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I Have A Severe Phobia—Here's What It's Like

For those of us who suffer from deipnophobia – a fear of dinner and supper -, literally everything is more enjoyable than a meal with friends.

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My first symptoms

Dephnophobia usually manifests itself in one of two ways: as a type of social anxiety or as a specific phobia, according to the American Association of Anxiety and Depression. "If the situation (in this case, dinner with others) is feared due to a negative assessment by others, it would be considered a social anxiety disorder," explains Cecelia Mylett, PsyD, Clinical Director of CAST Centers, a mental health treatment center in West Hollywood. "Otherwise, deipnophobia would be considered a specific phobia – a significant fear of a certain object or situation."

Although I did not have a name before my thirties, my dephnophobia began as a specific phobia: an intense fear of nausea and cramps after the meal.

There was not a particular – or traumatic – event that prompted me to avoid the dinner table; On the contrary, there were smaller moments of discomfort that shook my resilience over time, turning into a social anxiety disorder.

Growing up, my parents were working long hours, so when we were eating together, it was usually in a restaurant. (Ironically, most of my fondest childhood memories are spent in restaurants.)

But when I was about 10 years old, following a series of health crises in my family, l & # 39; Anguish was spent doing the occasional cameo in my life. a regular series. And it started to have an impact on how I felt during and after eating.

I remember very well going home one night with my family and feeling so uncomfortable that I curled up. It was not long before I asked my dad to open the window, just in case. As I waited for the nausea to subside, I closed my eyes and focused only on the 90s country tunes that played on the radio, repeating all the song lyrics in my head to distract me.

Another night, I dined at a friend's house and I felt so nauseous that I claimed that I had to go home earlier than I had done it.

These first episodes of nausea after the meal happened months apart, so my parents and I assumed that they were nothing more than bad case of indigestion.

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But it also started from time to time at school. When I was in sixth grade, we listened to the Olympics. Simpson's verdict on the radio when he arrived during lunch only, I was so busy repeating, "Do not barf, do not barf," and kicking under the table I did not I have not heard.

My anxiety began to manifest itself in more obvious physical symptoms, too. During our eighth-grade trip to Ottawa, I watched as my friends and classmates nodded a heap of heavy foods for breakfast as if nothing had happened while they were there. half a granola bar sent me to the throne. Just the thought of food made me feel uncomfortable – and when I ate, it went through so fast that I had to camp in the bathroom to finish a meal.

Yet once we returned to the dormitories, where it was quieter and I attended fewer classmates at once, I had no problem to nibble in our rooms or in common areas. I tried not to let those feelings of terror hold me back. Throughout high school, I was like the little motor who could – I sat at the damn table and ate during family reunions and outings with friends, hoping that one day, I could eat and socialize like others. 19659005] I felt like I was doing a show, urging others to believe that sitting at this table was not a big deal for me, while secretly hoping that this time it would not be not the case. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time, not so much.

I do not know how much what I went through was visible on the surface or translated into behaviors that others found odd. I have never been approached by anyone and I do not remember doing anything that would have created a suspicion. I do not remember either saying a word of my dislike for anyone.

Although I never had a heart with my parents about my phobia, around age 17, Full House . my parents supported me in my decision to go to the doctor to get help with my anxiety.

Of course, that did not go very well. I had just finished sharing two sentences about my anxiety and other symptoms before my doctor's prescription book was out. The first prescription worsened my nausea and my stomach pains, the next one we tried was depressed and the third slowed my digestive tract in addition to my anxiety, but it also slowed down the whole rest. I was foggy, I could not concentrate on school and all I wanted to do was sleep.

Since the trial and the error left me worse than in the beginning, I stopped going to the doctor and continued to ignore my problem. 19659018] Coping with Staggering Anxiety

Little moments began to pile up to make eating with or around others even more than a waitress assuming I was not going to be a bartender. I did not like my order because of the little that I ate, a friend commenting on the tiny portions of my plate. And because I've always been on the side of scrawners, I 've been the target of more jokes about eating disorders than I' m lingering over.

Because of these moments (and many others), I was not only afraid of the symptoms The clinical psychologists of New Jersey Anna Kress PsyD, have shown that & # 39; They were afraid to be humiliated or embarrassed at the dinner table. eating habits. I'm worried now about what others would think if I were to leave the table to get in the air, or lock myself in a bathroom to breathe during an anxiety attack, or take three hours to eat my dinner if necessary. 19659005] PLUS: 'The big step I did before I turned 30 to overcome my fear of being alone'.

It has become (a bit) easier to hide my phobia in my twenties. But constant anxiety finally took its toll. By the late twenties, socialization of any kind – even passing someone in the hallway of my building – put my body in high alert. Anxious was now my status quo, to the point where I never had an appetite.

I had so desperately needed to be relieved of my symptoms (and eating meals that did not involve putting me in a fetal position afterwards) that I gradually reduces my social activities. I thought it was only temporary – I just needed R & R, time to focus on my body, time to remind myself that I'm the boss, not my phobia.

Of course, that's what my phobia wanted me to think.

Hit my breaking point

Snapshots accompanying this article? They were taken during the summer of 2011 – the weekend my disipnophobia eventually broke me.

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and I tried to create as casual an atmosphere as possible – j & # 39; I set up my dining table near the patio door to have fresh air and a peaceful view to enjoy, put some music in the background to distract me wave kick, and, well, stocked up in wine and beer.

We ordered to take away. We ate. We talked. We have drunk. I spent all the dinner without leaving the table, and I promised myself to celebrate with a Carlton dance later.

But by the end of dinner, I started to feel uncomfortable and uncomfortable, as my body was trying to digest a brick. I tried to ignore it while we were going to the living room to watch a movie, but it was not long before we went to the bathroom – and I did not go out until the next day morning. (Let's just say that everything was coming out everywhere.)

It was the day I became the little engine that could not. Every meal with others from that moment on has become unbearable. I had the impression of no longer having control over my own body.

During the next few years, I stopped trying to eat with others, including my parents.

Giving Up The Fight

It was not until the early thirties that I stopped using my apologies. of my feelings – for me, and finally, for my family and friends.

My Light Moment: I was watching a Hallmark movie where two characters were dining in a fancy restaurant, and I started to panic as if I were sitting at the table! "It's bullshit," I told myself. Loudly.

My parents were aware of my growing anxiety, but not fears about the meal I was having. Because I had no trouble eating at home or out when we were only three of us, the digestive drama they've witnessed over the years seemed like a punctual event with no obvious connection

to my mother, the craziest thing happened: she confessed that she was also suffering from dephnophobia! (How none of us have noticed each other's struggles during all this time is beyond us.) We have traded war stories for hours. Knowing that we could not be the only ones to feel this feeling, that night we googled it, and finally we put a name to our phobia. I let out a sigh of relief that I had held in virtually all my life.

Treating My Phobia

Just as this phobia took shape, I slowly unraveled myself. There were initial feelings of shame and embarrassment to let him go on as long as I did (and blushing residual while I was writing this essay), but that is how phobias roll – they are persuasive, misleading and play the game subtly. Dismantle your life until one day, something as simple as an invitation to dinner turns you into a puddle of sweat.

"As with most phobias, avoidance is not the best solution," Kress says. "In fact, avoidance generally enhances the fear associated with a phobia." But going into restoration situations without some preparation and support is not going to put you in place to succeed, either. "A balanced approach is to slowly build your tolerance for the situation until you end up feeling less anxious and more comfortable with others," she says.

I still have a long way to go with my deipnophobia … but I am proud of the slow, steady progress I've made.

The article "I have a severe phobia – here's what it is that" appeared originally on Women's Health.

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