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

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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Capital One

Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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Capital One