Category Archives: Eating

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Sparklle Rainne

Me Vs. My Eating Disorder: How I realized that I was sick and learned to differentiate myself from my sickness

By Sparklle Rainne

My eating disorder began when I was only eight years old. It began with bulimia, but my diagnosis has changed multiple times throughout my life – I’ve been diagnosed with bulimia, anorexia, and EDNOS/OSFED at separate times during the span of my treatment. By the time that I was eighteen, I was binging and purging all day every day. It never ended. I felt like a hopeless case. I had attempted to recover many times at that point.

Since I was so young when it started, I grew up feeling that my eating disorder behaviors were simply a part of me. I didn’t know what an eating disorder was, so my eating disorder was just “a thing” that I did. Many people with eating disorders have a co-morbid illness, and growing up with a severe anxiety disorder, that was certainly the case for me. The first time that I made myself throw up, I was overwhelmingly anxious – you know that feeling when you’re so nervous that it makes you feel like you’re going to puke? I lived with that feeling 24/7 because of my anxiety disorder. The first time that I purged, I just did it to make that feeling go away. I got addicted to it.
Even though I didn’t know what an eating disorder was when I was eight years old, I had definitely heard of them by the time that I was ten. I was already devouring books about eating disorders like “The Best Little Girl In The World,” but somehow, it didn’t really resonate with me that I had an eating disorder myself. Despite this, living with my eating disorder was hell. I had enough of an inkling that I was doing something that I wasn’t supposed to do to know that I had to hide it, but it took me a very long time to recognize it as something that I needed and deserved to get help for. There are two major reasons for this:

1. No one told me that eating disorders can affect people of any size. I identified with the people in the books that I read, I had the same behaviors, but because there was so much stigma around what someone with an eating disorder looks like, I didn’t see myself as “skinny enough to be sick.” This is a problematic misconception because eating disorders affect people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, backgrounds, income levels, genders, etc. Eating disorders are mental illnesses that do not discriminate.

2. On a similar note, I didn’t feel that I was sick enough because, well…I wasn’t dead. This is very common for people with eating disorders. I was in denial – even when the physical repercussions came along, which for me included fainting, thinning hair, blood in my vomit, amenorrhea, broken blood capillaries, weak bones, and more, I didn’t feel that I was sick enough to be taken seriously because, well…I was alive, and again, I didn’t see myself as thin enough. Most people don’t realize how sick they are until they’ve already done irreversible damage.

We need to change how we talk about eating disorders in the media. We need to continue to raise awareness and debunk myths about eating disorders.

I finally recognized that I definitely had a problem and definitely wanted help for it around the time that I was fifteen. Bulimia had turned into anorexia for me at that point and I was so sick of how much power it had over me. I felt that I had no control over any of my behaviors. I felt like I was possessed by a demon and since I had lived with it for so long, it was very hard for me to differentiate the demon from myself. In order to recover, I had to do just that: differentiate the eating disorder from myself and figure out who I was without it.

Obviously, that isn’t a fast process or an easy one. This is why early intervention is so important if it’s at all possible – the longer that you have an eating disorder, the more the line blurs between you and your eating disorder. For me, there was hardly a line. I grew up with my eating disorder. Unfortunately, the first time that I reached out for help on my own, I was paired with a therapist who had no experience with eating disorders. Looking back, I understand that she made a mistake – she should have referred me to a therapist that had experience with my issues. Seeing her made me feel even more hopeless. I stopped going to my sessions with her and sank even deeper into my eating disorder. By the time that I was eighteen, my bulimic behaviors had returned full-force and I was binging and purging 24/7.
I had been in therapy again with a great treatment team for about a year at that point, but obviously, my eating disorder was deep-rooted by then. My psychiatrist was looking for an inpatient facility for me. Oddly enough, that was my turning point. I realized that I had to recover, and more importantly that I wanted to. It has been a long road with one relapse in between, but I have been on the path to recovery for four years now. Trust me when I say that it is worth it and that everyone with an eating disorder needs and deserves to get help.

I’ve decided to end this article by listing a couple of resources that I have found helpful during my recovery:

NEDA (nationaleatingdisorders.org) – the official website of The National Eating Disorder Association. Their website offers information about eating disorders, a confidential online screening, contact information for their helpline, and more.

Proud2BMe (proud2bme.org) – an organization that is dedicated to promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

IMG_20170225_215156_224I am so thankful to have been able to write this article during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I am a singer/songwriter and an eating disorder recovery advocate. My social media pages, my music, my businesses, etc. (read: anything that I create, own, or run) will always serve as safe spaces for people who are recovering from eating disorders. This is a topic that I am very passionate about and I am so thankful that Stigma Fighters had me back to write about it!

Sparklle Rainne can be found on Twitter and Facebook

Christina Leigh

You Are Not Your Eating Disorder

Of all of the ups and downs we have experienced with our son’s illness; the hospitalization and the setbacks, one of the hardest is hearing my son apologize for his condition. A recent experience really brought to light for me just how much my son feels he has to apologize for his eating disorder. It is as if he is saying, “ I have an eating disorder, please accept me and love me anyway.” It is as if he should be grateful that anyone could care for him and want him as a friend or a spouse. It was almost as if his illness made him undeserving of those things and that he is lucky if someone feels differently. It makes him either hide it altogether or feel that he has to tell it right away so people can decide whether he is worth befriending. What a choice! As a mom, this was very hard to watch. Our son is not his illness.

I don’t think that this is entirely his fault, either. Recently he was telling me of an experience with relatives of his fiancée. While he was not with her, a scenario was proposed to her asking what would happen if they had a baby and she had to be away at a family emergency. The scenario left him alone with the child and unable to go to the gym and exercise. The gist was that he would either abandon the child in order to get to the gym or his wife would not be able to be away from home. Bottom line: he can’t control himself. She was also presented with the ‘what if a setback occurs’. Why would you want to deal with that? Wouldn’t it get very old and irritating to have to deal with his dietary guidelines while recovering from a setback? I asked my son how he responded. His answer was exactly what I expected. He was put on the defensive and he responded by defending himself. In this case defending himself was apologizing for his eating disorder. It was “understanding” why these worries would come up and it meant the potential of a lifetime spent proving himself. I was offended. I wondered if he had a medical illness or condition would his fitness as a husband and father be so readily questioned. Would there be the same doubts about wanting to deal with a setback or flare-up and the dietary changes that it would entail if we were talking about diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure? Would those symptoms seem so distasteful? I doubt they would because they are considered part of human frailty. We didn’t cause the illness and we can’t always prevent the symptoms. It is accepted that these things are not completely within our control and, even with regular medical treatment, flare-ups can occur.

Illness or conditions that involve the mind and fall under the heading of mental illnesses or conditions are still treated very differently. They are often thought of as something that we did; something that we can control or something that leaves us totally out of control. There is often not a middle ground. The symptoms are frequently treated with disdain and fear. The idea that he would leave a baby unattended or put his need to exercise above the needs of his child suggests that he has no self-control, not to mention the suggestion that he is selfish. Eating disorders are often viewed as selfish. They are still many times viewed not as a disorder, not as something that the person didn’t want or ask for, but as something vain and self-centered, and lacking in any self-control. The idea that someone with a mental illness or condition cannot control themselves still stigmatizes and it still hurts.

The scenario presented to our son’s fiancée was intended to cause doubt. The tone clearly suggested a bias that I don’t think would have existed with other illnesses. There is a lot of evidence that a poor diet and lack of exercise contributes to Type II Diabetes and heart disease. There are many other factors in play and the person with these diseases didn’t ask for them and didn’t do something to knowingly cause them. Imagine a scenario where a woman is asked about her fiancées Diabetes. Imagine he had eaten a very poor diet prior to this diagnosis and the question ‘what if he can’t control his love for junk food and his Diabetes worsens. Suppose his kidneys fail and he can’t work and support his family? How would you handle dialysis? Why would you want to have to deal with his dietary restrictions?’ What if the question of having to work with the dietary restrictions of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease was called into question? The person on the defense would likely be the person asking the questions. How unfair it would be to suggest rejecting someone for something outside of their control. Eating disorders are not ranked the same way. The person with the eating disorder is on the defense.

As a society we have certain comfort zones. We are comfortable talking about health as it relates to medical illness. You can go to a restaurant and request a special diet for a whole host of reasons that would go almost completely unnoticed. Religious, cultural, vegan, and health all fit the comfort zone. You can shake down the menu with the scrutiny of a food critic because you want to find low carb, low cholesterol, low sodium, or low calorie for the purpose of dieting and little, if any, eyebrows will be raised. In fact, it might lead to interesting dinner conversation. Reveal that you need a special diet because you have an eating disorder and require certain portion sizes, levels of protein, variety and the reaction is likely to be one of discomfort. Scrutinize the menu because you see a lot of “fear foods” on it, or because you are worried about the portions being too big and feeling full, or about not knowing the caloric content of the meal, or how it is prepared and you will likely find awkward rather than interesting dinner conversation. Try saying any of the above as a male and the experience will likely be even more awkward.

My son seemed shocked that I was offended. I am not out of touch with reality. I am aware that there would be questions about the eating disorder and whether it is being treated. That would be a normal question with any illness. Wanting details and some information and reassurance is also normal. All parents want their children to know what they are getting into when it comes to marriage and that is expected.

There are no guarantees in this life. Whether your condition is diabetes, heart condition, or arthritis, flare-ups and setbacks can and probably will occur. With good medical treatment and follow-up, these flare-ups are usually managed and people generally lead very normal lives. Mental illness isn’t different. Flare-ups and setbacks can and do occur. They are also managed with good follow-up and treatment and people also lead very normal lives.

Any illness or condition should surely be shared with someone you intend to spend the rest of your life with, but beyond that it should be regarded as your own business. It should be something that you choose to share or not share with people that you meet. It shouldn’t be the feared “secret”. It shouldn’t be a game changer and it shouldn’t define who you are.

There shouldn’t ever be the need to apologize for human frailty, regardless of what form it takes. It is, after all, human and none of us escapes the human condition. Mental illness and addiction isn’t something people ask for and they didn’t knowingly “do” something to cause it. More and more evidence points to genetics just as many “medical” illnesses do. The idea that we make a diabetic apologize for his diabetes is ridiculous and so should be the idea of apologizing for an eating disorder, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, or any other illness. The diabetic is not his diabetes. Our son is funny, loving, kind, caring, responsible, hard-working, and he has an eating disorder. It is only a part of his life. Our son is not his eating disorder.

I am the mother of a son with Anorexia. At the time he was diagnosed, this was very sparsely recognized among males. My son and my family were very alienated and stigmatized as we tried to help him. Male eating disorders were not well received or recognized by the medical community or in the mainstream. I started my blog because of the stigma he and our family faced, to help other mothers and caregivers know that they are not alone, and to offer support to those of us “outliers”.

Christina Leigh can be found on her blog and Facebook. 

Katy Campbell

 

Eating disorder
I remember the way you creeped into my life
Latching on to my already insecure mind
The perfect target
Fat kid, who was scared of growing up
You burrowed your way in
Creating a hole
You told me I needed control
It wasn’t long till everyone could see
My pale skin which flaked
My clothes which got to big
I wasn’t underweight but undernourished
On only 400 cals most days
No one said anything
I remember mums worried face
As she said “you must eat more”
My friends at school asked “why do you never eat lunch anymore”
I made up an excuse “just not hungry”, ” I already ate” or “I’ve just lost that baby fat you always said would go at some stage”
I ate more then I ate less
Then I ate healthy then i wouldn’t care
Then I binged, then I would purge
I was confused and in despair
Never able to control
Always chopping always changing
I was not anorexic or bulimic nor did I have binge eating disorder.
I just wished someone could see that even when I was eating more than 400 cals a day
And I wasn’t feeling faint and looking unwell
That I was still in pain
That I was still thinking about it all the time
And that I hadn’t ‘got better’ just was able to hide it for a while
If I wasn’t starving
I would be bingeing
Or sometimes both
Bingeing then starving
No one saw that the dressing gown pockets filled with custard cream biscuits as I slyly climbed the stairs
Or hair tied back in front of the toilet bowl
You saw me eat again
You saw me smile again and presumed that everything was now alright
In fact it may have been more dangerous
As you couldn’t see it this way
It was hidden behind locked doors
Of bathrooms and bedrooms
Lies told, harm done
I missed the girl from before
Yes, she was overweight
But she was far more happy than you are now

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Stigma Fighters: Isaac James Baker

Destigmatizing Medication: How Psychiatric Medicine Helped Me Survive

Isaac James Baker shares his personal story of how his psychiatric drugs helped to save his life, as he battled anorexia, anxiety and depression.

When my psychiatrist told me he was prescribing medication, I told him, “No thanks, I’m fine.”

But he insisted, rolling off an impressive list of reasons that demonstrated how I was, in fact, not fine. Not by a long shot.

I weigh about 165, but at the time I teetered on the scales at 95 pounds. My muscles had shriveled, tiny lanugo hairs covered my body, and my brain had literally shrunken, all part of my starving body’s attempt to stay alive. I couldn’t remember anything for more than a few seconds and I was stuck in a constant teeter-totter of extreme anxiety and bottomless depression. When it became clear that I was close to death, I struggled to find the energy not to give up and let death take me.

My diagnosis: anorexia nervosa, acute anxiety and depression.

That’s what the file says, but the story of how I ended up in such a dire situation is much more complex. (It’s a story I unpack in my 2014 novel “Broken Bones.”)  I had been struggling for a long time with untreated anxiety, depression and compulsive fits. When my wife left me, my mind and body unraveled quickly. I stopped eating, drinking water and sleeping in any sort of meaningful way. Actively killing myself seemed too much effort, so I subconsciously took the road of self-induced starvation.

When I ended up in the hospital emergency room, I didn’t know who I was. My organs were closing in on failure. I needed serious, long-term rehabilitation.  Food, basically. And medication. At the rehabilitation center, I ate lots and lots and lots of nutritious food. At first, I had to pair my meals with phosphorous powder and water because my body could not properly metabolize the food I needed.

For years prior to my hospitalization, I had been averse to medication. I rarely took anything for headaches or muscle pain. When I broke a rib surfing, I didn’t bother going to the doctor. When a mole on my arm looked sketchy, I sterilized a knife and cut it off. Medication for mental health problems? No fucking way.

My family has a long and complex history with mental health problems, and we don’t have the best history of talking openly about these kinds of problems. Through that prism, I viewed taking drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist as a sign of personal weakness. It was an indicator of my inability to get my shit together on my own, a sign I had given up on myself and bought in to Big Pharma’s marketing gimmicks.

Of course, this is all bullshit, but stigma about medication for mental health is commonplace. Ending the stigma that surrounds mental illness cannot be achieved if we continue to view drugs this way.

Sometimes, people need drugs. And there’s not a damn thing wrong or shameful about it.

I see a lot of my friends deride Big Pharma and denounce medication as a crutch: “Natural remedies will save us all!” “America is full of over-medicated sheeple!”That’s their prerogative.

I’m open to non-medical remedies, and I’m more than sympathetic to criticism of a massive industry designed to profit as much as possible off the sale of prescription drugs. But, when I broke my foot, I used crutches. I got better and left the crutches behind, but if my foot were perpetually broken, I would be an idiot to toss the crutches aside.

My anxiety severely disrupts my sleep, which begins a downward spiral of waking up, being unable to go back to sleep, becoming exhausted and even more anxious, which is followed by even worse sleep. It gets so bad that I lay in bed unable to sleep, yet find myself passing out in public. This is what happens when I stop taking my medication, something I’ve unwisely done on multiple occasions. I scratch at my skin until I bleed, grind my teeth until my jaw aches and wander aimlessly through the house with a higher heart rate. Then the panic attacks rise up again. I start skipping meals. Suicidal thoughts, which are always pecking at me, start gouging. It’s not a good place.

Sure, there are myriad things beside medication that I use to help keep myself together. I exercise several times a week and eat plenty of healthy food. And I make time for things that keep me together as an individual (outdoor activity, music, reading, writing, sex, etc). And I experiment with other methods of stress relief, like meditation, controlled breathing, mental exercises. The healing power of the ocean, through surfing, has been key to my recovery.

But, for certain people in certain times, these weapons fail. Sometimes, people need drugs. And there’s not a damn thing wrong or shameful about it.

If you have a mental health problem, medication can (and in many cases must) be a part of the solution. I say “part of the solution,” because a personal desire to remain strong and healthy is the crucial factor. Medication or not, I would not be out of the psychiatric ward eating healthily and refraining from suicidal tendencies if I was not personally committed to my own mental and physical health. But medication helps me keep my feet balanced as I move forward.

Implicit in my argument is the presence of a good psychiatrist. A person with whom you can speak openly about your dark places. A person who prescribes medicine because they feel, from their position of knowledge and expertise, that drugs are necessary. A person who will listen as you discuss any doubts or questions you may have about your medication. I’m lucky enough to have access to medical professionals I trust, and I certainly wish this were the case for so many less privileged people who struggle with similar issues but have no access to a caring professional.

If you’re able to see a psychiatrist, it can be a scary thing, admitting you have a problem and trusting that medication from a doctor will be helpful.  But shame and stigma related to medication should not factor into the decision. And while those suffering from mental illness make that decision, those people who do not need medication should be careful in the way they talk about this issue.

There are men and women just like me among your friends, and they need support, not judgment.

Isaac James Baker has worked as a freelance writer, editor, and reporter. His novel Broken Bones debuted in 2014, which chronicles a month-long stay in a psychiatric ward. He is finishing up a novel based on his years at a missionary boarding school. He blogs about Reading, Writing & Wine and contributes to the award-winning daily wine blog Terroirist. Follow him @IsaacJamesBaker.

This post is part of a joint series by The Good Men Project and Stigma Fighters in sharing stories of real men living with mental illness.  To submit your story, see below.

SF

Stigma Fighters is an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the millions of people who are seemingly “regular” or “normal” but who are actually hiding the big secret: that they are living with mental illness and fighting hard to survive.

The more people who share their stories, the more light is shone on these invisible illnesses, and the more the stigma of living with mental illness is reduced.

gm[The Good Men Project is the only international conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century.

Mental health and the reducing the social stigma of talking about mental health is and has been a crucial area of focus for The Good Men Project.

If you are a man living with mental illness, and want to share your story, we would love to help.

To submit to the Good Men Project, please submit here.

To submit to Stigma Fighters, please submit here.

Submissions will run in both publications.  When you submit, please make sure to let us know you submitting as part of this Joint Call for Submissions with Stigma Fighters and Good Men Project.

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Stigma Fighters: Clyde Dee

Reflections on Overcoming Stigma to Pay Forward
Back when I was just a yuppie, I learned a few points of wisdom that I want to pay forward to some mental health academics and administrators.
I was learning to chop cheese steaks at a Korean owned deli and instantly enamored with this mentor on the grill, Mister Ray Gee. The deli was located just across the river from downtown Philadelphia, in the North Camden ghetto. This Mister Ray and I were just meeting. We were both the same skin-and-bones size, our last names went together in rhyme, and any middle aged man who didn’t have a gut was an inspiration to me.
Mister Ray took one look at me and said, “Wow you are an Asshole! But don’t worry, it’s not your fault! You were just raised that way!”
Without missing a breath, our supervisor, a short and stout man who we called Doc set me to work scraping grease off the floor with a razor blade. I dove into the work very comfortable with what had just occurred. I felt a little charge with the challenge. On my knees I scraped and scraped to overcompensate.
I immediately found myself thinking about how when I returned to school from four months of incarceration in two different mental health hospitals, I had only scoffed when my peers, the majority of whom had previously bullied me, welcomed me back with a little gift certificate. Though it wasn’t all that unusual of a gesture for peers at a private Quaker school to extend, I had only acted humiliated. I had to acknowledge that it was asshole behavior.
I thought even more about the sessions the family had in Salvador Minuchin’s reputable inpatient clinic. One day in session, my Mom openly admitted that she shared the content of a session back to a work colleague. My Mom worked at the school I attended. She later gave me evidence that my private information was filtering down to the jury of my peers who were sorry and praying for her. When I returned to school much of this would appear to be confirmed. Worse no therapist on the hospital staff seemed to acknowledge my perspective.
On my knees, I sensed Mister Ray was intuiting aspects of these complexities with his test. If I was willing to pass his test, he was giving me a chance to learn something new.
In the yearbook back at Quaker school, my peers lied about the local commuter school I chose to attend. They said that I went to the high cost prestige of Antioch University in Ohio. I was an honor student and I was making them all look bad when I moved to the ghetto with a twenty-five-year-old girlfriend and save my parents money. Communication in my family about finances is such that I still don’t know if I really had a choice.
A few months later, I got my second point of wisdom from Mister Ray. By this time I had learned to use the grill from him. I had heard about his sexual exploits with white girls without judgment. I had aptly proven that outside work I was just a book worm in the library, but could curse. And though it was true that by that time he knew I lived with roaches to escape from an abusive relationship, I think what really earned me respect was my willingness to let him con me into driving him uptown after work to cop.
In any case, he decided to help me. He said, “Boy, you have got to work smarter, not harder.” It became a mantra along with his nickname for me, Nervous Norton.
Again, I felt profoundly understood. It wasn’t that I marveled because I didn’t expect anything from him. We had fallen into a pattern of respect. With few words and resilience of spirit he inspired a spiritual healing within.
As a man with significant learning disabilities, I couldn’t afford to immediately practice Mister Ray’s second lesson. When I would be a graduate and fledgling social worker I would have a habit of positioning myself beneath supervisors as I worked my way through a Master’s Program and carrying out their will. This worked fine until I graduated and got hired by a supervisor who also sustained a cocaine habit in a west coast city. I became radicalized and started breaking standard drug war codes of behavior in a section 8 housing project. This caused me to believe that I was being followed. I ended up incarcerated in an old order state hospital. It took two and a half years of poverty, but I eventually would recover. In order to recover I would need to learn how to do things like honor my mother in spite of those perceptions I had back in high school. I also had to stop relating to all white people as though I was Mister Ray. Lesson learned?
It wasn’t till six years after I recouped my career that I actually started to use Mister Ray’s well remembered advice. I started running groups about surviving “psychosis” using my own experience. I started my own personal practice of keeping in real in therapy.
Perhaps it was unique privilege to be taught points of wisdom by Mister Ray. They continue to help me see through the lies and shortcomings that currently limit our mental health field, evidence based practice and the medical model. I even see through elements of cultural bias in some anti-establishment rhetoric.
Sadly, Ray and Doc had only lasted a few seasons before they both quit because of becoming disgruntled with the Korean mobster management and oppression. I certainly didn’t blame them even though I ended up losing touch. At the Deli, stale cereal sold for seven dollars a box and there were no supermarkets within a ten mile radius. Neighborhood contacts reported that Doc, who had used unacknowledged expertise to diversify the menu, had a subsequent binge on crack.
I ended up partnering with a similarly aged cohort from the neighborhood because I did need the money. My partner and I ended up mentoring youth beneath us. They had a choice, I would learn, between working with us under the table, and working to sell crack under the bridge. Some didn’t have longevity, but several did. For several years they were my family and social life.
Though I am well aware that not all academic and administrative folks need a lecture about mainstream paradigms, now that I am advocating for the development of an out of the box program in an utterly oppressive system, I find many who do. I believe we can train individuals who have experienced “psychosis” and are on the streets to run support groups. I have helped prove this could be done, but not everyone wants to listen.
At work in an inner-city program, I do therapy with good Mister Ray people who have more beauty in their hearts and suffering in their bones than me, but who are rendered immobile and impoverished. I believe a lot less harm could be done. I believe solutions exist that can transform the system from being a cotton industry to a soil saving industry of mixed nuts. I think of Mister Ray’s wisdom and experience a lot as I face those who defend those stale seven dollar boxes of cereal paradigms that fail people.
In my next out-of-the-box book I am trying to pay forward the things that people I know who are like Mister Ray keep teaching me. I often feel torn in my gut by a massive disconnect I perceive going on in society. Like most writers these days I wonder if my work will ever get seen and I write blogs to try to find my audience. I often find my message not deemed appropriate for academic blog sites.
My work has ranked high in awards, even when I don’t quite win and when a judge reflects stubborn stigma in the comments. I don’t write to be insulting, but not everyone is motivated to overcome the stigma I see. I continue to feel the wisdom of all the Mister Ray people I know can make the mental health industry healthier if the industry was willing to listen. I wish there were not such immense barriers to working together. Ultimately, to survive, we all need to minimize the divisive cognitive distortions that stigma bestow. Sometimes I wonder if other people of privilege are capable of coming off their pedestals to see the way that stigma so radically distorts so many aspects of our lives.

teachingRaised in a private school, Clyde Dee, sought refuge in a ghetto community to hide a history of anorexia. Working his way through, Clyde has learned to champion the untold story. Now a licensed Mental Health Practitioner and an anonymous author, he works in an inner-city mental health facility. His first book, Fighting for Freedom in America: Memoir of a “Schizophrenia” and Mainstream Cultural Delusions, was published by Outskirts Press in September 31, 2015. He additionally is working on a second book to help supporters and sufferers be curious about the universal qualities of a “psychosis.” One day he hopes to help revolutionize treatment across diagnostic divides.

Clyde can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter. 

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Stigma Fighters: Rose Lockinger

My Struggle With Bulimia And Addiction

For many people, addiction isn’t their only struggle. It’s estimated that nearly half of all persons afflicted with addiction also suffer from a co-occurring disorder. This may be depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD or an eating disorder.

Body dysmorphia and eating disorders can begin at any time, and for me it started at about 13. My self-esteem and self-image was distorted, and I suffered from intense anxiety, fear and depression. I started trying to control my food intake in order to fix myself, both inside and outside. Limiting my food intake to lose weight didn’t work, however. I couldn’t control my impulse to eat, which only made me feel worse

At some point, I decided to try purging. Once I realized I could eat without worrying, my eating disorder really took control of me. I went from throwing up multiple times a day in my first year. Just like an addiction to substances, my eating disorder progressed. I lived with this for many years.

Having an eating disorder truly rules your existence. It prohibited me from having an active social life, it interfered with my schooling and my relationship with my family. I couldn’t live normally.

Things came to a head when I accidentally swallowed a toothbrush while trying to vomit. I had to go to the hospital to have it removed. The very next day, I was throwing up again. This was a real moment of clarity for me. I knew I needed help. I couldn’t stop.

I spent some time in the hospital. Despite the severity of my illness, I couldn’t get insurance coverage for more than 5 weeks of treatment. Even then I knew that I wasn’t well enough to leave the hospital, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I left treatment and had nearly a year free from my eating disorder, however my problems weren’t over. I began drinking and using with my friends. It quickly escalated, just as my eating disorder had. Now I was using and experiencing consequences as a result of that. Once again, I sought help for my eating disorder, which had returned. I wasn’t admitting to myself that I had a substance abuse problem, though.

After another short stint in treatment, I was back on my own again. This time, I ended up with consequences that finally led me to admit I had a problem with alcohol. I began attending a 12 step program. This helped me stop using drugs and alcohol but I was still in bondage. I still actively engaged in my eating disorder.. With this problem still unaddressed, it was only a matter of time before I began using again. It always seemed to me that I would never be free no matter what I would be a slave to addiction in one form or another.

When you aren’t able to get help for your co-occurring disorders together, one is always going to come back, with the other is soon to follow. This is one reason why it is so difficult for those fighting two disorders to successfully recover. A few weeks of treatment aimed at only one of the problems simply doesn’t work. Realistically speaking even addressing both disorders in an inpatient short term treatment facility leaves the person with little or no chance at success.

I met someone, fell in love and became a parent. Things went well for a while, but the problems were still there. I went to a doctor for my ADHD as I was going back to school and needed something to help me focus. I left with a prescription for Adderall. This changed things, because now I was using legal, prescription drugs. I realized that there were medications that could help me with the problems I was having. My inability to focus, my anxiety, my chronic pain. There’s a pill for everything, and I wasn’t doing anything wrong, right?

Finally, I hit a bottom. There was no way I could keep going the way I was going. I wanted to die, and had I not finally gotten the help I needed, I would have.
What Finally Changed
Once again, I completed a short, thirty day program to help address, eating disorder my addiction and PTSD. However, I knew from past experience that 30 days wasn’t going to cut it. I needed more help. I begged them to send me somewhere so I could continue to recover. I’m so glad I was able to advocate for myself — it isn’t easy — and ensure that I continued to get the treatment I needed. They found a facility in Florida that would take me and by the grace of God I was able to stay for 5 months.

This SAVED my life!!! Finally I was able to make headway and get the help I had needed for so many years. Today I am still active in individual therapy and slowly but surely I am continuing my work on personal growth. I have made huge strides in my life in the last 19 months I went from being broken and empty to living a full and happy life. Now I am not saying that life is perfect it isn’t my recovery has been full of challenges and successes. The beauty has been in fully experiencing each and every moment, as they saying goes “there is a time and a season for everything”

It was important that I address both my addiction and my eating disorder. It was also important that I address other issues that were impacting my life, such as anxiety and PTSD. Too often, treatment simply isn’t long enough or comprehensive enough to fully delve into the underlying issues that drive the addiction.

Healing from an eating disorder is a process. I have to be vigilant. Recovering from addiction is also a lifelong process. I feel incredibly grateful that I was able to get help and to make the changes necessary to life a full, healthy life. So many people don’t get that opportunity. I am able to be a mother to my child, and I am able to achieve other goals I set for myself.  I am so grateful to be alive.

IMG_1430-1Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

Rose can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: RM

I Say, I’m Recovered.

However is there such a thing.
I don’t abuse laxatives, or make myself purge.
No longer restricting calories, or missing social events.

The Photo Attached: is from 2007 during the dangerous part of my struggle. I look at this picture it makes me want to be skinny. But I also remember how broken inside I was. I NEVER want to feel that way again.
However, is there such a thing as being fully recovered?
I do look in the mirror and say wow I’m fat.
Yes, I avoided the gym and eating healthy as the fear of falling back.

Am I really recovered?
If I was, would looking at old photos be this bad for my mental and physical health?
When I look into the future, there are no issues in sight. But when I look in the past some things makes me want to fall back.

This pain is real, the struggle is real.
But why do I call myself recovered? I’m not and not sure if I ever will!

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RM grew up in a household of dysfunction. She is trying her hardest to stay afloat!

 

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Stigma Fighters: Caitlin Flynn

I grew up in the ballet world, so it’s impossible for me to remember a time when I wasn’t highly conscious of my body size. As a recovered anorexic, many people assume that ballet must be the sole cause of my years-long battle with an eating disorder — but it’s far from that simple. I believe that, like most eating disordered individuals, I was born with a genetic predisposition to the illness and a perfect storm of environmental factors pulled the trigger and sent me into the abyss of anorexia.

I was an extremely confident child, to the point where my mom sometimes had to tell me to take it down a notch when it came to bragging about my successes at school and dance. Until around fifth grade, I was unaffected by any criticisms that were thrown my way and I was unfazed by authority figures. When I was 10 years old, all that changed seemingly overnight. A series of recurring traumatic events occurred in my home and I abruptly became a shadow of my former self. I stopped talking and laughing like I used to. I became skittish and I stopped sleeping because I was plagued by nightmares. I cried at the drop of a hat, and any sort of criticism from an authority figure absolutely crushed me. It wasn’t until years later that I realized these were all hallmark symptoms of PTSD.

At the age of 11, I scrawled in my journal that I needed to lose weight. That same year, I got my first period and developed breasts. I was absolutely horrified, and not just because every pound and every curve was painfully obvious when I put on my dance leotard each day. (Although that certainly compounded my self-consciousness.) I know now that it’s common for females who hit puberty early to develop eating disorders — becoming sexualized at such a young age is a scary feeling for many of us.

I flirted with an eating disorder for about a year before I developed full-fledged anorexia. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a wardrobe mistress at my ballet school was fitting me for my Nutcracker costume. She commented that the girl who’d had the same role the year before me was stick thin and I wasn’t. More specifically, she told me that she’d need to make alterations to my costume because I was “too fat” for it. Did I mention she said this in front of a room full of fellow students? I couldn’t breathe, but I held back my tears long enough to go back to another three-hour rehearsal. When I got home that night, I laid in bed and sobbed for three hours straight. Then I came up with a game plan. Losing weight should be as easy as gaining it. I set a goal weight, established a timeline, and marked my calendar. This was all under my control.

I met my goal weight, then I set a new one. I was good at this, so why stop now? By the time opening night of The Nutrcracker rolled around, the wardrobe mistress had needed to alter my costume because I’d lost so much weight. I felt triumphant. I’d shown her, hadn’t I?

Fast forward to springtime and I was twenty pounds lighter. I could feel my stomach eating itself and I saw stars every time I stood up too quickly, but I felt high off of starvation. To this day it pains me to admit that out of all my academic and professional successes, few things felt as good as the control I felt when the pounds melted off me. I was over the moon about my weight loss, but my mom wasn’t. She took me to my pediatrician and I was quickly diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Outpatient therapy proved ineffective and I was hospitalized shortly before my eighth grade graduation. It would prove to be my first of seven hospitalizations over a twelve-year period.

Even when I withdrew from the ballet world, my eating disorder persisted. I wasn’t ready to face my PTSD and the pain of starvation was a welcome reprieve from the daily flashbacks and terror I experienced. I would “recover” for brief periods, only to quickly relapse again and again. I was lucky enough to receive a lot of amazing treatment, but none of it stuck because I couldn’t confront the traumas of my past.

I took medical leaves from high school, college, and my first job in New York City. At the age of 22, I was lucky enough to meet a therapist who made me feel safe in a way that I’d never experienced before. I didn’t realize that I had PTSD at the time, but I was able to open up to her about what had happened to me as a child. This was the crucial first step in achieving real, lasting recovery. The work was nothing short of excruciating. My shame was so deep-rooted that I couldn’t form the words to tell her what had happened to me — so, for a period of time, I would email her before our sessions because writing was easier than talking. Slowly but surely, we began to openly talk about my trauma in our sessions. I said things out loud that I never thought I’d be able to verbalize. My therapist validated me in a way that I desperately needed — and, because I trusted her so much, I finally was able to take it to heart that terrible things had happened to me that I did not deserve.

Once I went through the hard work of confronting my PTSD, I still had to deal with the eating disorder symptoms. They didn’t simply disappear because I was receiving help for the events that had triggered my illness. But, as I regained a sense of control and a realization that I had nothing to be ashamed of, it was easier to allow myself the “luxury” of eating a real meal and acknowledging that I deserved to be healthy. We all deserve this.

Today, I’m 28 years old and I’m proud to consider myself a fully recovered anorexic. The recovery process was, at times, more painful than the eating disorder itself — but I can’t emphasize enough that it was more than worth all the hard work. The message I want to send to anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder is this: no one is “meant” to live with an eating disorder. We all deserve better. The path to recovery is messy, complicated, and there are setbacks along the way. But we should never give up, because we all deserve to be physically and mentally healthy.

ParentMap-PhotoCaitlin Flynn is a Seattle-based writer who specializes in women’s issues, entertainment, and mental health. She’s a full-time Gemini, a former ballerina, and a proponent of the Oxford comma. Caitlin has recovered from anorexia nervosa and PTSD.

 

 

 

Caitlin can be found on Bustle, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Teresa Ceballos

My father told me once that the only people you can ever truly rely on for support are your family. This is the only occasion I can think of that my father has been completely and unquestionably wrong. Since developing an eating disorder, I have found a team of allies that includes family and beyond, and continues to grow even today.

When I say “allies” I don’t just mean parents or guardians who helped pay for therapists and nutritionists, or cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who offered unconditional support and kind phone calls. Family members are, of course, invaluable allies. But when I say “allies” I also mean the friends, roommates, classmates, even acquaintances, who have stuck around with no obligation whatsoever to do so. While family can often be easiest and most comfortable to lean on, part of recovering from an eating disorder is leaning on the people who are not quite as easy to be vulnerable with.

Vulnerability is an eating disorder’s worst nightmare. How could the advice of a friend possibly make you feel any more secure than the control you can obtain by rigidly monitoring your diet? Why have a heart-to-heart with your roommate when it would hurt much less to just go for a run until you don’t feel anything anymore? The answers to both of these questions are disturbingly realistic: there are some things that an eating disorder can do that your allies can’t.

The difference is, however, that the eating disorder does these things to you, but your allies do these things for you. Your allies can give you a hug and squeeze you tight; your eating disorder cannot. Your allies can make you laugh until you cry; your eating disorder can just make you cry.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with other people is truly terrifying, especially after weeks, months, or even years of keeping your emotions and pains to yourself. It may take time, but it is beyond worth it. Humans by nature are social beings, and to deny this is to deny our humanity. We are all humans; we all crave the love of others. We all have allies; but maybe we just haven’t turned to them yet. If you have people who love you (and we all do), then you have allies. The journey of recovery is impossible without allies. It does not matter how many you have – it just matters how much they care.

So, when I address “An Open Letter to My Allies,” to whom am I writing?

To my family who will provide for me in any way possible to ensure my recovery.

To my friends from high school who did not flinch or turn away when I told them what I was going through, but rather turned towards me and asked how they could help.

To my roommates who have cried tears of empathy to try to take away some of the pain I have felt onto themselves.

To my best friend who watched my eating disorder take hold of me right before her eyes, felt it push her away, but continued to love me as hard as she could until I realized why I deserve love.

There is no way to express gratitude to your allies in a way that feels adequate. All we can do is lean on them and know that we couldn’t do this without them. And that is more than enough.

10881713_10203756263051508_2907278703446533606_n120 year old undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Diagnosed with depression, bulimia, and OSFED in June of 2015. Trying to get my life back through mental health advocacy and doing the things I love, which include but are not limited to: spending time with friends and family, going to the beach, playing frisbee, running, swimming in the ocean, baking, and traveling in the United States and beyond.

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Stigma Fighters: Jen Venegas

A birthday party in my Chicano family looks something like this: all of my aunts are in the kitchen frying up tacos to eat with homemade rice, beans, and fideo while my uncles and the cousins are all scattered around the house, cracking jokes, watching sports, playing with the family babies, but mostly waiting for those tacos to hit the table. Food, aside from family, is always the major focus of our frequent parties and get-togethers. When I was growing up, my uncles would have eating contests to see who could eat the most tacos or the biggest piece of birthday cake. The winner would get bragging rights and cheers. Oh, and pats on the belly, which we all have. Almost everyone in my family is overweight, especially the men, to the point of priding themselves on it, seeing it as a feat to have eaten so much in one sitting and over time. Birthday parties also show the aunts and female cousins over-indulging and celebrating with food but there is always a sense of judgement and negativity lingering just behind the joviality. I am used to hearing a “this is going straight to my belly,” while watching an aunt bite into one more taco.

My family is big on nicknames and teasing – it’s one of the central ways we express endearment and familiarity. As a child, I was used to teasing coming from a place of love and so when my grandma would call me her little “gordita,” or “little pig,” I relished the attention. An older cousin, who I looked up to as a sister, called me “bally” because my tummy was big and round like a ball protruding from the center of my body. This was the same cousin who went on an extreme diet when she was 17 years old, spent hours exercising in her room, and binging on sugar free candy. I, a young chubby Chicana in junior high, watched my father go on the Jenny Craig diet. I watched him lose about 60 lbs (only to gain most of it back over a decade later) eating prepackaged meals that came every week in a cardboard box in the mail.

As the next generation of our family is born, I have seen these same insecurities passed down to the new children as their parents and grandparents comment on a two-year-old girl’s barrel chest or a three-month-old baby boy’s fat cheeks. Love is behind those comments but it is impossible to tell how these messages, coupled with messages from the media, will be received and processed by these children. For myself, the messages I received left and right, from so many sources, helped me form a toxic relationship between food and emotions, one that I continue to struggle with today.

Food and the body was always a major focus of attention and while some members of my family tried to fight this prophecy with strict diets, as a kid growing up with a strict Chicano father and a family that likes to eat, I quickly learned to equate food with emotions. Celebrations linked to food and happiness. On the other hand, food and eating was also linked to sadness and anger with my parents often engaging in explosive arguments before, after, and during family meals. Fear and anxiety I felt as a child found a release in second helpings, extra desserts, or sneaking sweets.

At school I was one of two fat girls in my relatively diverse classes and while I had plenty of friends, being in a minority size-wise was difficult. Watching my skinny friends borrow clothes from each other and go shopping at stores with clothes that I didn’t fit into still brings up feelings of isolation and literally not fitting in. In middle school, I was tagged the “Pillsbury Dough Girl,” and played along, “woo hoo”-ing whenever a friend poked me in the stomach. It was easier to put up a front instead of fighting back. I watched as these kids mocked other kids with differing traits, including the other fat girl in the class. While she was frequently called a whale or compared to the size of an amusement park, I took some sanction in the fact that at least my nickname was a cute white little baking mascot.

In high school, I grew isolated from my extended family, seeing them as symbols of excess, of difference, of “other.” Even though I was attending a predominantly Chicana all-girls Catholic high school, I immersed myself into the culture of the fashion magazines I’d been reading for years, the representations of skinny white girls everywhere I looked, and the fat funny woman, occasionally of color, that was suddenly popping up in the television shows and movies I was exposed to. I recognized my family’s difference, in both race and size, and shamefully removed myself as much as a teenager can. While I have yet to remove the Chicana or the fat from my core, as a teen, I sure as hell tried my hardest to fit into a culture that ostracized me from my onset. I needed that thin body, those white girl features, and the clothes and status to match it.

Once puberty hit, my father and I would get into epic fights – with him struggling to control me in any way he could and me struggling to maintain my ever-growing independence. I had been an emotional over-eater for much of my chaotic childhood, but now all of that got rehashed into a strict regimen of running miles a day and skipping every single meal possible. I developed an eating disorder in high school but it had been a lifetime in the making. While struggling, I convinced myself of two things – my family would never accept my need to be thinner, different, to fit in better and there would be no doctor that would take my eating disorder seriously after taking one look at my overweight body. Everything I had ever read or seen on eating disorders always showcased underweight rich white girls and here I was, a fat Mexican girl whose family just barely fell into middle class. Rich I was not. White I was not. Underweight, I definitely was not. I felt isolated from everything – from the society that simultaneously told me to hate my body, my weight, my culture and from my family that worshipped food and yet secretly, away from each other, hated their bodies and their attachment to food.

As an adult today, I have made huge strides in acceptance of myself, my body, my upbringing and my individual family members with their own struggles. I no longer feel the need to join in with my cousins as they bemoan our shared linebacker shoulders and barrel chests, a visual and genetic testament to our heritage and culture. Years of therapy and self-care have taught me ways to safely and respectfully distance myself from becoming enmeshed in my loved ones’ own insecurities and self-hatreds. The Fat Acceptance movement empowered me by normalizing different body shapes and sizes and by giving me permission to own and respect my bigger body and frame. I have achieved some solace and peace through growing up and the determination to get better.

No amount of personal growth or self-care, however, could compensate for the frequent appeals and pleas I was forced to make with insurance companies responsible for aiding in my treatment. Having been in and out of eating disorder treatment centers for my battle with bulimia had only helped to reinforce the stigma I feared as a teenager. Time after time, my doctors told me that my insurance would no longer cover my treatment because I didn’t meet the qualifications for bulimia nervosa.

These qualifications are usually determined almost exclusively by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a publication that not only defines anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) all by very strict and limiting definitions, but also undergoes regular revisions as the field of mental health advances. Patients that fail to currently meet the qualifications of either anorexia or bulimia tend to get lumped in with the catch-all of EDNOS. In April 2010, CNN.com reported on a recent study, published in the journal Pediatrics that found “more than 60 percent of patients with EDNOS met medical criteria for hospitalization and were, on average, sicker than patients diagnosed with full-blown bulimia.” These diagnostic restrictions can be extremely problematic considering that many people with eating disorders fluctuate between disordered behaviors and weight which may disqualify them from getting the proper diagnosis and therefore treatment he or she may need.

Because my behaviors varied greatly from restriction to binging and purging, my “official” diagnosis moved from Bulimia Nervosa to EDNOS and back again. Because I am fat and my weight fluctuates within “overweight” and “obese” on the BMI scale (yet another flawed diagnostic tool in the medical field), I did not always qualify for the treatment I needed. My constant obsession with food, the addict-like high I got from purging or from restricting, the food rituals and complications from years of abuse on my body were not always enough to guarantee necessary treatment. The medical and insurance industries told me that my struggle was not “enough,” was not worthy of notice or care, a message I am all too familiar with having grown up as a fat Mexican-American woman in Western society.

With a disorder that centers greatly on feelings of inadequacy and disenfranchisement, I didn’t need anyone or thing to validate these feelings. On a bad day, I already parroted the notions that I was not sick enough, not thin enough, not white enough, not rich enough. If only I had those things, I would have qualified for the treatment I needed and I would be able to pay for it myself. Instead, I was forced to find recovery out of treatment that is founded on the false notion that individuals with eating disorders fit a very specific mold, a notion that no doubt is echoed from bigger societal constrictions on race, size, and sex. Recognizing this fact and being able to relate it to the struggle I felt as a child to find a place in my body, my family, and my culture has been key to my progress for health and peace. Remembering how far I’ve come as a fat Chicana woman only makes how far I’ve left to go seem more attainable.

Today I have over four years of recovery but a lifetime of disordered eating. I fight hard every day, still fat, to maintain my recovery. And so far, I’m doing it. I’ve beat the odds.

selfieJen grew up as a Mexican-American queer feminist in Los Angeles. She is passionate about sociopolitical issues, especially coupled with the fashion industry. Jen believes strongly in body-positivity and previously made a living selling vintage clothing for fat women and men. The store was an experiment in creative reuse and providing a resource for plus size women interested in fashion, both present and past. Aside from fat fashion, Jen is also an advocate for queer and mental health rights and awareness. While she’s been writing and creating since she was a child, Jen took her first forays into publishing with zines, or independently published magazines, in her late teens. Her most well-known zine series, She’s Not a Morning Person, was distributed by independent distributions all over the United States, as well as in Canada and Europe. Additionally, Jen was educated in English from California State University, Los Angeles as an adult. While attending the University, Jen also edited the student submissions for university anthologies and magazines. If Jen’s not writing or knitting, she’s cooking up a vegetarian dinner, baking some yummy sweets, or watching a horror or documentary film. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA with her three gorgeous cats.

Jen is the editor and lifestyle blogger at Skinned Knees. You can email her at jen@skinnedknees.net

Jen can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

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