This is part 2 of my personal tale of how I was able to overcome a phobia and go from emetophobic to thriving.
When I moved to the U.S. in 1995, I did not realize how much of a one-way trip I would be making. I did not go home (on a plane) for anything short of family emergencies for a period of 20 years. Still, I managed to keep my secret. Only those closest to me knew about my phobia. For other people I gave excuses. For some reason, I was more comfortable explaining my lack of travel as a fear of flying than as emetophobia. Even my step-kids did not know about it – how I got through the experimental teenage years I will never be able to explain.
And then I reached a tipping point. I was managing a team of people located in the U.S. and India. I had a great relationship with the team, and we did some wonderful team-building work. Then the invitation came… “will you come to India and meet the rest of the team?”
India has always fascinated me. My grandfather had served in India and I had always wanted to see the country first hand. I wanted to scream “YES!” but knew I had to say no.
I don’t know why this was the final straw that made me look for something new. There had been many opportunities that I had missed out on, and obligations I had failed to meet because of my phobia. In that moment, I found myself thinking “Enough! This phobia has stolen enough! I have to get control over it now.”
Before I said the inevitable “no”, I emailed my sister. Telling her that I knew it was hopeless, I admitted a secret desire to go, and she said … nothing! I don’t know why I didn’t start concocting my reasons there and then for not going. Instead, I waited. I discussed the impending trip with my husband. He knew my relationship with my team and could see how much I wanted to be able to do this.
Finally, my sister sent me a long email. Contrary to my belief (low self-esteem) that she had just had enough of me and my phobia, she had been searching for and researching options. And then, with a flourish, she presented me with a coaching program from the UK. She sent me links, and testimonials. She told me she had read all about it, and she thought it just might work. I scoffed, it was only six weeks to the trip. What could possibly work in six short weeks? Years of therapy had not made a dent. She encouraged me to try, pointed out that I had very little to lose and I ordered the book.
Just so you know, my sister is a psychologist and I have enormous regard for her work and her opinion. That made me slightly less skeptical than I might otherwise have been. By the time the book came I only had four weeks until the trip. I was already getting vaccinations, visas and panic attacks! I had told my colleagues I would go, but they should know that I am a terrible flyer. Again, I denied the real reason for my anxiety and played down the extent of it. 18 hours of flying to land in a country renowned for water and food related diseases!
A senior manager, on hearing I was making my first trip to India, sought me out to share his story. He told me that on his first (and only) trip he was airlifted out to Germany after he became severely dehydrated following food poisoning. He had never even made it into the office. Other well-meaning colleagues told me to cover the taps in the bathroom to prevent me mindlessly drinking the tap water. Others recommended that I only drink hot water and alcohol (not a solution for an emetophobic!)
I was a wreck. I could not believe I had been so stupid as to say yes! My husband was driven crazy with my obsessing and anxiety. And I started the program. The creator, Rob Kelly, tells us often how emetophobics don’t stick with the program, how they like to skip to the good bits at the end, looking for the punchline. I wasn’t quite that bad, but faced with limited time, I rushed through the book, doing all the exercises at record breaking speed.
Even as I rushed through, I knew I was not getting the full benefit, and I promised myself I would have another more thorough go at the program when I returned. I went to the doctor and asked for valium – for my fear of flying. The doctor commiserated and said, “one pill and a glass of wine and you will sleep all the way!”
The day came and my husband drove me to the airport. I popped a pill. Two hours later I was on the plane and…… I enjoyed it! I enjoyed the food, watched movies, read books and relaxed(!). 22 hours later I arrived in India. I certainly suffered culture shock – I had never been anywhere before that at 3 am was so crowded and so hot. I saw stray dogs sleeping in the airport.
There were people everywhere. But even so, I laughed with my two male colleagues that I only had a carry-on and they had checked HUGE suitcases. And there I was in India.
The trip was unbelievable in so many ways. The people, the sites, the food, the welcome, the history, the animals, the buildings, the traditions – they all fascinated and entranced me. There I was IN INDIA!
On the way home, I stopped in London and met my sister for lunch. All I could say was “I did it! I went to India!” Based on experience I should have added “and I came back!” I could not thank her enough for finding a skills-based program that could really help me, and pushing me to pursue it. For the first time, I knew things were possible. Certain there was more that I could glean from the program, I took more time and really worked with the material.
So, you may ask, what changed? What is the secret?
There is no secret, no magic bullet. I went through a training program, and we train hard, but it is all very empowering. It was easy to understand – sometimes it felt like common sense – and it is ALL evidence based. That is very important for a skeptic like me. Through the program and the help of a consultant I learned to understand and manage my thinking, build my self-esteem, and develop the ability to cope.
And then I needed to learn new ways of thinking. I trained!
Just as I would train for a triathlon in years gone by, I trained to think helpfully instead of helplessly. Unless we are very fortunate, no-one trains us in how to manage our emotions, and we usually copy the models in front of us, many of whom have had poor models themselves.
This year I flew – medication and anxiety free – to the U.K. for a conference. I stood on the stage speaking about my experience, and I looked around the room at people who had experiences like mine or worse than mine who, like me, discovered it is never too late. We can re-train any time.
Originally published at www.alle2thrive.com