When I Can’t Be My Child’s Everything

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if we are buds on the instagram, then you know that last week sucked. hard.

here’s the quick rundown:

friday night: atlas up at night coughing. i got 4.5 hours of sleep.

saturday day: had one of the best days holding our full day, dive deeper workshop in denver. it was amazing! like, so so good.

saturday night: atlas vomits in the kitchen while i’m in the other room and husband says, “omg. don’t come in here!” she continues to vomit throughout the night. i can’t eat anything for fear it’s a virus and i’m next.

sunday: ryan goes out of town. family friend comes over to help with atlas. she’s better. i’m still absolutely freaked out that she’s going to get sick again. i’m now making myself sick thanks to anxiety.

monday: atlas is still not 100% herself but not getting sick. i am feeling less and less like myself. ryan gets home late that night. i still feel like i’m sick due to exhaustion, anxiety and lack of eating.

tuesday: atlas goes to daycare. she seems back to herself. i try to get my self back into a stable state of mind. it’s not working.

wednesday: ryan eats bad sushi. he gets so sick, i have to call his dad to take him to the emergency room. i barely sleep and continue to feel myself slipping into a bad place. i for sure cannot eat anything or be in the same room with him.

thursday: in-laws are back in town and take atlas for most of the day and night. ryan feels better but not all the way. i’m incredibly scared that it wasn’t food poisoning and that a horrible stomach bug is about to overtake my soul.

hi. i’m chelsea and i suffer from emetophobia.

emetophia is a phobia that causes overwhelming, intense anxiety pertaining to vomiting. it can include a fear of vomiting in public, a fear of seeing vomit, a fear of watching the action of vomiting or fear of being nauseated. yeah, all of those for me.

how people are afraid of heights or snakes or flying…that’s me when it comes to vomit.

i’m smart. i get that it’s irrational. i understand that. that’s the power of the mind, especially the unconscious mind. i don’t know where it came from but it’s been a part of me since i can remember.

it was truly a part of my hesitations to have a kid, even get pregnant in the first place. i got on morning sickness medication during my first trimester. thankfully atlas isn’t a kid that gets sick very often (knock on all the redwoods in the forest) but this past week she was.

i was rendered useless. my maternal instinct did not kick in. i did not experience, “well, it’s different when it’s your child.” i had a panic attack and it took me days to finally complete the cycle of fight or flight. it was exhausting. my anxiety was causing me to feel constant nausea.

i couldn’t eat. i couldn’t sleep. i couldn’t calm my racing mind or slow my fiercely beating heart. i didn’t want to be around my own kid. i couldn’t console her when she was crying for me. that is how strong this phobia is for me. the only things i consistently did were cry, sit outside and nibble on crackers so i didn’t pass out from lack of eating.

because the mind is complex, i then started layering on the guilt i felt with not being able to cope with this. or help my husband. or help my daughter. or help myself. i wanted to run away to a new life. i didn’t want to be me. i was in a bad place.

when i shared this on instagram, multiple people reached out to me. some of them said they have the exact same phobia and that solidarity went far for me (THANK YOU). others offered kind words of encouragement (THANK YOU).

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one woman (thanks alanna) said important words that i don’t have to be everything to my daughter. that offered me relief. we can’t be everything, even to our own children. not everyone is nurturing, not everyone can help with their kids math homework, not everyone has a beautiful singing voice to sing their kids to sleep. at the moment, i can’t cope with her getting sick but i am an amazing mother to her in hundreds of other ways.

the amazing emily also made me laugh by saying in 20 years we’ll all be sitting around thanksgiving dinner and they’ll be poking fun at how i couldn’t deal when anyone got sick. as much as social media can get in the way of real life, i am also very grateful for the connections and friendships it gives me.

so. what did i do? i knew that running wasn’t an option (though i did look at flights to italy). i called my doctor and upped my anxiety medication. i made an appointment with a therapist. i’m making gratitude lists multiple times a day to remind myself of all the good things going on in my life and around me.

i don’t want to end up feeling so anxious and helpless like i did for almost an entire week. i don’t want to feel that way again. it’s not healthy so i’m taking action. i’m in the midst of it. i keep reminding myself our minds are so freakin’ powerful. i mean, my mind can literally make me physically sick. because of this fact, i remind myself that my mind can also heal me and make positive changes.

that’s where i’m at right now.


  1. Elyse

    September 19, 2018 at 8:38 am

    I needed this. You know I have the same fear and even facing my own fears while pregnant didn’t make it better. I threw up in public. Public. I could cry just thinking about it and it’s almost been a year since that happened. I was SO anxious as a young 20 something about pregnancy that even if I wanted kids the fear of vomit was too strong for me to have them. Sigh. I’m already dreading how useless I’m gonna be when L gets sick for the first time.

    • chelsea

      October 10, 2018 at 7:05 am

      oh elyse. i remember reading that you got sick in public and i felt so so sorry for you. i absolutely felt the exact same way about getting pregnant and getting sick too. i am glad we found this out about each other because it does help me feel less nuts. therapy is helping though…

  2. Cathy Gidley

    September 19, 2018 at 8:57 am

    I have a paralyzing phobia/fear of heights. I get the inability to deal and cope. I have fallen to my knees and crawled out of offices that have wall to wall glass on the 45th floor. It takes over physically and mentally. Just peeking over a bridge or looking down from a tall building causes my stomach to quiver, then my muscles give way and I crumple to the ground. You will never find me on an observation deck on purpose. Friends in Toronto took me up in the CN Tower. Elevators don’t bother me because I have what feels like a full enclosure around me. What I didn’t know was the top floor featured an acrylic floor where you step out of the elevator and look like you’re walking on air 60 floors above the street. I literally fell to the ground sobbing and could not breathe. I saw children walking on the acrylic and thought they were all going to die. I realize that was an irrational thought because the acrylic floor is almost 4′ thick but my mind was working overtime and we were all going to die. My friends felt awful and kept apologizing for taking me up. I know all of this is irrational. But, on the other hand, it is very real to me. So…you will not see me crossing off bucket list items like bungee jumping, sky diving, rappelling down building, mountain climbing or anything else that involves being more than a foot off the ground.

    • chelsea

      October 10, 2018 at 7:11 am

      thank you for sharing that cathy and i’m so sorry you have to deal with that. i’ve been to that CN tower in toronto and i can only imagine how scary that would be for someone who can’t handle heights. i’m sorry 🙁

      thanks for helping to normalize that even though we are smart and ‘get it’ some things feel too much for us to handle and that’s okay.

  3. Emily

    September 19, 2018 at 10:42 am

    I love you. Thank you for sharing this. I also needed one of those reminders: I can’t be my child’s everything. (Needed that esp this week like whoa.) I hope your mind body and soul are all started to connect once again (even if it’s just a little bit) and that you’re cutting yourself so much slack you have to watch out for tripping. (That was so dumb. I’m sorry, but I’m not.) XO

    • Emily

      September 19, 2018 at 10:44 am

      Please excuse ALL typos. ‍♀️

    • chelsea

      October 10, 2018 at 7:12 am

      thank you so much for your comment, emily. i hope your days are getting better too. i am finally starting to feel connected once again. haha also LOVED the pun in cutting some slack and tripping. haha

      you do the same thing, lady!

  4. Amberly

    September 19, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    You may not be able to be everything for her, but you are everything that she needs from you!! And how blessed you are for having other people that love Atlas and have other strengths that when combined with yours, make you the perfect people to raise that strong girl! You are amazing!!! I’m so sorry your week was rough. I’ve had similar feelings about other things in our children’s lives. Keep up the good work mama, I look up to you a lot!

    • Elyse

      September 19, 2018 at 3:25 pm

      Amberly, this is so perfect – I think every mother needs to hear this.

    • Elyse

      September 19, 2018 at 3:26 pm

      This is SO perfect, Amberly. You are SO right and I think every mother needs to hear this.

      • chelsea

        October 10, 2018 at 7:13 am

        totally agree, elyse. wise woman amberly

    • chelsea

      October 10, 2018 at 7:13 am

      i have thought of this comment MANY times over the past few weeks, amberly. thank you. you are so righ tthat i am everything she needs from ME and she can get other things from other people. thank you amberly, a lot <3
      chelsea recently posted…Why It Matters that a Woman is the New World Champion of Public Speaking

  5. Bridget Lohman

    September 19, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    My mom has this phobia too. My dad was a police officer and worked all kinds of crazy hours and I vividly remember getting the stomach flu in the middle of the night and my mom locking herself in her room and hiding from me. I was 6 yrs old. She did not go near the hallways I threw up all over my dad had to clean up the mess when he got home and basically call a carpet cleaning service. She has been this way as long as I can remember can not handle vomit in any way even talking about it. She is an amazing mom in every way imaginable but throw up she ran for the hills. Luckily I did not inherit this fear. I have had to deal with many throw up situations in my profession and many other gross situations I will not mention.

    • chelsea

      October 10, 2018 at 7:15 am

      oh wow, really interesting to hear this from the child’s perspective. thank you SO much for sharing this bridge. i am glad to hear you still see her as an amazing mom in a lot of other ways. we need to get a drink so i can hear more about how this affected you! i’m glad you didn’t inherit this fear because it would FOR SURE make your job unbearable uuuuugh

  6. Charlene Maugeri

    September 20, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Oh Chelsea! I am so sorry you had to go through this and you still are. I’m so glad you’re getting help. The mind is so powerful. I’m learning that more and more everyday. And, like Amberly said, you are everything you need to be for Atlas and be thankful for the other people who were able to step in!

    • chelsea

      October 10, 2018 at 7:16 am

      the mind really is so so powerful, you’re right charlene. i am very thankful my husband was home and other people could help because it was rouuuugh

  7. Audrey

    September 21, 2018 at 8:28 am

    There’s a reason they say “it takes a village…” You are SO much for Atlas. But you’re absolutely right about not being everything. How COULD you be? You’ve surrounded that little girl with people who can take the wheel when you cannot and by doing that you’ve definitely enriched her life (and your own), even when you’re riding in the passenger seat and allowing someone to help you out. We all need help- why should parenting be any different?

    • chelsea

      October 10, 2018 at 7:20 am

      great point, it really does take a village (and sometimes i’m like, but can we all like LIVE in a village together!?) you’re right, i can’t possible be everything for anyone. thanks for that and thank you for the encouragement and validation, audrey. i really appreciate.