A huge thanks to those who openly share their mental illnesses. You saved my daughter.
Annie Reneau

We didn't know that our teen daughter had an actual mental illness. We just knew that she felt extra nervous sometimes — and it was getting worse.

She didn't get excited nervous, like you'd feel before you go on a roller coaster, or uncertain nervous, like when you're facing a big decision. Hers was the debilitating kind of nervous, the kind that takes over your whole body and brain. The kind where instead of fight or flight, you freeze, and nothing anyone says seems to help.

It took us awhile to name it "anxiety" and even longer to discover that our bright, sweet girl was experiencing emetophobia, a specific anxiety disorder revolving around a fear of throwing up.


I can relate 🙋🏻
A post shared by Anxiety•Emetophobia•Recovery (@emetophobia_support) on

You may never have heard of emetophobia — I hadn't. It's a largely unknown but not uncommon anxiety disorder. And it is treatable, but it requires a specific kind of treatment.

The only reason we figured any of this out is because of people who were willing to openly share their stories about their own struggles. Hearing and reading about other people's experiences probably saved our daughter's life.

Getting a correct diagnosis was key — and if it weren't for other people being open about their mental health issues, I don't know that we would have gotten one.

The first two therapists we took our daughter to treated her for generalized anxiety. I don't know if they didn't ask the right questions or if they weren't familiar enough to spot the signs of emetophobia or if our daughter just wasn't forthcoming about her true fears. All I know is that the treatment methods they used barely made a dent in her anxiety.

It wasn't until I started noticing a pattern to our daughter's nervous behaviors that I realized we'd missed something crucial.

What if we talked about physical health the absurd way we talk about mental health?
Posted by ATTN: on Friday, May 26, 2017

She wouldn't say the word "vomit" and couldn't handle hearing stories about people puking. If she heard that someone we knew had been sick, the first words out of her mouth were a panicked "What kind of sick?" She constantly checked expiration dates on packages and asked us if food was OK to eat. She became obsessive about handwashing.

Then it got worse. Over a matter of months, we watched our travel-loving 16-year-old become nervous about being far from home, the radius inside which she felt safe growing smaller and smaller. Eventually, going to the next town over — 20 minutes away — became an enormous hurdle. She was taking community college classes, and getting to school became a daily battle with her frequently feeling dizzy or nauseous as soon as we got there. Sometimes it would take her 10 minutes to make herself get out of the car. Sometimes she simply couldn't, and we'd have to turn around and go home. No amount of logic or reason could talk her down from her mental ledge.

Finally, one day I asked her, "Do all of your anxieties have to do with not wanting to throw up?" She thought for about 10 seconds and said, "Yes."

I googled "fear of throwing up" and found the term "emetophobia." And from there, I discovered a whole world of people just like my daughter.

❤️
A post shared by Anxiety and Emetophobia (@emetophobia_) on

I'd never recommend diagnosing with Dr. Google. But reading people's stories helped us pinpoint our daughter's disorder and made a huge difference in her recovery.

The internet gets demonized for good reason sometimes, but it really is an incredible tool when used well.

I first read an article about an emetophobic teen whose symptoms and behaviors matched our daughter's precisely. Then I found websites dedicated to people with the condition with detailed descriptions of symptoms and behaviors and more people's stories.

Everything I read made me 100% sure this was what we were dealing with.

I learned that emetophobia is frequently misdiagnosed as generalized anxiety, an eating disorder, or agoraphobia because emetophobes don't like to talk about feeling sick. Unless a therapist knows what to ask or what to look for, it's easy to miss. And many therapists aren't familiar enough with emetophobia to diagnose and treat it properly anyway. It took us a while to find a therapist who had even heard of it.

For some people, the fear spirals out of control. They can't brush off the facts that any food at any time could be contaminated with food-borne illness and that any person at any time could be walking around with a contagious stomach virus. Every stomach sensation — hunger, digestion, gas, nervousness — starts being interpreted as nausea, so they worry all the time that they're on the verge of getting sick.

At its most extreme, emetophobia causes its sufferers to feel constant anxiety about the most normal, common things in life — people and food — and to live in constant fear that their body is about to betray them. There's no getting away from it, and the more aware they become, the more they feel the need to hide away from the world.

That's what we saw happening to our child.

I only learned all of this, though, because of people who were willing to openly share their struggles. Reading emetophobia stories brought our daughter's issues to light, helped us know we weren't alone, and let us know we might have to persevere for a while before we found real help.

I can't tell you the relief in my heart when, after calling half a dozen therapists, an angel named Jeannie finally said, "Oh yes, I've treated several people with that condition. I can totally help your daughter."

There is no more terrifying feeling than watching your child suffer and being at a loss about how to help them. And there is no greater joy than watching your child get better — which our daughter has. After just a few months of therapy with Jeannie, she was markedly better. Now, almost a year later, she is living a normal life again.

Thanks to people sharing their struggles, my daughter has learned at a relatively young age how to reject the stigma that so often accompanies mental health issues.

I asked my daughter if she would be OK with me writing about her emetophobia journey, and she said yes. Having seen how much people's stories helped her, she wants to help others who might feel like they're the only ones suffering.

She has been impressively open about her disorder. Our daughter has always been an excellent student, but during the worst of her symptoms, she'd miss classes or be late on assignments because the anxiety overtook everything. When she wrote to her teachers about making up the work, she told them why — not as an excuse but as the true explanation for why she was slipping.

And you know what? The vast majority of her instructors were completely understanding. Several told her they also struggled with some form of mental illness, and others said they had loved ones who did. There was no judgment. One teacher was unwavering on due dates (that's life), but I was blown away by how supportive most were.

So thank you to the brave souls who have blazed the trail for my daughter, who openly and willingly share their mental health struggles, and who help the world understand that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. You helped my daughter reclaim her life, and I am immensely proud that she can now count herself among you.

My daughter and I on a cross-country flight that would have been unthinkable to her six months before it. Thank God for good therapy. Photo by Annie Reneau.

If any of this sounds familiar and you think you or a loved one might be struggling with emetophobia, we found www.emetophobiahelp.org and www.emetophobiaresource.org to be immensely helpful.

For information about getting help with other mental health issues, check out the National Alliance on Mental Health's resource page.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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