Do you have a secret, one you have had for most of your life? One you have never discussed with anyone – no I don’t suppose you do, lucky you. For most of my life I’ve harboured a secret, one that brought me deep shame whenever I thought of it and restricted the way I conducted my life.
Still better late than never, I am a true believer that the universe always has my back so in my past year – my year of magical thinking as I have come to call it – I was given the opportunity to address this shame and work through it, and hey it must have worked because here I am today ready to share it with the whole world, well the blogosphere which is tantamount to the same thing these days.
‘Hi my name is Reena and I have suffered from a food phobia for most of my life.’ My specific manifestation was a phobia of fruit, more accurately a fear of the texture and smell of fruit. You know in Star Wars Part IV when Luke, Leia and Han Solo are stuck in the garbage compactor, I think of that as my worst nightmare only with it being packed with fruit.
Now, I know that for you the reader this revelation will hold some element of disbelief even sound completely laughable, but to me it has been debilitating to an extent. Most phobias have a backstory I don’t know mine because for as long as I can remember I’ve had it, as a child I remember crying and – drama queen that I am – threatening to jump over the balcony on being told I had to eat a piece of fruit. I’m not entirely sure there is a moment in time that started it all because as I got older I came to know that two other family members (one of whom is my brother) suffer their own food phobias.
I grew up with this ‘secret’ and it was a secret in that I never told anyone not even family, obviously they knew I wouldn’t eat it but they attributed that to me not liking it. No one has ever known that for me to touch fruit gives me great anxiety and leads me to washing make that scrubbing my hands immediately. Even the smell or being in the same room as it could cause panic in my mind. To make it more bizarre not all fruits were equal. Some I am even okay to eat – as long as I never touched it with my hands – I could happily eat diced watermelon or apple pie with a fork. I won’t go into a breakdown of every fruit and the degree with which it freaked me out but the absolutely worst for me (still) is an orange, I am unable to look at it, smell it let alone touch it or put it in my mouth (the colour has only recently become bearable to look at). But lemons are totally fine in fact they are my favourite fruit. Not making sense – welcome to my world.
With eating being such a social activity, my phobia has restricted me when it came to cooking for others, eating out and even food conversations. Of course I never admitted my problem, for admitting would for all intents and purposes make me the object of ridicule, saying I was scared of spiders (which I’m not) is more preferable than saying I am scared of fruit but also how could I admit to something I didn’t understand myself; so to make life easier on occasion I would say I was allergic but mostly especially with my close friends and family I was just known as a fussy eater. One of my oldest friends told me recently I was always a nightmare to eat out with. Not the nicest thing to hear even if it is true.
So I continued to live with this in silence until a few years ago, when late one night at work I heard a kerfuffle at the other end of the office and upon investigation I learnt that some co-workers were playing a trick on a colleague due to her phobia of fruit. Seeing the panic in her face was all I needed, to know that I had found a kindred spirit. That night for the first time ever I was able to speak freely about my fear. Until this night this person and I barely knew each other but since that night we have become friends, whenever we meet up we joke about our connection and I have to say she is one of my best eating out buddies. Knowing that there was someone else in this world like me made me braver at broaching it with others in my life. It was like ‘I’m not such a freak, there are others like me too’ and yet it still never occurred to me to seek help or even consult the internet until the opportunity fell into my lap when I was in therapy last year.
During my time in therapy I was introduced to an nutritionist and together we worked on helping me to conquer¹ my food aversion phobia – because that is what it is called. Many people suffer from a degree of food aversion phobia; I used to go out with someone who detested coriander, I know many people who won’t eat peas – sometimes these will be fads or like mine last a lifetime. It is when it affects the quality of life that it becomes a problem. I haven’t gone into health implications because it is only since I’ve understood my phobia that I have been able to start living a more healthier lifestyle. Before just hearing how I must eat five a day would make me cringe now I’m planning meals to include my five a day.
I have worked and am still working very hard to overcome this phobia, I must have I just wrote about it; and while I’m not ready to drink a glass of OJ just yet, I will quite happily dig into a bowl of cherries and that my friends is what you call progress.
¹the programme I am on was especially designed for me (it involved goal setting, reprogramming my brain, visualisation and working to achieve those goals in a comfortable environment). It is on going.