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The Common Eating Disorder No One Is Talking About

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The Canadian (and American) Psychological Association defines BED (binge eating disorder) as, “recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control.” BED, is a highly common food disorder, and yet no one is talking about it. Not many, at least. Moreover, BED is distinct from overeating in that these instances of overeating create psychological distress and are driven by emotional cues (like sadness), rather than physiological cues (i.e. hunger).

To my knowledge there are many who quietly struggle though BED. I hope this article sparks more stories of truth, healing and the perseverance necessary to outlast and kick having a food disorder in the ass. Over and over again. After all, one of the core action components that I facilitate with my clients is: digging in deep.

Because, when BED tries to take the steering well, we need a formula. An arsenal. In order to do so, we have to define some terms, go for a ride on my own way-back-machine. We gotta “go deep.”

Articles and resources for people struggling with anorexia and bulimia are plentiful, while I’ve found support for those with BED is minimal. I thought I was greedy, or had no self-control. This lack of discussion and awareness had a polarizing effect on me. (Not anymore!)

Food was my first “addiction” and has remained my last. It started when I was very young, I would sneak into the kitchen and grab whatever I could to self-soothe away the various crap my tender, young heart, body and brain endured. Cookies in the closet. Chips in the dark under the covers. Completely zoning out — or what is clinically described as “blacking out” — during meal and snack-times, going for seconds constantly, etc. I remember getting in epic trouble at a particular foster homes and often treated like a glutton. No one ever took the time to realize there was something seriously wrong, or get proper help/care for the kid who was in a world of pain.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

So my weight fluctuated as a kid… I don’t remember much about how I managed that (was I seriously dieting as a small child and then bingeing? I don’t know — looking back on pictures it’s clear, I fluctuated.) As a tween, food became a way to rebel, and I didn’t realize (or care) that I was only punishing myself. It wasn’t until I left “home” as a teen — and hit the streets — that other forms of self-medicating became thrusted upon me, constantly available and always a-plenty. So I became skinny. Really skinny. Kicking those habits became the focus as a young adult and the food-beasty started to trickle back in. And it was a sneaky beasty. It (my BED), took its sweet ass time rearing its ugly head around again, although, of course it did, as I had never addressed it.

I never used to think as food as nourishment for my body; it was way to self-medicate and numb the pain; cleverly poised as a frenemy. I didn’t know about BED, nor did I feel strong or confident enough to talk openly about it. Now I’m a straight up advocate, which is why I’m dissecting some of my past here with you.

I want women like me who have similar stories (not necessarily in how we got here, but in having BED), to be able to find me and know they aren’t alone. I want young girls to grow up seeing people who represent and look like them and know that diversity is what makes us strong! The adversity of having mental illness or a food disorder is diversity, too. I trade in stories and in truth. It’s not so much a commodity as it is a responsibility (to me). I have to be really honest with myself in order to put my shit out there and have it affect somebody else.

So what helps me? 

1. Setting an intention (in my bullet journal) each and every day to take care of my physical and mental health.

2. Having a food disorder has influenced my work. Helping others in and out of the food disorder realm has been deeply rewarding and fulfilling. Inspiring, grounding and potent.

3. Making art is the best therapy I never paid for.

4. Cognitive perception: a field of Humanistic Psychology known as the Self-Determination Theory provides an interesting model for why individuals engage in binge eating disorders. Having this knowledge helps the brainy part of my brain. The theory suggests that every person on the planet needs to fulfill three core values to be happy. Every person must feel competent, related to others and in control of their actions. BED perpetuates itself in part because of the strong feeling of a lack of control. Impulsive behavior is common (*waving* hiiii!) and it is very easy to feel as if we’ve lost the ability to regulate our own behavior. When we’re depressed, anxious, stressed, insecure and fearful we feel like we have a lack of control, we feel detached from others and we can doubt any attempt for ourselves or others to help; causing the cycle to self-perpetuate. (Please tell me this is happening.) It can lead to people feeling alone (You’re not alone!) and incapable of solving the problem.

5. Competence: I used to feel completely incompetent, because every attempt to make change was stymied. While I still have my off days, I’ve made some sort of dark and twisted peace with my BED and I know I have the power (you do too) to work against the negatives and continue to build-up my sense of self. I deserve it. You deserve it. 

6. CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), art therapy, traditional indigenous/anishinaabe ceremonies and gestalt therapy have been game changers for me.

7. Exercise: being outside (running, hiking, camping) are just a necessity. Those endorphins though. Fuck the scale.

To anyone struggling with BED, I say to you with complete confidence and sincerity: You are not broken, and you are worthy.

Also, my personal mantra: You may see me struggle but you will never see me quit.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Why I Hated Having My Picture Taken as a Child

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Shortly after my parents passed away, my siblings and I were left with the disparaging task of boxing up their belongings for donation. In the process of clearing out the house, I came across several worn photo albums that gave me an opportunity to poke into the past. The albums contained dozens of faded photographs of my family, and in several of the pictures, I noticed a pattern with my body language — my arms were always wrapped protectively across my stomach.

Looking at the photos, I remembered why I hated having my picture taken when I was a child. My habit of sneaking snacks from the pantry caused me to gain excess weight that couldn’t be hidden from the camera lens. For this reason, I became very anxious about family photos and did my best to conceal what I considered my worst physical flaw — my belly.

I was often the brunt of many body-shaming jokes that made me self-conscious and depressed when I was a young child. I was an easy target — shy and too intimidated to defend myself against the daily taunting. It wasn’t long before I fell into the trap of believing the insensitive remarks from my classmates and soon I became obsessive with my appearance.

It didn’t help that once I entered middle school, my parents also took a keen interest in my eating habits and my weight. Their passive/aggressive comments (“You have such a pretty face but you’d be even prettier if you lost a few pounds”) shredded what little self-esteem I had left. They meant well, but their remarks stung more than I ever let on. The shame I felt both in school and at home fueled bouts of emotional binge eating, starving and yo-yo dieting that became a vicious cycle of self-abuse. I was embarrassed about my appearance, but food was my drug of choice and the only thing that comforted me when I felt anxious or depressed.

My binge eating issues and body dysmorphic disorder dominated every aspect of my life. I avoided social gatherings that required a swimsuit (which was difficult to do while living in a coastal town) and often hid in the bathroom stalls of the high school gym to avoid taking a shower next to the other girls. I never stood in the cafeteria line for lunch out of fear that someone might comment on my weight or the amount of food on my tray. I let my weight define me, and the insecurities it created influenced every decision I made.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I spent decades at war with my mind and my body, engaged in a relentless battle to keep my weight down with fad diets, appetite suppressants and grueling sessions at the gym. When I lost weight, I was elated, but if I gained weight, I sank into a depressive state of self-loathing. The worse I felt about myself, the more I was inclined to eat in secret so that I could binge on unhealthy, fattening foods for comfort. Rather than deal with my emotions, I stuffed them down by eating to the point of feeling sick. I ate until I felt numb, then out of guilt, induced vomiting to rid myself of the excess calories.

It wasn’t until my oldest sister died of complications from obesity that I was forced to take a hard look at my past in terms of how I’d let the numbers on the bathroom scale determine my quality of life. I had a misguided perception of what was considered a healthy body size — an ideal that had been spoon-fed to me by a society that promoted the idea of thinness equating beauty. Sadly, my sister and I shared the same eating disorder, but she never received the help that she needed. Her sudden death was the wake-up call that spurred me into action, making me realize I had to change how I looked at food and its relationship to my body.

I learned to eat healthier by consulting with my physician and a nutritionist, then joined a gym for my cardiovascular health. I stopped looking at food as a reward or a punishment, and ate what I wanted in moderation. The difference was that I was making lifestyle changes to benefit my health and state of mind, not to change my outward appearance just to please others. I finally understood that the only opinion about my body that mattered was my own.

It has been a relief to jump off the hamster wheel of dieting, but there are still days when I struggle to silence the negative voices inside me. What helps most is to focus on the positive things I like about myself and to turn a deaf ear to my inner critic.

Looking back on the old photographs in my parent’s album, I realize now that I had no reason to feel ashamed of my appearance, or to even think that I was terribly overweight — because I wasn’t. Sadder still is the inordinate amount of time I spent obsessing about my body size, when I should have been more appreciative of what Mother Nature had given to me.

This body has been through a lot, and I have the scars to prove it. But it has also given birth to four beautiful children, and it continues to stay strong and healthy, well into my midlife years. I’m not the “perfect size” by society’s standards, but I’m the right size for me. And that’s enough.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via kcslagle

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To the Starbucks Barista Who Doesn't Judge Me for My Eating Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

You don’t know me, or maybe you do because I come in a lot. I can’t help it — I live so close by. On good days, when my foggy brain needs a caffeine kick, I order iced tea or a tea latte. Milk isn’t my friend, so you may realize I get a little bougie and splurge on the coconut milk.

But every once in a while, I don’t come in for something to drink, but rather to eat. Oh, Starbucks and your endless array of desserts, of muffins, pound cake, scones, cookies … When I come in for a snack, it’s never just one of these items. I impulsively order more, granting my cravings the purchasing power. The Sam who comes into Starbucks for baked goods is not the Sam who casually comes in for a beverage. You are serving someone with binge eating disorder.

So I wanted to thank you for serving me without judgment. You go behind the bakery counter to retrieve my order and are nothing but friendly. Good customer service goes a long way with a sometimes self-conscious customer.

Last summer, I went to the grocery store and bought a lot of treats. The man behind me made some comments about my purchases that were unsolicited and inappropriate. Granted, this was before I even recognized I had a problem with food, so I shrugged off his remarks. If it were now, I would feel differently. There is a lot of stigma around eating disorders, and with stigma comes shame.

I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you for not adding to the self-criticism or guilt that is often attached to binge eating. You reinforce what I try to practice every day, which is to treat everyone with kindness because we know nothing about the demons people face.

Signed,
Sam

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Brigitte Tohm.

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When I Finally Faced My Binge Eating Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I wrote this in my diary a few months ago. It was on the day I finally admitted to myself I had a problem and I needed help. I was going through my check-ins a few days ago and I found it and, funnily enough, my perception of my binge eating disorder (BED) hasn’t changed a tad since then. This is how I feel about it and I hope by sharing it here I will help people understand this disorder better. Here’s what I had written in my diary:

***

I made a new friend. He’s been around for a long time, but I only truly acknowledged his presence this week. He was like that kid in school you’d pass by every day, and you’d know they’re there, but you’d never look at their face. You’d never really be able to describe them, to give them a name and features. But he’d still be present there. Every day. For weeks, months, years.

My new friend is called BED. I’m scared out of my mind because I’ve always had a hard time getting to know people. I’ve always been closed off, avoiding new acquaintances and hardly ever making friends. However, I have a new friend now and I must get to know him unless I want to offend him. He can hurt me.

BED is my Blurryface… was my Blurryface. (A/N: Blurryface is a character created by the band twenty one pilots. It represents the lead singer’s alter ego, his fears — his, so to say, “dark side.” He wanted to give his dark side a name and a face so he can address it easier and eventually fight it.) This makes me somewhat happy. He introduced himself properly to me only a few days ago, but I know he’s been around for many, many months. He probably had fun watching me hit the bottom again and again, especially when he was the one who would push me over the edge…

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

For the past two days, we had quite a lot of conversations. He spoke, I listened. He told me why I was depressed, anxious, guilty and hopeless. He told me why I felt like I had no control over my life. And then he apologized, for he was the solid reason for all of this. But it’s not his fault. Mom told me not to talk to strangers and I didn’t listen. In my opinion, it is my fault.

BED helped me build up my own, personal Blurryface. Now that it has a name and a face I can fight it. BED will make me stronger, tougher. He’ll teach me how to fight, how to fend for myself and my life. He’ll help me set a goal, and his presence will always remind me to follow that goal. BED will be my personal coach. Maybe one day I’ll be able to outrun, to overpower him. And if that day comes, I’ll know I’m ready for life.

BED chose me; I didn’t choose him. I never wanted to be his friend; I never asked to see his real face. He came to me to slap me back into reality, to show me what was going on in my own life and to remind me I should not judge people because I don’t know their stories. He told me I was not perfect. He told me I had a problem. He told me to “man up” or else he’ll hit me over and over again until I grow some balls to defend myself and hit him back.

When BED entered my brain it was like a tornado. It messed up my thoughts, memories, expectations and goals for the future. Everything was floating around in no particular order and I couldn’t stand it. So I rearranged it. But it was not the way it used to be. BED had successfully tainted every cell in my brain, making sure to make his presence in there permanent.

He told me we will be together forever. He said he’s not going anywhere without me. I told him I don’t want him, but he just laughed at my face, “Do you really think you have a choice? You don’t.”

I still haven’t gotten to know BED that well. My instincts scream at me to back away. They say he’s a demon in disguise. They say he’ll try to control me, trick me into believing he’s the good guy. They say he’ll make me fall for his charm and this way I’ll be forever trapped in his cold embrace.

The horrible truth, though, is my instincts can’t seem to understand there’s no going back now. I can’t unfriend him. I can’t pretend he’s not there because he is. I can’t pretend he’s not bothering me because he is. I can’t live on like he doesn’t exist because he does. I can’t act like he has no impact on my ways of thinking and living because he does. I can’t lie and say he didn’t turn my world upside down because he did.

But I can promise one thing to myself — I won’t be the damsel in distress. I won’t become his slave; I won’t let him rule over my being. I’ll let him show me how to fight, make me stronger, give me life lessons and then I’ll kick him out of my life for good. I hope I can do that. I must. Because if I fail, he’d truly become my friend for life.

I’m scared.

***

He is still here, in my head. I feel him taking control every once in a while and on those days I find it extremely hard to manage my regular daily activities. Acknowledging his presence, however, has helped me a lot, because from that point on I had been fighting an enemy I know more about. I researched it, I got in touch with people going through the same thing and I know I am stronger now than I was before.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via MarinaZg

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The Secret Life of a Binge Eater

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You know me. You’ve laughed at my jokes, you’ve cried with me, we’ve shared everything from weddings to heartbreak, triumph, tragedy and the mundane moments that make a real life.

But the truth is that you don’t actually know me. Don’t worry – it’s not your fault. No one really does. Not my best friends, not my ex-loves. Not even my parents. I learned how to hide the real me a long time ago because it was the only way to cope.

woman smiling with a football

Now you’re sad and probably a little scared. That’s OK. So am I. The part of myself that never sees the surface is a constant blur of terror, frustration, shame and sadness. And I’ve wanted to tell you… so many times. It will be right there – at the front of my mind, on the tip of my tongue. Those moments when I felt like you needed to know, like you deserved to know, like you would understand.

And then, the crash back to reality. I don’t know how to “fix” myself so I can’t bear to share my problems. Things are bad, but without you they would be worse.

Still… here we are. Three months, three years, a lifetime. No matter how long we’ve been together, there’s so much I have to tell you.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I wake up every day with a hope I can overcome. Overcome my addiction to food – the tool I use to cope with my disappointment in myself, to shelter myself from getting hurt by others. Overcome the disappointment of a life pulled off track by self-hatred and doubt.

I go to sleep every day feeling like a failure. I still feel fat, I still feel alone. I still haven’t found success. I can’t stop eating. I’m never full. I feel weak. I feel small. I live in fear that my family sees me as the failure I’m convinced I am.

I wish I was invisible. My inability to control my compulsive binge eating pushed me out of the limelight when I realized a career in broadcasting would be impossible without some control over the self-hatred that pushed me to eat. I may never get married because the thought of people looking at me makes me feel sick. I fight tears in a crowd because I don’t want them to see me, to be inconvenienced by my body and the space I take up.

I’m not fine. You say that to help, I know. But if you understood the full depth of my illness – the compulsion to fill the gaps in my life with food and the anxiety that makes those gaps seem utterly impassable – you would know I am far from fine. That’s the word you use to normalize my feelings, but it fills me with so much shame I worry I’ll have no room for anxiety.

I’m tired. I have been fighting my body and my mind for as long as I can remember. The fight has gotten harder as the last vestiges of the girl I once admire disappear. No longer brave, smart, funny or strong, I push forward with the scraps of my armour and a waning belief that I can get better.

I’m lonely. I know my withdrawal hurts you – you’ve told me as much. And I wish you could understand it hurts me too, but it’s the only thing that keeps me together. When we are together, my self-hatred intensifies, and the voices in my head that tell me to eat, to accept my fate as a disgusting slob, to resign myself to my shortcomings – personal and professional – drowns out all noise. I can’t be in your pictures, not because I don’t love you but because I cannot find a way to love myself. I need to step outside because I’m afraid to breathe, afraid to cry, afraid of shattering into a million small pieces that you and I will never be able to put back together.

But the single biggest thing you need to know to understand me is that I have never, ever felt good enough. No matter the yardstick – my body, my mind, my accomplishments, my life – I have spent every moment I can remember wishing I could be better. Smarter, so people wouldn’t mind my fat body. Skinner, because in my head, I’m still 300 pounds, and I need to work harder. More successful, so I can have the life people expected for me my whole life. A better writer, a better runner, a better daughter, a better friend – there’s no shortage of things I wish I could be at any given moment, every day.

I don’t want you to meet this me. I don’t want to know her either, but for now, I think this is the only way to protect us both from the ugly truth. I still need you next to me because one day I hope to be strong enough to say this to you – and I hope you’ll understand.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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4 Habits I Needed to Break During My Eating Disorder Recovery Journey

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As a food and body love coach, I talk to a lot of women who have dealt with binge eating disorder and/or orthorexia. Most of these women were on some sort of diet that spiraled into restricting their food in a way that made them nearly obsessed with healthy eating (the orthorexic side). Often, this backfires in a binge. When the binges recur over and over, some of them develop binge eating disorder (BED). They tell me that they feel panic around certain foods (or all foods in general) because they don’t want to want these “bad” foods, and they especially don’t want to binge eat them.

I totally understand that feeling. I used to feel completely unsettled around food — most of the time I ate “healthy” foods, but if you put down a plate of cookies in front of me — all hell would break loose. I felt like I had to binge eat because I knew I’d have to go back to my “clean eating” the next day after a load of guilt and shame reminded me of how crappy I was for having this “food issue.” For years, I was stuck in this restrict-binge cycle, switching between willpower-ing my way through weeks of clean eating only to find myself diving head-first into a jar of almond butter plus half a box of Oreos. Recovering from an eating disorder is tricky. You have to literally relearn how to eat “normally” again (a strange thing to forget how to do, huh?). Now that I’m on the other side, there are a few things I wish I’d known earlier that would’ve helped me understand why it took me so long to feel freedom with food.

1. I needed to stop seeing foods as “good” or “bad.”

This might be the single biggest mindset shift that will normalize your thoughts around food. Think of it this way: if you tell a little kid they can’t eat something, that’s exactly the first thing they’ll want to eat, right? Our brains are (and remain) primal in this way. Anything off-limits becomes infinitely more intriguing — and therefore we’re way more likely to eat it in huge quantities whenever we give ourselves permission to consume it.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

What you can do about it: See all foods as neutral. This is harder than it sounds, I know. But whenever you get the urge to down an entire family-size bag of chips in one sitting, ask yourself, if this were as neutral as water, would I want to eat them all at once? Or would enjoying some now and leaving the rest for later sound better? Usually just knowing all foods are allowed takes off the pressure to binge eat.

2. I had to stop cutting out foods for no reason other than weight loss.

We often think cutting out huge food groups (gluten, sugar, dairy) strictly for weight loss purposes gives us more control around food. But actually, food only ends up controlling us. Similar to seeing foods as good and bad, this heavy restriction backfires frequently. Eventually, we “give in” and want to get our hands on all the carbs (or dairy, or meat, or whatever) because our body is deprived of what it’s been asking for.

What you can do about it: Allow all foods in. Unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to a certain food, there’s no reason to be afraid of it. Sure, you may overeat on the foods that you had previously cut out before, but this can be temporary and is a very important part of the process. If you’re overly concerned about weight loss (and I’d say all restrict-binge cyclers are), grab your journal and write out answers to these questions: What in my life will be different once I lose weight? How do I know? Where did I learn that thinner was better? Is this true? No right or wrong answers here. Just be curious about what comes up.

3. I had to stop “compensating” for eating with exercise.

We’re being taught that we need to “earn” food depending on how hard we’ve worked out that day. “Cheat meals” make us feel like we’re morally obligated to uphold the perfect diet and exercise regimes. If you feel like you’re not allowed to eat certain foods unless you’ve had a booty-kicking workout that day, you’re keeping yourself stuck in the restrict-binge-repeat cycle.

What you can do about it: Keep in mind that all of these self-imposed limitations with food have been learned. Journaling can help you discover discover when and how you decided you don’t deserve to eat certain things. Challenge yourself to eat the foods you crave regardless of how physical you were that day. You deserve to eat no matter what!

4. I had to stop living in a shame spiral.

Binges induce a ton of guilt, and I so get that. Most of us think that the guilt and negative self-talk will motivate us to change our ways, but ask yourself: Has it ever worked for you in the past? Shame is what brought you to the binge in the first place, so why would it help get you out of it? My guess is, if you’re reading this article, speaking negatively to yourself and pinching at your tummy in the mirror after a binge hasn’t kept you from binge eating again later.

What you can do about it: Don’t hate on yourself. If you didn’t drink water all day and then downed a whole water bottle, would you be mad? Of course not! You were dehydrated and your body needed water. Same goes for food — when we deprive ourselves, our cravings grow. Journal after every binge and ask yourself what you really needed in that moment, if not food. Make a commitment not to ‘willpower” your way out of your next binge, and instead use compassionate thoughts that will help you cultivate a loving relationship to yourself… and stop the binges along the way.

Making major changes to how we relate to food and body takes time, so the most important thing during this healing period is to be patient with yourself and trust the process. There are women everywhere who are struggling with this exact same thing! Reach out to family, friends, and coaches for support, and know that on the other side of this is the life of freedom that we all inherently deserve.

Recovering from either orthorexia or BED is no joke. It takes time, concentration and serious commitment to questioning all the things that make you feel like you don’t deserve to feel good with food. But it is 100 percent possible. Try seriously implementing one or two of these and see what comes up for you. Remember — there’s no wrong way to feel! The exploration and curiosity of why we remain in certain behaviors is what gives us the clarity to move forward.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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