Phagophobia (My story)

‘I wish I could eat together with my family without feeling terrified over that someone might suffocate to death at any moment, including myself.’

When I were a kid I had a horrible experience. I suffocated on pasta. Luckily my dad were able to save me. After that I weren’t able to eat pasta for a long time, and after half a year it went over to other kinds of food. In the end I lived on yogurt and other drinkable things.

I wanted to eat, I wished I could swallow, I wished that I could go out and eat with my friends. My parents got me to try and eat something almost everyday,  and everyday the result was the same. I put it in my mouth, I started to chew and everything was fine. Then when I were about to swallow it felt like my throat closed down and I could barely breath. So I continued to chew and chew until I eventually spit it out. At that point the food was almost as fluent as water.

People didn’t understand why I didn’t eat. I tried to explain that something was wrong with my throat but the doctors said nothing was wrong with it. My dad even asked when we went to the dentist if I had started to get my wisdom teeth and if that could be the problem. They hadn’t started to grow out yet.

At times people told me to stop being so ridiculous and just eat the food, which made it all just worse. I stopped trying to eat because every time I failed it felt like I was disappointing everyone, and myself. I told my parents that I tried food in school and in school I told them that I tried to eat at home. I just couldn’t try to eat something and fail all the time, because it made me more and more depressed.

If my friend’s parents asked me if I wanted to eat with them when I visited then I just said that I had already eaten before I came or that I would eat when I came home. I just couldn’t explain the situation to them. I always watched my friends eat, wishing that I also could join them and at the same time being afraid that they might suffocate at any moment.

At one time our class went to a cinema to watch a movie about how the digestive system worked. It felt like I were about to puke when she started to chew on the tomato and then swallowed it. I ran out of the cinema when the scene where the tomato started to go down her throat and into her stomach came up.

It wasn’t the only time I had to leave because of a scene in a movie. It happened every time we watched a movie I had never seen before where they at some point sat down and ate. Sometimes I even asked if someone would suffocate in the movie just to be sure, but even when the teacher said that it didn’t happen in that movie I still couldn’t stay through those scenes.

I lost a lot of weight during one and a half year when my phagophobia was at its worst. Then came the night. I asked my parents if I could stay up late to finish watching the star wars movie that went on tv, it would end after midnight and I were eleven or twelve years old. They said it was okay and then they went to bed. I knew that there was chips and other snacks in the kitchen, and I hadn’t eaten those things for so long. I hadn’t even tried to eat anything like that for so long. I just wanted to taste.

So I went into the kitchen, I was not afraid since I didn’t even think I would try to swallow it. I would just chew a bit on a chip and then I would spit it out. I had no plans on swallowing it because I knew that it wouldn’t work any way. But as I chewed it tasted really yummy and after a little while I actually swallowed it without any problem. I took another on and another one and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to swallow. I was happier than I had ever been in my whole life for something everyone else takes for granted.

It took me some time before I were able to eat food again. I think it took me half a year from that I ate my first chip until I could eat almost everything I usually ate. Pasta took much longer though. The same for apples, carrots and candy that was hard to chew.

But it didn’t matter that I couldn’t eat everything, because I could eat some things at least. I fast gained all the weight I had lost during those years without food, and soon I even gained more. I became over weight and once again went into depression. I ate too much food because I hadn’t eaten in so long, I didn’t know what was too much and I couldn’t stop myself. No one told me that after you get over an eating disorder it’s very easy to start and eat too much instead.

It was first when I got  into high school that I started to eat properly and went down some kilos. The support I got from my new and old friends helped me reach my dream weight during the three years I went in high school. But it was a bit more than that that made me reach my goal. My phagophobia has come back around once or twice every year, between two and four weeks every time. It has never been as bad as it was the first time, but it has still been pretty bad.

Last time was just some month’s ago when it stayed for around four or five weeks. I didn’t even dare to tell my parents about it because I didn’t want to worry them, so every time they made the food and I couldn’t eat it, then I just threw it away when they couldn’t see. I went down some kilos during that period, but once I were able to start eating again I went up those kilos pretty fast.

I will always be afraid that my phagophobia will come back, and I will probably get relapses many more times in my life. I will probably always be afraid of watching people eating, but I will still try and go out with my friends to eat and have a fun time. Me and many others will fight this phobia for probably the rest of our lives. I don’t know how I got over it the first time. I never went to a psychologist since my parents never sent me to one, and I didn’t speak with my friends about it. I have no idea how I made it through as a kid, but I know that every time I have fallen back into phagophobia when I became older it has been my friends that has helped me out of it.

I don’t tell everyone about it, I don’t tell my family about it. But I rely on my closest friends and I know that they are there for me when I need them. They help me to get through my hard times, just like I try to help them get through theirs. I wouldn’t have made it this far without them.

What I want to say with this post is that you can make it through those hard times, even though it seems like you won’t ever get rid of that stupid phobia that holds you down every day, there are ways to get rid of it. For some it might be enough with a friend, for others it’s the family and others might need a good psychologist. There is always a way.

(Phagophobia both means the fear of swallowing and the fear of being swallowed, it has nothing to do with the fear of eating together with others but are often a consequence of the fear of swallowing.)