Why My Irrational Fear Of Being Ill Made Me Become A Vegetarian
I describe my eating habits as 95% vegetarian. In other words, 95% of the time I don’t eat meat.
Any one else who’s chosen the herbivore life (#herblife. Is that a thing?) will relate to getting this question on a pretty regular basis: “Why did you become a vegetarian?”
I understand why people ask this, I really do! A lot of people love meat, and most aren’t raised as vegetarians. At some point in their life, a vegetarian has chosen to become one, and people are curious as to why.
I get it. Curiosity helps us learn. It helps us understand, and sometimes leads us to try new things.
I make a living out of it! As a journalist and a writer my job is to be curious, to ask questions. So I’d be somewhat of a hypocrite if I objected to the tables turning and people asking me about my own choices.
A lot of vegetarians will answer with something like, “I just love animals,” or, “I think it’s better for the planet,” when grilled (excuse the pun) about their #herblife.
For me, the reality is very different.
While yes, I do like animals, and yes, I do think that a vegetarian diet is more environmentally-friendly, the real reason I chose to give up meat (95% of the time) was out of fear.
In 2016, I got diagnosed with OCD and generalised anxiety disorder. These diagnoses were a good step towards me taking accountability for my own mental health, and trying to steer my life in a healthier direction.
But I also got diagnosed with a weird-sounding thing called SPOV.
SPOV stands for “Specific Phobia Of Vomiting”. Some people know it as Emetophobia, while others have probably never even heard of it.
It’s pretty self-explanatory really: if I think I’m going to vomit, I have a panic attack.
We’re not talking “feeling-a-little-out-of-sorts” panic. I mean “hysterically-sobbing-on-the-bathroom-floor-on-the-phone-to-my-mum” panic.
To this day, I still don’t know why I am scared of vomiting (let’s call it “popcorn” so that I don’t have to keep writing the word, and you don’t have to keep reading it).
I did have a pretty traumatic experience with “popcorn” when I was about four years old. But what four-year-old wouldn’t find it traumatic?
For some reason, my fear of “popcorn” has only grown and grown over the years. First, I started carrying a plastic bag with me at all times, just in case I suddenly, unexpectedly needed to “popcorn”.
That then led to limiting my drinking, because we all know people can “popcorn” like hell after too much of a good time on the sauce.
Before long, I was having a panic attack almost every time I got on the London Underground, out of fear of projectile “popcorning” all over the carriage.
My fear was becoming too much. It was starting to affect my everyday life, and I was adamant that I didn’t want to keep living in fear. Something needed to change.
It wasn’t long before I started to question my diet. How could I be sure that the chicken I was eating was good quality chicken? How could I know that it had been cooked properly? If I ate it, what would my likelihood be of contracting salmonella?
The short answer was that I couldn’t. But that’s when I realised, “hold up, I can control what I eat!”
When you live in fear of something happening to you, and then suddenly you learn that you could make one small little change that will have a really big impact, you don’t hesitate.
I thrust myself into the #herblife quicker than Usain Bolt straddling a cheetah.
After all, I do like animals, and it is better for the environment. Plus, I’ve always been more of an eat-to-survive rather than an eat-for-the-taste type of guy. Meat had never been such a big deal for me in the first place.
That was it. For the last two years, 95% of the time I’ve been a full-time veggo, with 5% allowance being made for sushi. Just because, well, it’s sushi!
In terms of my food, the last couple of years have been bliss.
I’ve stuck to stuffed mushrooms and falafel, roasted vegetables and tofu. I’ve not had to live with the concern of “popcorning” as a result of an under-cooked burger, and my fear has been totally manageable.
I spent the night sleeping in a train carriage, which was one of the kooky bedrooms available at the eco lodge in Queensland, Australia, where I was travelling.
All had been well, in spite of the rain that persisted to fall during the night.
Breakfast was served on the decking of a second converted train carriage. A novel place to start the day, and one to tick off the bucket list.
After finishing my toast, I still felt a little peckish. I decided to have just a small portion of muesli too. That would do the job.
“This milk tastes a bit funny,” I said to my travel buddy as I munched away. Ordinarily, at this point, I would have put down my spoon and made an excuse for being too full to finish it. Today, I didn’t. I ate, and ate until there was not a grain of muesli left.
Cut to: the next day.
It was going to happen. I knew it. I was going to “popcorn” and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I had to get off the boat (of course I was on a freaking boat!) and get to a bathroom immediately.
I’ll save you the details. But let’s just say I P.O.P.C.O.R.N.E.D.
It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time for my usual fear, sobbing and phonecall home. The “popcorn” was happening. It happened. And… I survived it.
I endured a week of pretty horrendous food poisoning, all from a bit of sour milk. After two years of no meat, of course it would be the bloody milk!
A lot of people have said to me over the years, “maybe you just need to ‘popcorn’ and you’ll stop being scared”. To those people, I say that didn’t happen.
I remain scared of “popcorning”, and I remain a vegetarian because of that fear, but I’ve learned a few things.
Firstly, you can’t defy nature. For people like me it’s a pretty grim reality, but you are going to “popcorn”. Maybe not today, next week or even this year. But at some point, nature will find a way to get you, and there’s nothing you can do about that.
Again…sour bloody milk!
Secondly, you will survive it. I did, and you will too.
But most importantly, I now realise that letting a fear dictate your life is just pretty pointless.
The coping mechanisms we put in place for ourselves to get by really are just that; coping mechanisms. Isn’t it healthier to take up the strongest stance you can muster, and look that fear dead in its eye?
Isn’t it better to try to get to the root of the problem once and for all? To not have to need coping mechanisms in the first place?
I think yes.
So, I recently started therapy. Therapy to try to do exactly that; get to the root of my fear of “popcorn”.
I may still be a vegetarian, and I may remain one (OK I LOVE ANIMALS, THERE I SAID IT)! But at least I’ll know I’m doing it for the right reasons, and not just as an excuse to shy away from something I’m scared of.