Golden State Worrier: The Last Time I Threw Up Was 1978

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 8:50pm

In his bi-weekly column "Golden State Worrier," Daily Music writer Harry Krisnky gives some thoughts on the world, with a few long-winded phobias thrown in for good measure.

“The last time I threw up, it was 1978. I was in the back of my buddy’s pickup truck and I had been drinking Seagrams 7 and 7-Up — we used to call those seven and sevens. Anyway, I had eaten Cheetos before, so you can imagine what it looked like.” — My Dad

Almost any time someone in my family talks about throwing up, gin or the 1970s, my dad tells the story of the last time he puked. If it wasn't so disgusting, it would almost be cute.

I remember thinking about that story hunched over one of those robotic airplane toilets, about 35 thousand feet above rural Pennsylvania. I was projectile vomiting the last of the coffee and Odwalla SuperFood that had been percolating in my stomach. My own puke-abstinence streak was over.

I’d been going strong for eight years until The Airplane Fiasco, though it pales in comparison to my dad's 39-and-counting streak. Still, it’s respectable in its own right.

I’ll back up.

I woke up the day after my grandfather’s funeral and my stomach felt like it was upside down. I am terrified of flying, so I filed my morning stomach pains under “anxiety induced symptoms” and did my best to forget them. Still queasy when we got to the airport, I purchased a black coffee and an Odwalla SuperFood, which, as you already know, would eventually come back to haunt me, and anyone between rows 18 to 25 on my flight.

Among a set of mild to severe phobias and anxiety disorders I have, emetophobia — the fear of throwing up — is one of them. I’ve been pathologically afraid of vomiting for as long as I can remember.

Throwing up is fucking crazy. I’m sort of surprised more people aren't terrified of it. I mean come on, by the end, somehow, the inside of your body is on the outside of your body. Like what if humans had this weird kind of hiccup or cough that temporarily popped our eyeballs out, and we had to plug them back in whenever this annoying and uncomfortable eye-jaculation happened? It’s different, but not that different.

In truth, though, emetophobia is relatively uncommon. According to FearOf.net, it’s the 40th most common phobia, behind triskaidekaphobia, which is the fear of the number 13, and before gephyrophobia, the fear of bridges.

I think someone without capital A anxiety could still relatively easily conceptualize why someone might have emetophobia: Throwing up is uncomfortable. Being afraid of something really uncomfortable seems rational. But my emetophobia is divorced from the actual physical discomfort of throwing up, and more about my obsessive need to feel at least marginally in control of my own body.

When you throw up, something that is under your control for 99 percent of your life — your stomach — rebels against you. Emetophobia is not really about throwing up for me. It's about everything else that could or might happen. If I can wake up one day with my stomach turned inside out, why can't I wake up one day with a missing eye, or a tumor behind my ear or a loved one dead? Phobias are fueled by “what ifs” that worm their way into the consciousness. What if it never ends, what if it gets worse, what if I caused it? What if I never stop throwing up and end up like that Snapchat filter with the rainbows coming out of my mouth forever except it won't be rainbows or a snapchat filter it will be vomit and my real life?

I boarded the plane, and got settled next to a woman and her tweenage daughter. I have a window seat, and would have traded my kidney for a middle seat just so I’d have one less set of legs to bypass. The pilot informed us that because of irregular wind patterns, my normally five-and-a-half hour flight from Boston to San Francisco would be six hours and 15 minutes. Jesus.

We start to take off. I’m releasing enough fight or flight juices that maybe, with the right coaching, I could have moved things with my brain à la El from “Stranger Things.” The what ifs are shooting out, each one increasingly absurd, but convincing at the same time. What if I throw up, what if I die, what if I throw up my left lung somehow and die? What if I throw up Odwalla SuperFood and coffee in this aisle right now, 15 seconds into a six-hour flight, and die? I’m going to throw up. The plane is going down. I’m definitely going to throw up.

Then suddenly, calm.

“May I go to the bathroom” I asked the mother-daughter combo to the right of me. The mother looked at me, then at the fluorescent seatbelt sign and shrugged.

“Umm, no.”

“OK.”

In some combination of resentment and delirium, I stood up and puked over both of them, into the aisle, gloriously and triumphantly, and asked if I could please, please, please use the restroom. Stunned, she let me by. I power walked to the bathroom aware that I had made very few friends so far on this flight.

I puked a few more times, thought about my dad, apologized to the family I puked over — and on — and somehow made it back to San Francisco.

I don't really know where that wave of calm came from, but it's the key to beating phobias.

The mental and physical energy I spend worrying about puking is so much more unpleasant than the actual puking, even if it is a strange combination of coffee and green smoothie on an airplane.

The only moral of the airplane fiasco I can see: Don’t worry about things that are out of your control, which is a lesson I already vaguely and intellectually understood, and rarely adhere to in practice.

I’m still afraid of puking, but I’d estimate I’m 30 percent less afraid of puking than I was prior to the flight, and 30 percent of a diagnosed pathological fear of vomiting is nothing to scoff at. And If I don’t puke until 2056, I’ll even have a shot at beating my Dad’s record. But I’m going to try not to worry about it.

 

Harry Krinsky did it with no features. To congratulate him, email hkrinsky@umich.edu