (which seems recent, but ALL viruses are pretty recently known).  Viruses are all around us.  Relatively few make us sick, but they attack all life forms.  Thinking about viruses made me really, really, thankful for vaccines.  I mean…anti-viral drugs are rare and really complicated (involving confusing the process by which viruses replicate themselves in cells).  So, vaccines are pretty awesome and a lot easier to understand and seemingly to develop than anti-viral drugs.  Norovirus does not have a vaccine, but there have been clinical trials for a vaccine in Japan and Ohio.  So, someday there could be a vaccine- which would be pretty awesome- since norovirus kills about 200,000 people in the US each year (and of course, countless more in developing countries).  Plus, norovirus is the second most common illness in the US after the common cold.   Some may say that I am a dreamer, but I want a world where people don’t poop themselves or at least not as much.  But on a more serious note, it would actually end a lot of mundane human suffering/real suffering and death.   Yep, as I sat in bed, I thought- give me ALL the VACCINES.   I also thought about the anti-vaccination movement.  While I know that for those who are against vaccination it is a serious issue- I just have to think- c’mon…viruses suck SOOOOO much.  HIV/AIDS has killed 25 million people!  Influenza killed like 3-6% of the global population in 1918/19!  In the throes of my viral misery, it was very easy to be on TEAM VACCINATE. Image result for norovirus I will admit that this orange tinted version of norovirus is sort of cute.  You are my sunshine…my only sunshine….


Oddly enough, I also thought about Rick and Morty, a cartoon I have seen a few times.  I thought that maybe Rick is such a jerk because he can see himself in the past, present, future, and all universes.  I can only see myself in the past and present.  I thought that if I could time travel, my advice to myself would be “don’t be afraid.”  One of my fears has been throwing up, but there are lots of little things.   I was too miserable to even fear throwing up.  This is what actually happens when I am truly sick.  The anxiety really happens in the expanse of calm moments between illnesses.  And, norovirus is unpleasant and traumatic enough to worry about- but, it does end.   It may take a day or three days, but it ends.  Ultimately it is hard to control and possible to survive, so it is not worth fearing or worrying about.    So yes, past self- don’t be afraid.  Don’t be so fearful.  I really want past self to know that.  Present self is not really an adventurer.  I like tea, birds, books, hikes, quietude, etc.  Past self was always too afraid.  I want to be a jerk to past and present self.  I wish present self liked scuba diving, parasailing, rock climbing, roller coasters, sky diving, etc.  I don’t.  I am more of the bookish, timid sort.  Present and past self- you suck.  See, I only see two parts of myself and I am already a jerk.  So, maybe Rick just sees so many versions of himself that it lends itself to being awful.  I mean, in at least several multiverses I am still pooping myself.  That is gross and intolerable. All humans are limited by their own mediocrity, mortality, and social conditions.  Even if I were entirely fearless, I would be met by the limits of being born into this particular place and time- this person-this body- this class and gender within patriarchal capitalism.  To live is to come to terms with limitations of what is possible and to compromise wants against realities.  At least I can only see two worlds of disappointment, but if I could see all versions of myself I would probably become soured by the infinite pointlessness of all of our struggles.   So…that is what I thought about.  Rick and Morty and how it relates to norovirus.


I thought about other things as well, but it would be boring to write about all of my thoughts.   I am happy that I am feeling better.  At least I probably won’t get norovirus for a few months (immunity does not last very long).   I survived it.  It was the second worst bout of stomach illness I have had in my life.  The number one worst was only worse because it was on an airplane.   Now that I am feeling better, I had some fun outdoors and even saw a new bird yesterday.  Things aren’t so bad.  Norovirus won a battle, but didn’t win the war….

 

Travel and Overcoming Fear

Travel and Overcoming Fear

by H. Bradford

When I was younger, I never really considered going to Africa.  Although I could make some basic differentiation between countries and histories, it always seemed like a place that that was scary.  It was a place where there was war, disease, poverty, crime, and uncertainty.   It is only in becoming an activist, and by extension, becoming interested in issues of racism and anti-colonial struggle, that I developed any interest in Africa at all.  In subtle and not so subtle ways, racism shapes the way that many people view Africa.  Racism is such an inescapable American experience, that it is not possible to think of Africa as a continent in the same way we think of other continents.  With that said, I recognized a long time ago that I was afraid to travel there.  I was afraid to get sick or that something bad would happen.  I feared this more than other destinations.  But, I often tell myself, “life begins where fear ends.”  Yeah, some Indian mystic said that.  I would almost rather that Cecil Rhodes or Theodore Roosevelt said it.  I believe that the things that we fear limit our lives.  I have a lot of fear, but I don’t want to let fear limit what I do in life.  My life is already limited by my geography, gender, class, place in history, etc.  While I can never overcome fear, I can at least challenge it from time to time.  So, that is one reason why I wanted to go to Africa.  I simply didn’t want to miss out on going out of fear!  And, after figuring out where I wanted to go and how I wanted to go about it, I started to feel a lot less fearful.  Of course, my brother injected some more fear into my mind.  He was also of the impression that Africa was a monolithic continent of war, poverty, and disease.  He had a rough time visiting some Pacific Island nations and questioned if I was ready to take on the third world.  Life begins where fear ends…so, I set off anyway, despite some advice to reconsider.  Thus, here are some reflections on my fears, some scary situations, and how I overcame them.


Lions:

I have never actually been anywhere where the wildlife is something to fear.  In Minnesota, we have bear and wolves, but both mostly leave people alone.  Deaths connected to bear and wolf attacks on humans happen by the handful in a century in Minnesota.  In southern Africa, this wasn’t the case.  There is so much wildlife in some areas, that it hardly seems real.  There is a false sense of security, since animals are everywhere.  They hardly seem wild at all, as they become a normal part of the adventure.  However, while camping in the Okavango delta, we met some lion researchers.  A group of lions was staying on the other side of the river from our camp site.  In fact, I could hear them at night.  Elephants also were known to pass through the campground from time to time.  This made for a very interesting night of sleeping, as I could hear many animal noises outside of my tent.  A tent is not a very secure sleeping arrangement in the midst of lions and elephants.  Worse than this, I had to use the restroom at about 4 in the morning.  This involved unzipping my tent and walking through a narrow path…a path lined with tall grass…about 200 meters to the toilets.  Now, I was very afraid.  It was dark out and I had to walk through a gauntlet of grass that seemed like the perfect hideout for a giant cat.  I overcame the fear by trying to be rational.  A.) What are the chances that a wild animal has been waiting in that very spot for my passing?  B.) How often our tourists actually killed by wild animals?  C.) I need to use the restroom so what other choice is there?   Still, there is nothing like the darkness of night, the call of nature, and the sound of unfamiliar animals to draw out a primal fear of being mauled to death.


Fear Level: 3

Fear Strategy: Trying to use reason

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Scorpions:

Early on in the trip, I became fixated on scorpions.  While there are snakes and spiders to worry about, scorpions made me feel the most uneasy.  No one else seemed to share this concern.  There is something villainous about scorpions.  Even their dens are shaped like the letter v.  V for Villain.  Some scorpions glow in the dark.  Some are deadly.  Even a relatively benign scorpion could create a sting that might require medical attention.  Doctors and medical facilities were not always easy to access.  Now, to overcome the fear of scorpions, I became angry!  I actually told myself, “I am not going to get stung by some f’ing scorpion.”  I would say this as I checked my bag, shoes, the corners of the tent, and under the mattress.  The anger created determination to hunt down the little villains and prevent them from ruining my day.  Anger creates action and purpose.  Some say it leads to the dark side, but, clearly they have never dealt with scorpions.  Oh, I didn’t see any scorpions the entire trip.  I saw some scorpion holes and one or two were spotted near our campsite.  However, no one was bothered by them.


Fear Level 2:

Fear Strategy: Anger

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Even the home of the scorpion looks menacing.

 

Spiders:

I do not have a phobia of spiders, but at the same time, I rarely find them to be a welcome addition to my life.  While in Namibia, I went on an educational hike with a San guide.  The purpose of the hike was to learn more about San culture and survival techniques.  The guide was wonderful and taught us many things about the wildlife.  Towards the end, he spotted some spider tracks and began digging into the sand.  Soon, he uncovered a spider tunnel and grabbed the spider in his hand.  The spider was folded up, gently sleeping in the cold, early morning.  This was a pleasant way to “enjoy” a spider.  But, just when I thought that I was safe, the spider uncurled itself, doubled in size, and hurled itself towards the group.  I actually let out a scream.  Yes, I screamed.  I was so surprised by the sudden explosion in the spider’s activity that I screamed.  This was embarrassing.  The guide talked about how he and his father lived around deadly animals, yet remained calm.  He said that when confronted with a deadly snake, like a black mamba, he learned to remain still, even letting it crawl over him, and it would go on its way.  Finally, he said that people who fear/hate spiders, snakes, or other creatures are the same people who hate San people.  This made me feel bad for my fear of the spider, or for that matter the scorpions.  Fear sometimes comes from a lack of control, experience, or understanding, so I can see why people who fear animals might also fear people.  At least for me, I find that my fear of creatures lessens as I have more experience and knowledge.  Thus, I tried to reframe my fear.  The spider was actually quite beautiful, my my reaction was because it surprised me.  As for scorpions, my relationship remained pretty antagonistic, but I guess it is neat that some of them can glow in the dark and spray their venom.  They are 430 million years old, so we are evolutionary embryos compared to their long history on this planet.  I can appreciate their place in the world.  I think they have a fierce looking appearance.  The constellation Scorpio appeared brightly in the Southern Hemisphere sky, a reminder of their hidden existence all around me.


Fear Level: 1

Fear Strategy: Cultivate Understanding

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Sickness:

I have emetophobia, or the fear of throwing up.  This is an actual phobia.  However, my fear has diminished over the years as I have been thrust into confronting it.  I work at a Domestic Violence shelter, thus I am constantly exposed to a lot of germs and vomiting.  I have become pretty sick over the past few years, with a very memorable bout of extreme nausea and explosive diarrhea on my flight back from Prague.  I have had to accept that I really don’t have a lot of control over vomiting.  Yet, the fear remains.  Travel to less developed countries results in exposure to more diseases and more challenging food and water situations.  Overcoming this fear requires all of my fear strategies.  I need to be reasonable.  I need to give up my need to be in control.  But, at the same time I make preparations in case the worst happens.  As such, I always pack ginger candies, pepto-bismol, and Emetrol.  These things can stave off mild digestive problems and comfort major digestive episodes.  I also try to pack a plastic bag in my purse, so that if I must vomit, I have a baggy for it.  One part of my fear is that I will have to vomit, but that there will be nowhere to do it (thus I make a mess on myself, others, or the floor).  These precautions allow me to face the digestive unknowns that travel present.   At the same time, I have to be rational.  A person can get food poisoning here in the U.S., and often this does happen!  So, even though our water sanitation and refrigeration is more predictable, nowhere in the world is safe from sickness!


Besides my phobia of run of the mill vomiting, I was worried about more serious health risks.  It seems that almost every traveler that I speak with has some horror story of a great sickness they obtained.  Sometimes it is malaria.  Sometimes it is dysentery.  These tales often end with the traveler waking up in a foreign hospital or passing out somewhere, only to be attended to by a friendly denizen of their destination.  One story resulted in an unconscious trip directly to the Mayo Clinic.  Travelers laugh about these stories, since they lived to tell them.  They terrify me.  Well, I really don’t want a story like this.  So, again, I sought out some pre-trip preparation.  This brought me to a travel clinic and resulted in a barrage of vaccines, malaria pills, and anti-diarrhea tablets.  However, it also bought me the confidence that perhaps I wouldn’t become deathly ill.  Thankfully, I didn’t!


Fear Level: 4

Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Sexual Assault/Crime:

Another one of my travel fears is that I will be the victim of sexual assault or a crime.  South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.  40% of South African women have been raped.  This is a terrifying number.  I have never been sexually assaulted while traveling, but as a solo female traveler, I worry about it.  This is why I often join up with groups when I travel (though I try to do activities on my own, I like to have a group so that if something were to happen, there is a group that expects my return).   I don’t know what I can do to absolutely safe guard myself against sexual assault.  I don’t drink alcohol.  I avoid walking alone at night (though the next items on my list will show that this doesn’t always work out).  I am not a very social person, so when I travel, I am not really hanging out with men.  Still, it is impossible to avoid all risks.  While sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim, there are instances of strangers doing this.  The best I can do is try to be alert of my surroundings.  At the same time, I know that because of rape culture, if anything happens to me, I would be blamed for being foolish, going out alone, or putting myself in danger.  It angers me.  Maybe the best defense against being raped is to fight against rape culture.


I also worry about being the victim of a crime.  This is a more plausible concern, since muggings and pick-pocketing are common travel experiences.  My trip was going to end in Johannesburg, which has reputation of having a high crime rate.  At least as of 2010, 50 people were murdered each day in South Africa.  I think my fear of crime did limit my enjoyment of Johannesburg in particular.  I did not stay there long at the end of my trip.  Even the resident taxi and shuttle drivers said that it was unsafe to drive after 9pm.  I went on a Hop-on/Hop-off tour, but that was about all I did in Johannesburg (and that tour was far less eventful than the Cape Town one, which you will read about next!).  Beyond limiting my time in Johannesburg, I was afraid of having my money stolen.  While I am certainly wealthy compared to the majority of people in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, I am not a wealthy person.  I had a fixed budget.  Having money stolen would have been a hardship.  Also, because many of the places I travelled did not have ATMs or accept my Mastercard Debit card, I carried almost all of my money with me in cash.  This made me feel particularly vulnerable.  However, I did take a few precautions.  A.) I wore a money belt under my pants.  B.) I carried some money in a bra (I purchased a sports bra with re-moveable pads and put the money where the pads would have gone.  This was cheaper than buying a special travel bra).  C.) I carried a fake wallet with some expired cards, a few dollars, and some old IDs- so that I would have something to give someone in the case of a mugging.  D. )  I secured my travel purse zippers with carabiners, so that it could not be easily opened.   Thankfully, I have never been the victim of a pickpocket or mugger.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Hop on Hop off Bus from Hell:

Hop on/Hop off Buses are super dorky and ultra touristy.  You ride around in a giant red double decker bus while listening to an audio recording of your route.  Cities all around the world have them, and Cape Town is no different.  After returning from Robben Island, I thought that catching the Hop on/Hop off bus would be a great way to see the city, but also head to the Table Mountain.  Yes, the Hop on/Hop off bus actually went all the way to the Table Mountain!  It was a really extensive route with a lot to see.  So, off I went.  I made a stop at the Table Mountain, took the cable car up, and explored.  It was wonderful.  I felt like it had been a productive day.  Then, I took the bus back to the harbor.  I had studied the time table and the buses were in operation for another hour when I arrived back to the harbor.  Thus, I decided to stay on the same Hop on Hop off bus to do part of another loop (as this would take me back to near my hotel).


All of the tourists disembarked from the bus at the harbor.  I didn’t worry, as I figured that I was alone because it was near the end of the day and no one was interested in doing the loop at that time.  So, I stayed on the bus.  The driver said nothing and continued on the route.  Only, after a few stops on the route, the bus deviated from the route.  The driver picked up some friends and began making unofficial stops.  The bus veered further and further away from the route.  The recording stopped.  The bus deposited the driver’s friends.  I grew increasingly terrified with each passing second.  Finally, I just asked to get off of the bus- as I had no idea where it was going and no one seemed to mind the one white tourist who was sitting in their midst on what was clearly NOT the scheduled tour.  In retrospect, that particular bus was probably done for the day, even though the routes themselves had another hour.  I was terrified, so I disembarked…


Fear Level: 6

Fear Strategy: Flee

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 Run for your life!

This is part two of the previous story.  I thought my day was going to end with a Hop on/Hop off Tour.  Instead, the bus went rogue and I got off!  The only problem was that I wasn’t sure where I was or how to get back to my hotel.  The other problem was that it was getting dark.  After all, it was winter and the sun set pretty quickly once six pm rolled around.  As the sun set, the area took on a sinister look.  Markets folded up.  Businesses shuttered their windows and doors with metal gates.  I had a map, but I didn’t want to look vulnerable by opening it up on the street.  So, I ducked into a Burger King to study the map.  This was difficult, as I was not on the street, with the ability to compare streets with the map as I moved.  I ducked in and out a few times.  I thought I had a general idea of which way to walk, so I set off.


There are some things I try to do while wandering around in unfamiliar places if I feel unsafe.  One, I try not to look lost.  I try to walk quickly and confidently.  Two, I try to find a group of women to follow or walk with.  There is safety in numbers.  Well, there were zero women.  None.  Not one woman.  There were plenty of men loitering outside the closed businesses, socializing, smoking, and talking.  I was the only tourist, white person, and woman around.  It was scary to be different.  People asked me for money as I walked by.  I walked quickly, ignored everyone, and tried to just keep moving, even though I was lost and terrified.  A man grabbed my arm as I passed through group.  After that, I jerked my arm away and started running.


I don’t remember being that afraid before.  I am really glad that although I am a terrible jogger, I can run for a half an hour to an hour.  I kept jogging.  I watched an arm guard walk a car dealer to his car.  I jogged by police, asking them for directions.  They looked at me as if I was crazy.  There was a concern look in their faces as they told me how far I had to go to my hotel and how to get there.  I kept jogging.  I stopped at another hotel to make sure I was going the right way.  The bellman also looked concerned.


I finally made it back to my hotel.  This was met with relief and a rush of adrenaline that I had made it.  I made it!  I survived the crazy bus and my jog!  Was it wise to run?  Travel advice always says to be inconspicuous and purposeful.  Jogging draws attention.  However, I figured that if anyone wanted to hassle me, it would be too much trouble if I was moving too quickly.


Fear Level: 8

Fear Strategy: Flee

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I am a terrible runner.  But, I am thankful that I CAN jog.


Keep Calm and Don’t Get Trampled On:

There is a time to run and a time when it is not good to run.  I think that getting off the bus and running when I was afraid of my surroundings in Cape Town was an okay time to run.  I will end with a story about not running.  Now, I had camped in Africa for over 22 days before arriving in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe.  Throughout my trip I went on many wildlife drives.  These drives consisted of sitting in an open vehicle and searching for wildlife, often at watering holes.  There were many close encounters with wildlife, but at no point were we allowed to disembark from the vehicle.  This was the pattern throughout Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe thus far.  As such, when we went on our final wildlife drive in Matopos National Park, I assumed that it would follow this same pattern.  I was mistaken!


After driving some ways, the truck stopped and we were allowed to get out of the vehicle for a quick refreshment from the cooler of sodas.  I assumed that we would resume our drive, but the guide informed us that we were going for a hike.  This was really exciting!  I wasn’t offered many hiking opportunities because hiking is not safe in animal reserves.  Then, we were told that not only were we going to go for a hike, we were going to try to sneak up on some white rhinos.  Okay…what?


The guide was a rhinoceros expert who had actually been on the Animal Planet.  He told us that we could get close to the rhinos, as they couldn’t see very well.  However, our ability to get close to them required us to move carefully, stick together, and NOT RUN.  So, if anyone in the group got scared, they were not allowed to run or leave suddenly.  Our safety depended upon everyone in the group’s ability to remain collectively calm.  We were told that if we ran, we could get charged and trampled.


The group had some hesitations, but we headed out together in some scrubby brush and tall grass.  It didn’t take long before we spotted some rhinos.  We slowed down and those at the front of the group crouched in the grass.  By crouching and moving slowly, we were able to follow the small group as they grazed.  We took turns moving to the front to get a better view and better photos, tenderly stepping our way closer.  It was a little frightening.  Rhinos are enormous.  These enormous endangered animals were just a few feet away from us.  Each time they moved or stepped closer to us, I became a little afraid.  It seemed impossible that they didn’t see us, yet, they kept munching on their food and minding their own business.  Eventually they moved on, deeper into the thicket.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Staying Calm

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Trying to be as cool as a cucumber.


This isn’t a comprehensive list of every one of my fears!  And, I fear that talking about my fears makes light of the real conditions that people live in.  While it is funny to talk about my fears, it is not funny that so much of the world lives in conditions of poverty, disease, and danger.  At the end of the day, I get to return home, where there is clean water to drink and no threat of polio or typhoid.  At the end of the day, while I fear having money stolen, it would not sentence me to grinding poverty.  Nevertheless, I hope that the discussion of my fears helps to offer insight into how fear can be managed.  The world is amazing.  Fearless people inspire me.  I met a medical worker who traveled to West Africa during the ebola crisis as a volunteer.  That is fearless.  I met a woman who was in her 60s and went scuba diving with crocodiles at Victoria Falls.  Amazing!  I also hung out with a young Korean woman who was traveling across the entire continent of Africa all by herself, with limited English skills.  That is pretty fearless!  I will probably always be more limited by fear by those people.  Some fears can be overcome.  But, sometimes there is no negotiating with fear and you really do have to run!

Emetophobia: Redrawing the Border

It is embarrassing to admit, but I have emetophobia (fear of vomiting).  It is embarrassing because I think it makes me seem neurotic.  I don’t want to be neurotic.   Who wants to be some worry wart who frets over their food?  I sure don’t.

It began in the second grade.  I had a stomach bug and puked all over my pillow and bed.  My mother was upset over the mess and told me that if I puked again, I would have to clean it up.  I don’t know why, but this planted a dark seed of anxiety in my mind.  Any frustrated mother would say the same thing.  Until then, I hadn’t feared puking…but for some reason, after that incident, I began to fear vomiting.

I started sleeping with water by my bed in case I had to puke in the night.  The water, in my imagination, would help me not vomit.  I also started having panic attacks.  I felt my chest and throat tighten.  In my young brain, I mistook this for nausea or that I would soon throw up.  So, bus trips and car trips were a nightmare.   I feared that I would throw up, uncontrollably, in a confined space…making a huge mess.  I am a messy person?  Why does this matter?  I don’t know.  There is no logic to phobias.  This is also a source of shame, as I try to be a logical person.  The phobia is like a demon that possesses me, drawing out the worst traits of paranoia and irrationality.  I don’t believe in gods or ghosts, but I believe that vomiting is worse than death!

Anyway, for many years I suffered with this phobia.  I had panic attacks, feared road trips, feared carnival rides, feared unfamiliar food, feared restaurants, etc.  For many years, it was nameless.  I never knew that people could actually fear vomiting.  I thought I was a solidary weirdo with a bizarre fear.  But, I found that there are entire websites dedicated to it and that it is one of the more common 500 or so phobias that have been identified.

It is hard to explain what it is like having it.  It has shaded my life.  Whenever a new situation arises, I immediately think…”will this make me throw up?”  As such, in years past, I had anxiety flying… or going on boat rides or trying new foods.  In recent years, I have made some headway fighting this phobia.  The biggest breakthrough was realizing a.) I have a phobia.  b.) the phobia has a name.  c.) other people have this phobia.  To use the demon metaphor, perhaps having a name for it gave me some control over it…as I could research it and learn more about it.  Another boon for overcoming the phobia has been life experience.  The more I experience life, the more evidence I have against the irrationality of the phobia and the more exposure to the things that make me afraid.

Exposure.  Yikes.  When I was young, I feared seeing vomit on television and became afraid someone else vomited.  I feared new things, such as dissecting in biology class or unfamiliar smells.   However, I have learned that not all things cause vomiting.  I stopped fearing flying after not becoming ill during my first international flights.  The flying itself did not make me sick.  I have never become sick from being on a boat or sick from a new smell.   Vomit on television or on a sidewalk will not make me vomit.  So, slowly the phobia has shrunk down from its original form in my childhood.

I have also faced stomach bugs in recent years.  This has been a mixed experience.  Between the years of 1989-2010, I never vomited.  Not once. This is quite a record.  It seems almost impossible.   I even forgot what nausea was like- so I often mistook anxiety for nausea.  Then, in 2010, I caught a stomach bug.  I very quickly learned what nausea was (after missing out all those years).   I had a very unpleasant day.  I didn’t throw up, by a dry heaved for the first time since….second grade.   I cried.  I begged for anti-emetics.  I took Nausene and survived.   After surviving, I felt a little less afraid.

Then, things were calm again until I worked at the Boys and Girls Club.  Working with 80 kids that don’t often wash their hands is a recipe for all kinds of illnesses.  The year that I worked there, I got sick with stomach bugs three times.  Again, I never puked…but there were miserable bouts of dry heaving (which I suppose is close enough?).

I think that the worst nightmare was my trip to Eastern Europe.  Throughout the trip, I had a few bouts of diarrhea, nausea, and upset stomach.  It was unpleasant, but survivable.  However, on the morning of my flight back home…I was hit by something awful.  I used the bathroom six times in an hour…with a lot of watery diarrhea.  This was coupled with severe nausea.  To prevent myself from puking on the flight from Prague to Amsterdam, I could not move my body.  The slightest jostling upset the delicate balance in my stomach.  When I arrived in Amsterdam, I bought a Gatorade and had to wait in a long security line…feeling like I would explode from either end at any moment.  I had to throw out the Gatorade of course, passed through security, went to my gate, and dry heaved in the gate’s bathroom until my flight to the U.S. was announced.  Then, I spent 8 miserable hours in my seat with a blanket over my head…counting the minutes and hours.  I could not watch the movie or move one bit, as again, any movement triggered the extreme nausea that I was facing.  Never in my life have I been that nauseated and for THAT long.  I couldn’t drink water as even this upset my stomach.  Being trapped in a confined space with limited ability to vomit was hellish.

The past year, working at a shelter for women, has also exposed me to many germs.  Again, I have had stomach bugs a few times.  I even think I had food poisoning this summer when I went out for Thai food.  Each time I survive.  It isn’t pleasant.  But, I survive.  I suppose, in a small way, the phobia shrinks a little each time I survive a stomach bug.

Now, I am actually far less afraid.  I think the phobia is a skeleton of what it once was.  In the end, I am only truly afraid of puking in limited situations.  My main nightmare is becoming sick at work, with no one to cover my shift.  So, this is the fear of vomiting at work with an inability to escape my duties to be sick.  Another nightmare is becoming sick on a bus or vehicle with no place to vomit.   In the end, with my phobia far smaller, I see it’s naked ugliness.

The phobia is about control.  I fear vomiting because I can’t control it.  I can’t control how long it will last and where it will happen.  I can accept, to some degree, that I will get sick- and provided that I am near a bathroom or comfortable place- I can live with that.  But, what I really fear is lack of control over vomiting.

For example, I work at a shelter for domestic abuse.  There are sometimes fifty five people in the shelter.  The individuals live in closed quarters and many are children.  Add stress to the situation (which compromises the immune system), some lack of hygiene and lack of medical care…and there is really a hot bed for disease.  As such, we have many bouts of stomach bugs through the shelter over the year.  In fact, I really don’t think Norovirus ever actually leaves the shelter as we have stomach bug outbreaks every month or two.

As a rational person who doesn’t want to get sick, it is reasonable that I would want to CONTROL norovirus.  I can’t.  We use hand sanitizer in the office, but alcohol based sanitizers don’t really work against norovirus.  Hand washing is effective, but once I touch a door knob, keyboard, counter, or one of the hundreds of other things, my hands are infected again.  Worse, norovirus can travel through the air.  So, if you enter a room where someone has been ill, you can become sick from vomit or fecal particles in the air.   Worse still, it only takes 10-100 viral particles to make you sick.   A pin head sized piece of feces has millions of viral particles.   As such, a sick resident can carry just the tiniest droplet on their clothes or hands and make everyone sick.  And, even if a person becomes ill with norovirus, the immunity tends to be rather short.  I can’t think of any way to win against norovirus.  For all practical purposes, it cannot be controlled.  I bleach counters and surfaces…many things…at night with bleach and water.  Bleach kills it.  But, only until the shelter becomes dirty again when residents touch things.   I can see how this phobia might lend itself to OCD behavior as the habits to control it would require such behaviors (a lot of hand washing and cleaning).

When I go to work and know that people have been ill, it causes me anxiety.  It causes me anxiety because I fear that I will get sick and be at work, trying to take care of the shelter…with no reprieve to vomit.  I can’t control becoming sick.  As I have mentioned, norovirus is quite difficult to control.   The best I can do is control myself, by washing my hands and avoiding eating or touching my face.  However, even if I do my best to avoid putting anything near my mouth, this only prevents the oral-fecal route of contamination.  Airborne viral particles from vomit or feces cannot be controlled, lest I put on a mask.  So I worry.  This is where my phobia is the worst.

I could seek professional help.  I might benefit from counseling or an anti-anxiety drug.  However, perhaps because of the stigma of mental illness, I prefer to plod along on my own.  Already, I have brought my phobia down to a skeleton of its original form.  In the end, there are certainly times that I skip meals, avoid going places, or have panic attacks.  It makes life harder.  At the same time, I take pride in facing my fear.  Imagine if you once afraid of spiders.  You panicked when they were on television or at the zoo.  Then, through enduring spiders and facing life, the fear becomes smaller.  Maybe you travelled to the desert and saw a tarantula.  Maybe a spider fell on your shoulder when you went through the Amazon.  It was horrific.  But, you didn’t die.   At this point, the only spiders you fear might be in just a few places or situations (maybe you fear going into the basement or the garden shed).   That is how it has been with my phobia.  I have had the shits  and hellish nausea from Prague to Minneapolis!  But, I still saw Prague and all of Eastern Europe.

I once heard a quote that life begins where fear ends.  I didn’t learn until later that the quote is rather New Age-y and from Osho Rajneesh.  Although spirituality isn’t my thing, I found that the quote was a good sentiment.  Fear fences out many wonderful experiences.  If I had let the phobia truly rule my life, I would have never gone on a flight or travelled.  I would avoid working with children or domestic violence victims at the shelter.   My life would be very fenced in.  I don’t want that.  So, I hope that one day the phobia shrinks down to nothing, so I can live without being fenced in by this fear.   I am optimistic that it will.  I think it will as long as I push back against the fence and face the things that I fear.

 

 

 

 

 

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