I have one real phobia in life and it is idiotic. It is an intense and crippling fear of puke (Emesis, I have learned, is the medical term for throwing up). I’m not sure why this fear came about or got so out-of-control. Growing up my brother had a sensitive stomach. When he regularly got sick I’d be subjected to terrifying hurling and heaving sounds, similar to those I imagine a lion mauling a hyena makes, emanating from our family’s bathroom. My best friend, who is a psychologist, thinks he is the culprit (sorry Manny). Whatever the reason, the sight of vomit, the sound of vomit, the remote possibility that someone might vomit within 50 feet of me, makes me feel, well, like I’m going to do the deed myself. I’ll save the everyday implications of having this phobia and being a mom for another post. Today, I write to you from the beautiful beaches of Jamaica to share my long, emesis-phobia-filled journey to paradise.
Almost every year since I met Max, we have spent President’s Day Weekend at his grandma’s 55+ retirement community condo in Boca. In 2011, we took Addy and Zack for the first time. They were 18 months old. I worried that they would be a handful on the flight but was pleasantly surprised when they slept through take-off, had a blast during the flight (which included chowing down on an entire box of Annie’s cheddar bunnies) and were generally in optimal form. That is, until we started to descend into Miami. Addy was sitting on my lap and I noticed little beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Her previously spirited demeanor pulled a 180 and she turned desperately quiet. “Do you think she’s OK?” I asked Max, who was sitting next to me with Zack on his lap. “She’s fine.” He replied dismissively. “Uh oh, I think she just gagged!” I said frantically. “What are you talking about? She is totally fi—“ and before he could properly eat his words, Addy gagged one more time and painted Row 22 an Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies shade of bright orange.
While I was able to compose myself enough to clean up the mess, I was in shock. I pretty much spent the rest of our long weekend obsessing over whether or not this was a fluke. Every time I thought about the flight home, I broke out into a cold sweat. Was there a harmless way I could guarantee Addy would sleep through the entire flight? Could I tape a barf bag to her chin so that the mess would be contained if she did puke? Could each of the four of us pass for 55 so we could live in Boca Lago forever and never get on an airplane again? Of course, the answer to all of these questions was no. And, of course, she barfed all over the place on the flight home.
For the rest of 2010, I swore to Max that I was never getting on another plane with Addy. He told me I was a nut job. When December rolled around and he suggested we book our President’s Day flights, I seriously contemplating bailing, but eventually realized that I really needed to figure out how to get over this crippling fear. Neither of us had traveled much with our families as kids and we had promised ourselves we’d see the world with ours one day.
I started researching ways to conquer phobias. Therapy would take too long and would probably require some sort of horrifying exposure exercise, like bathing in a vat of vomit, so I ruled it out. My brother generously offered to make a recording of his puking noises so I could listen to it over and over to desensitize myself. I declined. Short on good options, I ultimately decided to go with the obvious route: hypnosis. It actually turned out to be more like meditation or guided imagery. We worked on envisioning me sitting in a movie theater, laughing hysterically, while watching a movie of Addy projectile vomiting on the plane. I was instructed to play the movie in my head forwards and backwards, in fast forward and slow motion, all while imagining I was relaxing, listening to Come Away With Me by Norah Jones. Needless to say, six weeks of meditation and imagery did not make me feel less freaked out about the flight. All it did do was make me look like a big moron for thinking I could dump this phobia in six weeks with a few imagination sessions.
In the end, what got me through Family Florida trip #2 was the simple solution of going back to my roots. I am a Type A, high strung, NYC mom. What would such a person do in my situation? What else but buy a bunch of Dramamine, four pairs of anti-nausea wristbands, a bottle of Motioneaze herbal motion sickness ointment, two boxes of Queasy Pops lollipops for kids, a towel poncho and a roll of kitchen garbage bags. Then, run to the doctor to get my very first prescription for Xanax. In between ripping on me for being completely mental, Max offered to book a 3 + 1 seating configuration (3 seats together and the seat across the aisle) so that I could sit somewhat solo and keep my insanity contained while he took one for the team and sat in between Addy and Zack (with Addy in the window of course). Thanks to my lunacy, and Max’s understanding, Addy did not get airsick on either flight and I passed out, slumped in my seat with my mouth hanging open and drool dripping down my chin.
I have come a long way since this past February, although I have not completely conquered my anxiety around flying with Addy. When Max proposed we book a trip to the Caribbean with the kids for the holidays, I quickly said yes and stifled the tiny voice in my head asking “what if she pukes?” I prepared our little “Air Sick Addy” kit without the sound of my heart thumping in my ears. I even passed on the Xanax and ventured to the airport with my neuroses unchecked. A little deep breathing got me through take off and, when Addy screamed her head off because her ears were popping on the descent into Jamaica, I let Max handle it and kept my tight chest to myself. Although I am getting better, it may take a few more years of puke-free flights before I stop worrying so much about this. Addy will certainly be taking Dramamine before every trip until she’s old enough to test out a med-free flight without me. But for now, I’m accepting my current mix of function/dysfunction and, lucky for me, Max is too. After all, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to snap a photo of this today…
Do you have any silly phobias or anxieties that you’ve tried to beat? Please share your stories and any tricks on how you conquered them!