Hilary's story

Most of us find vomit unpleasant, but even the mention of it makes Hilary Fraser panic.

In fact, as this page contains the words vomit, sick and throwing up, she probably won't be able to read it.

Her condition, known as emetophobia, is one of the 10 most common phobias in the UK, according to Anxiety UK.

Vomiting is a momentary loss of control and a cause of embarrassment for Hilary, 55, who lives in Bournemouth. "If I'm sick, I always need someone with me to reassure me," she says. "Being sick on my own is my worst nightmare."

She has a similar, but much milder, reaction to sneezing or hiccups in public. "If I sneeze more than three times, I go into a panic," she says. "The sickness itself isn't so much of a problem. It's the unexpected loss of control that I can't deal with. I'm a control freak. I'm comfortable when I'm in control. I don't like surprises."

Seeing other people vomit is enough to make her sick. "The sight and smell can make me gag," she says. "I was out on my own the other day and somebody in a shop said 'six' and I misheard it as 'sick'. I suddenly went bright red and started shaking and sweating. I had a full-blown panic attack."

Hilary's phobia began when she was at school. She remembers one year when several pupils had a sickness bug. "People were being sick in front of me," says Hilary.

The only time she has been able to control her phobia was when her three children were growing up. "My daughter could throw up at the drop of a hat, so I kind of became desensitised to it," she says. "But when they all left home and I was no longer exposed to it, the symptoms returned."

Hilary has never seriously considered treatment. She believes that nothing is effective. A doctor told her that it was normal to be put off by vomit. "I don’t think people understand how paralysing it can be," she says.

Her fear of sickness means she avoids public transport and most public lavatories, doesn’t go on holiday and does all of her shopping online.

She's a full-time carer for her husband, who suffers from the effects of a head injury. "My life is based around the home. I stick to my safe places: my house, my garden and my sister's place," she says. "Gardening is a passion. Depending on the weather, I spend two hours a day gardening."

Her other passion is distance learning and she is very proud of being an Open University graduate. "Distance learning is my window on to the world," she says.

"I accept that I can't do some things. I don't live a life that other people would like, but I manage. I'm happy most of the time."

Page last reviewed: 14/01/2016
Next review due: 01/01/2019