Category Archives: Anorexia

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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. 

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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.

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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: 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 : Phoebe Pummarachai

My story is like any other book in an enormous library. Kept for records, collecting dust, sitting in an isolated nook in a forgotten corner. I’m not trying to downplay my struggles. I know that every story has its purpose. It’s measure of influence on lives and society. But I also don’t want to come across as a narcissistic pessimist. Because in my reality, that is exactly who I am, and exactly who I keep hidden from the rest of the world.

My life is nothing extraordinary. Nothing special. Nothing uncommon. I was born into a loving family who supported me in everything I did. Who gave me everything and anything a growing child could possibly need. However, life has a way of catching you off guard, and demons know how to jump through loop holes too. I was an ideal student, getting straight As. I was an ideal athlete, winning gold medals. I was an ideal child, attentive and respectful. I did everything my parents, my teachers, my coaches told me to do. I didn’t question them, I didn’t talk back, I just them at their word and kept my head down. Becoming the perfect cookie cutter. I fit the ideal mold. Became a role model for others to follow, but the treacherous truth in my false reality was that I was not who I projected myself to be.

I hid behind masks of success and acceptance. Two things that you would never think to be unhealthy goals to achieve. However, because of this truth, it made it the perfect disguise. No one knew that I had been sexually abused for years. No one knew that I struggled with self-confidence. No one knew I had an eating disorder. I lived the lie I told myself. I continued to live for others. Studying for my parents. Winning for my coaches. Living to make other people happy. I never stopped to think twice about my own well-being. About my own happiness. And that is why, my friends, I fell a great distance. The minute I could no longer keep up my projected persona. The second I could not bear to continue to live the lie. The moment I broke and my entire world came crashing down.

I was depressed. I was suicidal. I spent every waking moment trying to escape a reality I wish did not exist. I dropped out of school. Quit my sport. Quit life. I hid under the covers. I hid from myself. But there was no escape. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to find that stable well-kept persona that I had projected my entire life. Everything was lost. I was lost, and even more broken then before. Because now I was not the only one who knew of my pathetic story. Now I had people concerned about me. Instead of looking up at me. Instead of being proud of me. Instead of aspiring to be me. They saw someone who was broken, lost, abused, and eventually forgotten. They looked down at me, eyes filled with pity, sympathy, anger, disappointment. I hated those eyes. I hated those faces. I hated how they reminded me of who I really was. Of how insignificant and worthless I was. I attempted suicide. I landed myself on a 5150 in a psychiatric hospital. Then I was transferred to a treatment center for eating disorders. I talked to therapists, to peers, to anyone and everyone who would listen. At first people cared. At first they wanted to help. But the sad truth is that mental illness gets old, and when you relapse one to many times, people give up.

So here I was again lost, and even more forgotten. I let down the people who supported me the most. They walked out because they had enough. If I didn’t want help myself, how could they possibly help me? I fell into a deeper depression. A sicker reality. I cut deeper everyday. I spent more time wallowing. I wasted away. Distanced myself from everyone. I assumed the mask. Hid behind a persona of a recovered individual. Of someone who was healthy and happy and full of life. I projected myself the way I used to. But it didn’t matter. There was no way I could ever be half the person I was. I attempted 3 more times. But I couldn’t get myself to finish it. I knew there had to be more. There had to be a reason why I was still trying. And here is where you all are waiting to hear how I became better. How I overcame my dark past. But I’m afraid I have to disappoint you once again. I am still living a lie. I am still trying to find my way. I am still lost and broken beyond repair, or so it may seem. I have given up on relationships. It is better to have none. Because when I have people around me, they see who I really am, and the cycle repeats. They are concerned, supportive, helpful. Then they are tired, frustrated, overwhelmed. Then they leave. And so, I know this is for hope. For people to be aware of how life is like when you suffer from an illness that does not manifest itself in obvious physical symptoms. Yes there is a stigma. People are afraid of what they do not understand. They outcast those who do not fit their mold. They discriminate and incriminate those who are lost. They think that they are doing the right thing by staying away. But little do they know that they hold the gun to my head more firmly.

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IMG_1101My name is Phoebe Pummarachai. I am a SoCal native, 18 years old. I study at UC Davis. I’ve been a student athlete all my life. But I am no longer that girl who people look up to. My reputation has fallen off the empire state building, and I am that outcast picking up the scraps on the floor of where my body remains forgotten.

Phoebe can be found on Facebook.

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Stigma Fighters : Gia Sweeney

I have been putting off telling my story because of the stigma that I’m frightened will come along with it. The embarrassment I feel I may cause those close to me. The fear of not getting employment due to a past filled with mental illness. It’s so easy for me to put off what means everything to me. So, in recognition of Suicide Prevention Month I am going to fight the stigma using faith not fear!

My first suicide attempt was in junior year of high school. My high school sweetheart decided it was time to end our relationship and he was moving on to bigger and better. At least this is how I perceived the break up. At the same time of the break up my best friends, whom I had grown up with, decided we were not going to talk… a petty issue possibly, however, the loss of my love and my best girlfriends on top of my lack of happiness since childhood was unbearable to me. I wrote my note, put it under my bed, took my pills and went to sleep. As I woke up that next morning I was unsure of what to do so I told my mom what I had done. This would be the beginning of my growing consciousness in my misery. I had been hospitalized and when I was discharged it was recommended that I see a psychologist. He said something to me that I continue to carry with me today. He said, ” You are not living the life you want”.

As time passed I had at least three other attempts along with diagnoses of cyclotbymia, bipolar, depression, schizoaffective, eating disorder, codependent, addict, alcoholic.
I have had my fair share of hospitalizations, medications, therapy, you name it! The reason I say all this is not to say I’m any different from the next person or I have a grater war story. I say this out of gratitude. I say this because I am fortunate to be alive and be a mother, a daughter, a friend, a woman living with a mental illness, of no longer letting my illness cause me to feel shame, embarrassment, inadequacy. I am sober nine years this October alongside of working on understanding my mental health. I am so excited there is a place to share my experience and know that I am supported and all is going to be ok.
Thank you so much for taking your time to read this and through my struggles and acceptance my hope is to understand and relate to others, being the best Gia I can.
I am fighting the stigma.

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image1Gia is a lover of life, Ayurveda, dance, writing. A mother, daughter, sister, and friend.

Gia can be found on her website

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Stigma Fighters : James Carey

In a world without stigma, the last four years of my family’s lives would have been very different.
In late 2011 we had lost our family business which was tough but we quickly began the process of rebuilding our lives, my wife Jm found employment whilst I worked from home. Jm was previously diagnosed with depression and anxiety after suffering the loss of her mother to cancer, shortly followed by the loss of her father. A family member had begun using social media to vilify Jm, it eventually led to him making vile threats to her, and attacking her illness. We later found out that this “man” had also contacted our youngest daughter Mh, posing as our elder daughter using her social media accounts. A year and a half of abuse had taken its toll on them both.
We eventually lost our home in July 2013, moved into rented accommodation and tried to put all this behind us and start afresh. I started a new job, Jm was seeking work, Mg had just started high school, all this happened in two short stressful weeks, it was also a chance that we intended to grab with both hands.
Mh seemed to be focussing on her new school mates, adolescence seemed to be starting. Healthy foods, keeping fit, sports, she seemed to be enjoying her new life, little did we know that it was the onset of anorexia nervosa. The social media bullying started again, the police could not stop it, lies and mistruths tore through our family. The family troubles hit Jm really hard; the way her mental health was attacked was brutal. He was relentless in spreading his vile words.
Nothing could ever have prepared me for the next few months, the whole saga blew up again, Jm’s health deteriorated rapidly due to the abuse, Mg was no longer the bubbly and confident child of before, I too was feeling the stress. Jm eventually voluntarily sectioned, her world had fell apart, our Doctors had not been helpful (basically translated to “get over it“). The mental health team took a dim view of us, as opposed to listening what the problems were; they told us what they thought they were, I was excluded from any input into Jm’s care. The things I witnessed in the hospital were shocking, no real treatment, just sedation whilst staff happily strolled around using social media on their phones. I complained about a couple of issues, this only made matters worse. After two weeks Jm came out of there feeling worse.
Mh wasn’t eating very well, we took her to the doctors a few times, they just dismissed our concerns, the attention seemed to be focussed on Jmr and I, it was wrong, our daughter was not well. We could see Mg’s health declining, to add to the problems, the social media abuse was still happening, the police were clearly tired of me calling them, I was frustrated that they could not put a stop to it all; I seemed to be disagreeing with everyone.
We appeared to have been “found guilty“ of causing all this, my relationship with MH services had declined, I was frustrated with the police, our daughter’s health was being dismissed as a “passing phase”, life was extremely difficult, social services had also been informed. Jm re-visited MH services, she was prescribed even more medication, daily home care monitoring for the medication was promised, that never happened.
The tablets had a terrible effect on Jm, she appeared drunk, again I was regularly calling the doctors and MH services for advice, I was being met with a new response, “call the police”. Social services became involved at this point, they told me to call the police or there was a likelihood that Mg would be taken into care. I was in a world of confusion, Jm was ill, not a criminal, Mg was really unwell, she needed her parents more than ever, she needed medical help. I made that fateful call to the Police after reassurances that it would actually help to get treatment for Jm; I informed the police control of the situation and the effect of the medication. Two male officers attended, “she’s just pissed mate”, despite me showing the medication, Jm was arrested, handcuffed and spent 14 hours in a vomit filled cell. No Doctor was called, her meds refused, bruises to arms and body, and a criminal record for being mentally ill.
Our new found “reputation” followed us wherever we went, the doctors were still dismissive of Mg’s weight loss, we eventually went to A&E, Mg was weak and dehydrated, her heart beat erratic, blood pressure dangerously low and still the focus turned to Jm and I, this pattern repeated far too many times. After over 4 months of trying, Mg was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, she was admitted to hospital but continued to deteriorate. The relationship with the staff was varied, some were truly amazing, others were totally aloof, the consultant had admitted to us that medical staff had no training with eating disorders, the apathy shown by some was appalling, whatever the illness, our child was seriously ill. Eventually Mh stabilized then fought through recovery, gaining release from hospital after 5 weeks. We had regular appointments with the ED team who by now had actually realized their mistaken judgement of us, social services had acknowledged our dedication to our child, the police have attempted to put a stop to the bullying. Jm & Mh both fought hard through recovery, they inspired each other.
Mh relapsed 7 months ago, that same man played his part in her demise; this time around the problems are different, stigma weighs heavily on Mh’s shoulders due to the apathy shown with eating disorders. There is still a long way to go in Mh’s recovery, we will be there for every step, we will do all we can to help her beat this illness and free her young mind from the burden of stigma.

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self-edge-removed-ls-p-silouehette-jpegI am a married father who has lived alongside mental illness all my life. As a child I witnessed (and occasionally suffered) domestic violence. My mother suffered with depression, my father was an alcoholic. I suffered / fought bullying due to my small size from about the age of mine.
I am passionate about mental health, eating disorders, bullying, animal cruelty and all stigma. I currently volunteer as a Samaritans listener amongst other things, I am seriously considering returning to college to study psychology and hypnotherapy.

James can be found on his blog and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Erin Campbell Thompson

Living In A Grey World

The first time I ever purged was in the bathroom of a Friendly’s restaurant at the age of 15. I had just finished eating a colossal burger, french fries, and chocolate ice cream with hot fudge and gummy bears. You may be thinking, “after eating that combination of food no wonder you felt sick!” — This was true. It was a lot of food, but it wasn’t the food that made me sick; it was how I felt about what I had eaten that was making me sick to my stomach.

After I was finished regurgitating the $16.00 lunch my mother and father had bought me, I felt this immediate calm rush over me. This calm felt like a hug or a heated blanket, it was that comforting. I thought to myself, “I feel better, this is okay.”

I felt better than before I had eaten. It’s as if I never had eaten.

This “event” (as I will refer to it) started a fifteen year battle, which I still must contend with every day.

See, back then I thought of bulimia as a skill, and for me, it was. I could eat all the time and all I had to do was make myself “get rid of it”.

I felt powerful.

However, even way back then, I knew that this wasn’t something I should do all the time.

I said to myself, “I’ll only use it on weekends.”

“I’ll only use it at holidays.”

However, this “control” I was so pleased about — being able to “get rid of” food I would overeat — started shifting into every weekend and then, unfortunately, over time, every day.

After I graduated from high school, I moved out to Denver from New Hampshire to live with my best friend. This was the first time I had ever lived on my own and I was 2000 miles away from my family. It was at this point in my life, where I was purging up to five times a day.

However, I wasn’t overeating every day. No. I was purging after the consumption of normal amounts of food. I couldn’t stand the way anything felt in my stomach. The instant I would feel food or liquid in my belly, I would immediately start to panic. I could feel myself expanding. I looked fatter. My jeans were tight around my waist. This feeling couldn’t be just in my head, I could physically feel my body react when I ate.

I couldn’t rest until I could “get rid of” what I had consumed. If I didn’t evacuate my system, fast, this feeling would consume me.

To the people around me, I looked normal. I wasn’t underweight. At times I was slightly overweight. However, people started to notice that I wasn’t myself. I was much more anxious and much less happy. I made comments about my weight 24/7. I made comments about what everybody else was eating. As you can imagine, the relationship I had with my best friend became very shaky. In fact, we spent over two years not speaking to one another as a result of the person I had become.

I started therapy to work on my bulimia and emotional eating issues, and got to a point for a while when I wasn’t purging at all. However, to make up for the lack of control I had with the food I was eating, I decided to take up an excessive amount of exercise.

I would run five miles to work, be on my feet all day long, and then run the five miles home and then some. Every day. I thought that it was good for me. I mean, I was exercising, right? Surely cardio is better than sticking your fingers down your throat multiple times a day.

However, my exercise obsession soon caught up with me. I would give myself heat stroke, flu-like symptoms from dehydration, and my hair started to get coarse and thin. My therapist told me that I was replacing one compulsive behavior for another and that we should start paying closer attention to my “triggers”.

I thought, “lady, I don’t have any triggers other than the fact that I have to eat and I hate the way it makes me feel!”

I kept food journals. I wrote down what I had to eat. I wrote down how I felt before and after I ate. I documented the times I exercised and purged. I visited a nutritionist. I visited a psychiatrist. I tried anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and meditation.

I still obsessed over food and felt it’s complete control over me.

After I graduated from college, I moved to New York. I moved in with a boyfriend who was a secret alcoholic and 14 years my senior. I was a secret emotional eater and bulimic and 24 years old. You can only guess what this choice did for my eating disorder issues, I’m sure.

At first, as with any relationship, things were great. We were in love and things were perfect (well, as perfect as they could be). I got a job, settled into life, and tried to keep a balanced diet and exercise. I kept my bulimia issues a secret. I would get up in the middle of the night to eat hidden food and then would purge in the bathroom. I would binge eat on my lunch break and purge in the bathroom in the warehouse where nobody could hear me. I guess in those days I thought, “as long as nobody knows I’m doing this and I can get away with it, I’m not doing anything wrong.”

What wonderful logic, huh?

If a bulimic binges and purges when no one’s around, did it really happen? If only it was that easy to ignore or deal with.

As two people living with addictive personalities will clash, my boyfriend at the time and I started to bring out the worst in each other. I drove him to drink and he drove me to bulimia. It was an awful cycle. It was at this point that I officially switched from binging and purging and moved into simply emotional eating. I didn’t care about having friends or doing anything with my life. I just cared about making myself numb by eating all the time. When I went to the doctors for a yearly pap smear, they weighed me. I weighed over 150 pounds. I had never weighed that much in my life. As a 5 foot tall girl, this was considerably overweight for my frame. I became emotional. It was as if it was the first time I had really felt anything for months, but it wasn’t a good feeling.

I decided I had to do something. I knew I was unhappy. And I knew that what I was doing to myself was much bigger than what I could understand. I decided to go back to a therapist, but this time I was going to be selective. I couldn’t pick a decent boyfriend. I couldn’t control myself with food. However, I could control who I chose to help me get myself back.

My therapist’s specialties were eating disorders and anxiety; the two things I was suffering from. I never understood how much anxiety I had until I worked with her. I also never understood that it was the root of my problem. Therapy helped me to understand the patterns of my behavior and how my underlying anxiety contributed to my disordered eating.

For once in my life I actually felt like I was capable of understanding my behavior.

I learned that the cycle I was trapping myself in was something I could gain control over.

A couple of times, like during the recession when I couldn’t find a steady job and while my father was dying from cancer, I did relapse.

After I lost my father in 2011, I decided to change my life and take hold of my health.

I became a fitness instructor, certified personal trainer, and certified nutrition specialist. I educated myself about exercise and food and how to use the two in a respectful and balanced manner. I also started a blog, so I could talk about my passion for wellness and living a happy life.

In November, I married the love of my life and in March I moved to Scotland to live with him.

My logic is no longer about all or nothing, black or white, and yes or no decisions.

I live in a grey world and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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beetsErin is the author of BeetsPerMinute, a health and fitness blog. She is a personal trainer and nutrition specialist living in Scotland with her husband, Luke. As an individual, who, after years of suffering from an eating disorder, self-doubt, and aimlessly jumping from diet to diet, decided to change her life and get healthy for good! She knows how difficult getting through an eating disorder is, and feels she can relate to so many other people facing the same issue.

Erin can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Heidi DiTonno

Facing Life – Heidi DiTonno

I don’t consider myself mentally ill, although my diagnoses would disagree with me. They are stigmas for my way of having to cope with situations that I somehow had to find a way to survive. And they worked for me, here I am!
Burned and severely facially disfigured at 9 months old was the first thing I was faced with surviving. I spent many months at the hospital after that life-changing event, and the opportunity for me to have a healthy mother/daughter bond was severely compromised. I will never know to what extent my mother held herself responsible for “my accident” as it happened while I was in her care. It was a topic of conversation that was rarely, and never fully, discussed in my childhood home. As a female, growing up facially disfigured with an emotionally unavailable mother was no picnic.

My childhood was filled with stares and gasps, ugly and ignorant comments, and name calling that still haunts my memories even now. My first experience with bullying started right at home. My brother, who is 2 years older than me, commonly and joyfully referred to me as “bald-head burnt-face”. He even rallied the entire elementary school bus to cheer me on with this chosen name. My mother’s unfailing response to my complaints about his bullying and frequent physical abuse was “Well what did you do to deserve it?”

At around 11 or 12 years old, I was walking home from a friend’s house in a hurry to make my curfew when I was stopped by an older neighborhood boy and his friend. Their ruse for me to “see their new fort” turned out to be me getting raped by the both of them behind his garage. As they took their turns with me, they let me know how grateful I should be because nobody else would want an ugly girl like me. After they were done I rushed home late for curfew and was met with “You are so irresponsible, you can’t even handle a curfew, you are grounded”. Oh the shame. I never spoke of this to another soul.

My first mental health diagnosis was Depression in my late 20s, clearly not soon enough. I married an alcoholic and it was a difficult time. I was given a low dose of anti-depressant and it worked for me. My husband and I worked through this together and he has been sober for 23 years.

When I was 41 years old I received my second mental heath diagnosis, Anorexia Nervosa. I had been the victim of sexual harassment at the workplace for a year and a half. Even though my perpetrator was found guilty, I paid the price for it. After filing formal charges against him, I was relentlessly bullied and even spit on. My 25 year employment there ended with a false accusation that someone heard me say that I had a weapon in my purse. I was ambushed at my desk and hostily escorted out of the building. Welcome diagnoses 3 and 4…PTSD and Agoraphobia.

My depression, my anorexia, my PTSD, my agoraphobia – these labels do not define me. My resilience to survive and thrive is what defines me.

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T5TFDLHEPRMN0EJT-rsz640x470-cp0x75x640x395Speaker – Advocate – Kindness Guru

Heidi can be found on Twitter

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