There’s nothing better than a spooky night in with a bowl of popcorn and a Halloween movie. The air is crisp, the sky is dark, and the leaves rattle in the wind. Halloween movies fill us with thrills, chills, and a magical nostalgia for childhood days when Halloween was about as important a holiday as Christmas or Thanksgiving.
Because October does not feel like October until you’ve made your way through at least a few of these, we present a gift to you: a definitive list of the best classic Halloween movies you can stream right now. Some are scary, some are spooky, some are silly. Most of these movies take us back to another time in our own lives—they all transport us to a place where witches and werewolves rule the night (or the basketball court) and Halloween is one of the most exciting nights of the year.
Get your popcorn, your laptop, and a blanket to hide under. It’s time to stream and scream.
1. The Shining (1980)
Where to stream it: Netflix
Fright level: Rather disturbing
The gist: Based on the novel by Stephen King, The Shining stars Jack Nicholson in what’s often considered his best role. Jack Torrance (Nicholson) moves his wife and son to a spooky hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. His son begins to have psychic premonitions as the hotel’s dark secrets start to unravel themselves—and Jack begins to unravel along with them.
2. Coraline (2009)
Where to stream it: Netflix
Fright level: It’s a cartoon
The gist: In this beautifully animated fantasy, young girl named Coraline discovered a universe that exists parallel to hers. She loves her parallel life—until she gets stuck there. Coraline quickly becomes a cartoon hero for girlkind as she tries to figure out a way home.
3. The Conjuring (2013)
Where to stream it: Netflix
Fright level: Mainstream horror
The gist: The year is 1970. Spooky already, right? A husband and wife team of paranormal investigators are asked to inspect a secluded farmhouse, where a family of seven reside amongst a supernatural presence. Things escalate quickly as the farmhouse’s history makes itself clear.
4. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Where to stream it: Netflix
Fright level: The first scene is the scariest—after that, it’s more endearing
The gist: You’ve probably heard the popular quote, “I see dead people.” Well, that’s the movie for ya. In all seriousness, though, it’s a non-scary, heartfelt film about a boy who sees ghosts. You won’t regret watching it.
5. Donnie Darko (2001)
Where to stream it: Netflix
Fright level: Major creeps
The gist: A troubled teenager, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, starts having freaky visions. Think: time travel, the end of the world, and a looming figure in a rabbit costume named Frank, who comes bearing messages for Gyllenhaal. Are they hallucinations? Is it real? Is the world going to end? Donnie Darko is a must-see psychological thriller.
6. The Scooby Doo Movie (2002)
Where to stream it: Netflix
Fright level: About as scary as it was when you were a kid
The gist: The Mystery Gang—Fred, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma, and Scooby, too—reunite on Spooky Island to investigate paranormal activity at the popular spring break hangout. This time, the Mystery Gang comes to life, with stars like Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar. It’s just as good as you remember—and so much more.
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Where to stream it: Hulu
Fright level: Honestly pretty scary for a musical cartoon
The gist: Don’t be fooled by the title—this one’s a Halloween classic, for sure. The pumpkin king of Halloweentown (yes, you read that right) is sick and tired of scaring people in the real world each October 31. So when he finds Christmastown, he decides to kidnap Santa and take over his role, too. Can he bring his masterminded plot to fruition?
8. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Where to stream it: Hulu
Fright level: Scary only because it seems realistic
The gist: Prepare to be confused—because that’s the point. The concept behind The Blair Witch Project is that three film students head out to make a documentary about the Blair Witch, a legendary witch rumored to have once existed in a small town. What results is this movie, made of footage “found” from the film students. Is this a real story? Is it not? Not-so-spoiler alert—it’s not, but it definitely seems it.
9. Teen Wolf (1985)
Where to stream it: Hulu
Fright level: The scariest thing about this ’80s comedy is all the hairspray and shoulder pads
The gist: A teenager struggles with the usual teenage stuff (girls and sports) until he learns that he, like the rest of his family, is a human-wolf hybrid. Fun! He uses his newfound identity to his benefit. He’s better at basketball! He’s strong and attractive! But can he keep the werewolf part of himself under control?
10. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Where to stream it: Hulu
Fright level: Scary—not gory—because it feels realistic
The gist: This super low-budget movie turned into a five-part box office sensation. In the same style of The Blair Witch Project, a young couple documents paranormal activity in their suburban house with the help of a camera.
11. Practical Magic (1998)
Where to stream it: HBO Go
Fright level: The most blissful movie of all time
The gist: You don’t know it yet, but this is about to be your new favorite Halloween movie. Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, both early in their careers, play sister witches. They’re raised by their kooky witch aunts in a family cursed by bad luck when it comes to love. Can they break the spell? (But this movie is so much more than that. It’s about matriarchy, sisterhood, and fitting in.)
12. E.T. (1982)
Where to stream it: Hulu
Fright level: It’s a heartwarming children’s movie
The gist: Considered one of the greatest films of all time, E.T. is a classic among classics. An alien is accidentally left behind on Earth and forms a sweet friendship with 10-year-old Elliott. Can Elliott help him “phone home”?
13. It (2017)
Where to stream it: HBO Go
Fright level: Pretty scary, I’d say
The gist: Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, It follows an endearing group of preteen outcasts in Derry, Maine, as they try to track down the murderous clown who kidnapped their best friend and has been terrorizing the town ever since. It’s a great story, an unbelievable cast, and the perfect amount of fright.
14. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005)
Where to stream it: Hulu
Fright level: Lots of ominous music, but still suitable for kids!
The gist: This Tim Burton film is another musical fantasy, where two young adults have been paired in an arranged marriage. While in the forest one day, the male protagonist, Victor, is dragged to the land of the dead by a murdered bride. Can he get back aboveground before his fiancée moves on?
15. Carrie (1976 and 2013)
Where to stream it: Amazon Prime
Fright level: Straight up horror
The gist: Another Stephen King adaptation! Amazon Prime has both the original version and the remake, so you can pick and choose or double feature if you dare. A withdrawn teenaged girl can’t find her place, neither at home with her strict mom nor at school, where she’s constantly taunted. She begins to suspect that she has supernatural powers. Will she be able to keep them at bay?
16. Ghostbusters (1984)
Where to stream it: Amazon Prime
Fright level: Is a giant marshmallow man scary?
The gist: It’s the modern classic comedy romp that spawned a million Halloween costumes and the catchphrase “Who you gonna call?” A team of scientists are fired from their university jobs and form a ghost-removal service. But all goes awry when they accidentally open a gateway to another dimension, unleashing a wrath of ghosts upon New York City. Can they clean up their mess without totally destroying New York?
What happens to those who behave unselfishly and make sacrifices for the sake of others? According to an interdisciplinary study by researchers from Stockholm University, the Institute for Futures Studies and the University of South Carolina, unselfish people tend both to have more children and to receive higher salaries, in comparison to more selfish people. The results have now been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“The result is clear in both the American and the European data. The most unselfish people have the most children and the moderately unselfish receive the highest salaries. And we also find this result over time — the people who are most generous at one point in time have the largest salary increases when researchers revisit them later in time,” says Kimmo Eriksson, researcher at the Centre for Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University and one of the authors of the study “Generosity pays: Selfish people have fewer children and earn less money.”
The result is contrary to theories that selfish people manage to get their hands on more money through their selfishness, as suggested in previous research.
Previous psychological and sociological research has shown that unselfish people are happier and have better social relationships. The study “Generosity pays: Selfish people have fewer children and earn less money” focuses on unselfishness from an economical and evolutionary perspective. In this collaboration with the Institute for Futures Studies and the University of South Carolina, researchers at Stockholm University have looked at how selfishness relates to income and fertility. Selfishness was measured partly through attitudes and partly through reported behaviors. The results are based on analyses of four major studies of Americans and Europeans.
“In a separate study, we examined the expectations of ordinary people to see if their expectations aligned with our data. The results of this study showed that people generally have the correct expectation that selfish people have fewer children, but erroneously believe that selfish people will make more money. It is nice to see that generosity so often pays off in the long run,” says Pontus Strimling, a researcher at the Institute for Futures Studies, who is also one of the authors behind the study.
The authors themselves believe that improved social relationships may be the key to generous peoples’ success from an economic perspective, but note that their research does not definitely answer this question.
“Future research will have to delve deeper into the reasons why generous people earn more, and look at whether the link between unselfishness, higher salaries and more children also exists in other parts of the world. And it is of course debatable how unselfish it really is to have more children,” says co-author Brent Simpson of University of South Carolina.
A recent study completed at the University of Helsinki investigated the amount and quality of bacteria resistant to antibiotics in breast milk and the gut of mother-infant pairs, resulting in three findings.
First, infants who were breastfed for at least six months had a smaller number of resistant bacteria in their gut than babies who were breastfed for a shorter period or not at all. In other words, breastfeeding seemed to protect infants from such bacteria.
Second, antibiotic treatment of mothers during delivery increased the amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the infant gut. This effect was still noticeable six months after delivery and the treatment.
The third finding, meanwhile, was that breast milk also contains bacteria resistant to antibiotics and that the mother is likely to pass these bacteria on to the child through milk. Nevertheless, breastfeeding reduced the number of resistant bacteria in the infant gut, an indication of the benefits of breastfeeding for infants.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.
BACTERIA RESISTANT TO ANTIBIOTICS FOUND IN BREAST MILK
Microbiologist Katariina Pärnänen of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry investigated with her colleagues the breast milk and faecal matter of 16 mother-infant pairs. The DNA in the milk and faeces was sequenced, or its genetic code was decoded. However, the study did not focus on the mother’s DNA found in milk. Rather, the researchers focused on the bacterial DNA and genes in the milk. They created the most extensive DNA sequence library of breast milk thus far.
The specific focus of the study was the number of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). Such genes make bacteria resistant to certain antibiotics, and they are often able to transfer between bacteria. Individual bacteria can have several antibiotic resistance genes, making them resistant to more than one antibiotic.
The study demonstrated for the first time that breast milk indeed contains a significant number of genes that provide antibiotic resistance for bacteria, and that these genes, as well as their host bacteria, are most likely transmitted to infants in the milk. Mothers transmit antibiotic-resistant bacteria residing in their own gut to their progeny in other ways as well, for example through direct contact. Yet, only some of the resistant bacteria found in infants originated in their mothers. The rest were likely from the environment and other individuals.
The study does, however, support the notion that breastfeeding overall is beneficial for infants. Although breast milk contains bacteria resistant to antibiotics, sugars in the milk provide sustenance to beneficial infant gut bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria, which are used as probiotics. Breast milk helps such useful bacteria gain ground from resistant pathogens, which is probably why infants who were nursed for at least six months have less antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their gut compared to infants who were nursed for a shorter period.
“As a general rule, it could be said that all breastfeeding is for the better,” says Pärnänen.
“The positive effect of breastfeeding was identifiable also in infants who were given formula in addition to breast milk. Partial breastfeeding already seemed to reduce the quantity of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Another finding was that nursing should be continued for at least the first six months of a child’s life or even longer. We have already known that breastfeeding is all in all healthy and good for the baby, but we now discovered that it also reduces the number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.”
ANTIBIOTIC USE BY MOTHER IMPACTS THE CHILD
Women can be prescribed an intravenous antibiotic treatment during labour for various reasons, for example if they have tested positive for Streptococcus, a bacterium hazardous to infants. In such cases, antibiotic treatment is intended to prevent the transmission of bacteria living in the birth canal to the infant during delivery. Antibiotic treatment can also be used if the mother’s waters have broken long before labour begins, or if potential infection is otherwise suspected.
However, the study indicated that the antibiotic treatment of the mother increases the number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics in the infant’s gut. While the study did not demonstrate why this happens, according to one theory, the bacteria that first reach the infant gut gain a head start. Since antibiotics administered to the mother eliminate all bacteria except those resistant to the drug, in such deliveries the mother is likely to pass mainly resistant bacteria on to her child.
“We cannot advise that mothers should not be given antibiotics during delivery,” says Pärnänen.
“The consequences of infection for both mother and infant are potentially serious. What we can state is our findings, and physicians can use them to consider whether practices should be changed or not.”
However, antibiotic treatment administered during delivery is only one of all the antibiotic courses taken by mothers at some point in their life that may impact the gut microbiota of infants.
The bacterial flora in our gut changes every time we take antibiotics. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, leaving alive only those bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic in question. These bacteria may gain a permanent foothold in the gut, even though most of the other bacteria will return soon after the antibiotic treatment as well.
Since the mother transmits bacteria resistant to antibiotics to the infant, all of the antibiotic courses taken by the mother in her life may also affect the bacterial flora of the infant’s gut and the prevalence of resistant bacteria in the gut.
ONE OF THE MAJOR GLOBAL HEALTH THREATS
Bacteria resistant to antibiotics is among the greatest global threats to human health. According to estimates by previous research, bacteria and other micro-organisms resistant to antibiotics and other drugs will, by 2050, cause more deaths than cancer, since infections can no longer be effectively treated.
Bacteria resistant to antibiotics are everywhere. They are present in the human gut, regardless of whether a person has taken antibiotics. They are transmitted between individuals in the same way as bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms usually are: through, for example, direct contact and in food.
All resistant bacteria do not cause diseases and, thus, do not as such harm their carriers. In suitable conditions, however, such bacteria can either induce the onset of a disease or transfer the gene that provides antibiotic resistance to another bacterial pathogen.
Because such bacteria cannot be killed with antibiotics, and because the immune system of infants is weak, infections caused by resistant bacteria can be fatal to infants. In Finland, where Pärnänen is based, babies die of such infections only rarely. Yet prior studies show that, globally, more than 200,000 newborns die annually of infections, caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that have advanced to the stage of sepsis.
“Babies inherit every facet of antibiotic misuse since the discovery of antibiotics,” notes Pärnänen.
“The amount of bacteria resistant to antibiotics in the infant gut is alarming, since infants are also otherwise vulnerable to diseases. Babies are more likely to suffer from this than adults, even if the babies have never been given antibiotics.”
Health problems originating in resistant bacteria are accrued by those with weak immunity. Infants and the elderly are in particular danger. Since the defence system of infants is yet to reach the efficiency of adult immunity, small children often need antibiotics to recover from diseases, which makes antibiotic inefficiency more dangerous to children.
Conventional wisdom holds that people set themselves up for even greater heartache when they jump into bed with their ex-partner after a breakup. However, according to the findings of a study in Springer’s journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, having sex with an ex doesn’t seem to hinder moving on after the breakup. This is true even for those who continue to pine for their ex, says lead author Stephanie Spielmann of Wayne State University in the US.
For Spielmann, studying the potential costs of sleeping with an ex is of broad interest because sexual experiences with ex-partners are quite common across all age groups and relationship types. Together with her colleagues Spielmann devised two studies. In one, the researchers analysed the daily experiences of 113 participants who had recently experienced a breakup. Two months later these participants completed a further online survey. The survey questions asked whether participants had tried to have any physical contact with their former partners, how emotionally attached they still were, and how they felt after each day. In a second study, 372 participants reported their actual and attempted sexual engagement with their ex-partner, as well as whether they were still emotionally tied to them.
The researchers found that pursuing sex with an ex did not seem to stand in the way of people’s subsequent recovery from a breakup on a daily basis or over the course of two months. Most participants who pursued sex did end up in bed with their ex, but this did not influence how someone managed to get over the end of their relationship. Those pining after their ex-partner more often sought out sexual activity, potentially as a way of fostering closeness and connection. However, doing this did not leave them distressed or feeling depressed. In fact, it left them feeling more positive in everyday life.
“This research suggests that societal handwringing regarding trying to have sex with an ex may not be warranted,” says Spielmann, who believes that the findings challenge common beliefs. “The fact that sex with an ex is found to be most eagerly pursued by those having difficulty moving on, suggests that we should perhaps instead more critically evaluate people’s motivations behind pursuing sex with an ex.”
Spielmann says that although only exploratory, the findings highlight how important it is to study the nature of breakups over a longer period of time. It also underlines the multifaceted nature of how people recover from breakups. She believes it is an important subject to research because of the consequences it could have on someone’s mental health, how distressed they remain, and whether they are able to move on.
Parents often go to great lengths to ensure that their children attend top schools, surrounded by high-achieving peers who often come from advantaged backgrounds. But data collected from individuals over a span of 50 years suggests that these aspects of selective schools aren’t uniformly beneficial to students’ educational and professional outcomes in the following decades.
The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“Above and beyond students’ individual capabilities and their family background, more selective schools provided both benefits and risks to students, which translated into real-world differences in their careers years later,” says lead researcher Richard Göllner of the University of Tübingen. “Specifically, being in a high school with a higher average socioeconomic background benefited students later on, whereas being in a school with a higher average achievement level harmed students later on.”
Göllner and colleagues were interested in understanding how the composition of a school can influence student outcomes, especially given that previous research seemed to yield mixed results. Researchers who examined the average socioeconomic status of a student body found that higher socioeconomic status tended to be associated with better student outcomes. Those that examined average academic achievement, on the other hand, found that higher achievement was often associated with worse outcomes.
“In light of these two contradictory lines of research, it is difficult to answer the question that often lies at the root of families’ decisions to move into areas with the ‘best’ schools,” the researchers note.
They decided to examine the two school characteristics — socioeconomic status and achievement — together in one study to determine the unique contribution that each aspect makes to students’ short- and long-term outcomes.
The researchers examined data from Project TALENT, a nationally representative, longitudinal study that followed American high school students over five decades. In that time, the participants completed a variety of measures that assessed their academic competencies, family background, and life outcomes.
Göllner and colleagues specifically analyzed data from 377,015 participants from 1,226 high schools, examining their performance on standardized achievement tests, their socioeconomic background, and their educational expectations. For available participants, they also examined participants’ actual educational attainment, their income, and their professional standing 11 years and 50 years after the initial assessment.
Above and beyond the influence of individual characteristics and family background, students who attended socioeconomically advantaged high schools tended to complete more years of schooling, earn higher annual incomes, and work in jobs with greater occupational prestige compared with peers who attended less advantaged schools.
Taking these associations into account, the researchers found that students who attended high-achievement schools tended to have lower educational attainment, income, and occupational prestige 11 and 50 years later.
These divergent associations may be explained, at least in part, by the students’ own educational expectations: Those who attended advantaged schools tended to have relatively high expectations whereas those who attended high-achievement schools tended to have relatively lower expectations.
“The permanent comparison with high achieving peers seemed to harm students’ beliefs in their own abilities and that was associated with serious consequences for their later careers,” Göllner explains.
In reality, advantaged schools tend to also be high-achievement schools, which would result in so-called “lost gains,” whereby the advantages of high socioeconomic status are countered by the disadvantages of high achievement.
In future research, Göllner and colleagues hope to identify teacher-related factors that might buffer against the harmful effects of social comparison.
“We want to figure out what teachers can do to make sure that students’ positive beliefs in their own academic capabilities are not harmed by being surrounded by high-achieving peers,” says Göllner.
Participation in organized sport during childhood and adolescence is associated with bone mass at 20 years of age, according to a Journal of Bone and Mineral Research study.
In the study that followed 984 children into young adulthood, males who were ‘consistent sport participators’ from ages 5-17 years had significantly greater whole body and leg bone mineral content at age 20 years than those who dropped out of sport, whereas males who ‘joined sports’ had significantly greater leg bone mineral content than those who dropped out of sport. Females who were ‘consistent sport participators’ had significantly greater leg bone mineral content at 20 years of age than those who dropped out.
Because attainment of optimal peak bone mass in young adulthood is protective against osteoporosis later in life, participation in organized sport may have long-term skeletal benefits.
“Targeted messages to young males and females that discourage dropping out of sport and encourage joining sport — even in adolescence — are important for the benefits of skeletal health,” said lead author Dr. Joanne McVeigh, of Curtin University, in Australia.
Materials provided by Wiley. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Bipolar disorder in children is possible. It’s most often diagnosed in older children and teenagers, but bipolar disorder can occur in children of any age. As in adults, bipolar disorder in children can cause mood swings from the highs of hyperactivity or euphoria (mania) to the lows of serious depression.
Emotional upheaval and unruly behaviors are a normal part of childhood and the teen years, and in most cases they aren’t a sign of a mental health problem that requires treatment. All kids have rough periods—it’s normal to feel down, irritable, angry, hyperactive, or rebellious at times. However, if your child’s symptoms are severe, ongoing, or causing significant problems, it may be more than just a phase.
Here are some signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder in children:
Severe mood swings that are different from their usual mood swings
Hyperactive, impulsive, aggressive, or socially inappropriate behavior
Risky and reckless behaviors that are out of character, such as having frequent casual sex with many different partners (sexual promiscuity), alcohol or drug abuse, or wild spending sprees
Insomnia or significantly decreased need for sleep
Depressed or irritable mood most of the day, nearly every day during a depressive episode
Grandiose and inflated view of own capabilities
Suicidal thoughts or behaviors in older children and teens
Children with bipolar disorder experience symptoms in distinct episodes. Between these episodes, children return to their usual behavior and mood.
Keep in mind, a number of other childhood disorders cause bipolar-like symptoms, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, anxiety disorders, and major depression. Diagnosis can be challenging because these and other mental health conditions often occur along with bipolar disorder.
If your child has serious mood swings, depression, or behavior problems, consult a mental health provider who specializes in working with children and teens. Mood and behavior issues caused by bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions can lead to major difficulties. Early treatment can help prevent serious consequences and decrease the impact of mental health problems on your child as he or she gets older.
As I sit in a secluded reception area of the AKA Smyth Tribeca Hotel in New York City, my phone vibrates with a text from an unknown number. It’s Laverne Cox, and she’s trying to find me. My first thought: I wonder if we’ll become friends after the interview is over. We’re both trans women of color, after all. And I’ve admired her for such a long time now, ever since I first saw her in her breakout role as trans inmate Sophia Burset in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.
My second thought is that I need to focus. I’m a professional journalist here to interview her for a profile. Yes, it’s all very exciting. But come on, Meredith. You’ve met celebrities before. Snap out of it.
I text her back and keep my eyes on my phone as I wait for her to reply.
Cox spots me before I spot her, probably because she’s wearing a black visor with a reflective plastic brim that goes down almost to her chin, obscuring her face nearly completely—a look that’s futuristic though slightly dystopian. “I must have walked right past you,” she says as she approaches me, visor down.
We go on a frenetic search for privacy through the hotel’s ground floor, breezing through a restaurant where Cox takes off her visor to talk to a hostess, who tells her the dining room is about to be cleaned, then to a lounge area next to a fireplace that still doesn’t feel quite right. Finally, Cox and I settle on a table overlooking the street outside, with translucent curtains covering the bottom half of the hotel’s front window and a screen shielding us from other tables behind. It’s only then that she seems to relax and allow herself to be seen, at least partly. She orders a pot of Earl Grey tea, which she sips languidly throughout our interview.
Even without her visor, the hood of her fitted black hoodie comes up over her head, and her chest is curved inward, her guardedness a contrast to her open smile and bearing on TV talk shows and red carpets. She reminds me of a turtle (well, a really glamorous turtle)—hiding within a shell, conserving her energy for when she needs to be out in the world.
Cox has every reason to be protective of herself, given that she’s one of the most recognizable transgender celebrities on the planet who simultaneously navigates the world as a black trans woman. These two realities may seem in stark contrast to each other—one defined by tremendous success and the other linked to deep oppression—yet they have in common a feeling of intense scrutiny, especially in public surrounded by strangers.
Ergo the visor, the frantic search for privacy, and I sense a certain emotional remove that could very well be interpreted as diva-like as we begin to talk: her gaze above instead of directly in my eyes, her chin tipped upward as she leans against the back of a brown leather bench, as far from me as possible. This feels like a pushback against my expectation that Cox be receptive and warm, that her public should see her as the perfect picture of grace, the kind of celebrity who makes time for her fans and always welcomes selfie and autograph requests with a smile.
Among trans women, there’s also the expectation that we should immediately connect through our shared history, an expectation I realize I totally had coming into this interview. It’s with a mixture of surprise, puzzlement, and grudging respect that I greet Cox’s demeanor, the way she seems prepared not to be nice if she doesn’t feel like it, even for a profile, even when her interviewer is another trans woman.
Cox grew up in Mobile, Alabama. Her mother, a teacher, stressed the importance of education, and, crucially, encouraged Cox to pursue her passion for dance and the arts from a young age, signing her up for dance classes starting in the third grade.
“When my teacher said you should take that child out of those dance classes, my mother said no,” Cox says. “It seems really basic but that’s an incredible privilege because there are a lot of kids who were assigned male at birth who wanted to study dance and whose parents say no.”
The arts have been an emotional outlet for Cox since she was a child; she trained for years in classical ballet before fully focusing on acting after college. “Performing was this wonderful release for me as a kid,” she says. “Having music in my head and movement in my body was the thing that sort of transported me from Mobile, Alabama, where I was being bullied […] where no one really understood me, to a space of possibility and dreams and my imagination.”
Dance opened up her world in ways that many black children who come from low-income and single-parent households like Cox’s don’t typically have access to. For high school, she won a scholarship to attend the Alabama School of Fine Arts, which attracts students from all over the United States. Being surrounded by classical pianists, opera singers, dancers, and actors engaged in the artistic process on such an advanced technical level drilled home for her the importance of hard work. “I worked really, really hard,” she says. “I understood how hard one must work to really be good at something.”
She attended Indiana University Bloomington on a dance scholarship, then transferred to Marymount Manhattan College her junior year, eventually earning a BFA in dance. She remained in New York after college, where she shifted her focus to acting and continued her hard work, now balancing her auditions and acting classes with waiting tables and other jobs to help pay the bills. She landed a few small acting roles here and there, and appeared on a reality television show called I Wanna Work for Diddy about a decade ago; then, in 2012, she was cast on Orange Is the New Black.
Her acting on OITNB catapulted Cox to stardom and paved the way for many firsts: the first openly trans person on the cover of both Time and Cosmopolitan; the first openly transgender actor nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category (she subsequently earned a second nomination); the first openly transgender woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award as an executive producer, for her work on Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word. In the process, Cox also became the face of the trans movement for an entire country, during a time when interest in transgender issues has surged.
Throughout our conversation, as I listen to Cox expound on her acting process, as well as her love of classical music and ballet, I realize, sheepishly, that her outstanding performance as Sophia on OITNB has become so ingrained in my mind that I have conflated that character’s biography with Cox’s own.
While Cox and the role she is most known for have the common experience of being black trans women, their lives are entirely different. Unlike the character she plays, Cox was not married to a woman, has not had a child, has never been to prison. These are aspects of Sophia’s character that Cox, through her training and hard work, has had to learn to embody—just as any trained actor who wishes to be evaluated for her talent must do. Cox’s life trajectory challenges the idea that trans actors are not trained, or that it’s less of a challenge for them to play trans roles because of their experience.
“The proof is in the work,” Cox emphasizes. “We can do the job. I mean, the only issue is about the opportunity. Because I’m black and because I understand my history as a black American, I don’t mind having to prove that over and over again. I’m OK with that.”
Cox has 3.3 million followers on Instagram. She frequently posts photo and video updates from her life—many featuring her dancing playfully in front of the mirror, making sexy, silly, joyful faces. In her Instagram captions, Cox often uses the hashtag #transisbeautiful—trans is beautiful. It’s at once an affirmation, a mantra, and a rallying cry, the endpoint of a long journey where Cox grappled with her place in the world as a black trans woman.
“When I started transitioning 20 years ago, the goal of transitioning was not to be openly trans,” she says. “The goal of transitioning as presented to me by all the trans women that I admired was that you transition and you go and disappear and don’t tell anyone your business.”
Cox is fully aware that many trans people struggle to find themselves beautiful, as she still does from time to time. For years, she says, she didn’t have the luxury of moving through the world without revealing she’s trans, a state that trans women refer to as stealth. “There were a lot of times over many years I went through the world not leading with being trans, but someone always knew,” Cox says. “I had to really get to a place in my life where I was able to be good with being trans or I was going to have to kill myself.”
Cox talks about self-love and self-acceptance as a process that involves work on multiple fronts. She says therapy is key to being in touch with her own self-worth, but also that acting itself has been a great tool for helping Cox understand herself.
“I think actors must know the very depth of who we are as human beings so that we can give the depth of our humanity to the characters that we play and find where those intersections meet,” she says. “There’s constant work of self-discovery, self-acceptance, peeling back layers of an onion that an actor must do constantly.”
Cox also repeats affirmations to herself in the mirror, which she describes as “cheesy,” with a chuckle, but effective. “There’s a bit of cynicism that I, too, have had about doing affirmations, but it’s really a wonderful thing,” she says. “Sometimes you say it until you believe it. I can’t say I haven’t looked in the mirror and said, “‘Work, bitch.’”
Cox squares herself, as if to prepare for her affirmation ritual. “I think it’s important to be able to be like, ‘Yes, your shoulders are broad, yes your hands are big and your voice is deep and you’re really tall and people notice you, and that makes you noticeably trans, but that doesn’t make you any less beautiful,’” she says. “You’re not beautiful despite those things, you’re beautiful because of those things, and [believing] that has to be an active conscious process.”
With this affirmation, Cox provides clues to the aspects of her physical appearance that society has taught her to dislike because they mark her as trans, and how tuning out the world allows her to tap into her own sense of beauty, apart from those social pressures.
“Loving myself is a practice,” she says. “It is something that I must cultivate and it is something that I must consciously do or it will go away.”
Beyond therapy and affirmations, Cox is intentional about tending to her physical and emotional well-being. She rattles off something of a self-care checklist: “Working out, eating well, getting enough sleep, saying no so I can balance work with pleasure and work with activism—and activism is part of my work, but having a more balanced life,” she says. “I still struggle with that.”
And then there’s her approach to love and dating, which has evolved significantly since she was younger. She says she used to believe that because she was trans, she had to accept men not treating her well, or only using her for sex. Her growing self-confidence has helped her see that she has every right to demand and expect respect, partnership, and love.
Before Cox met her current boyfriend, Kyle Draper, the CEO of a record label, she had some ground rules when it came to dating: She disclosed up front that she was trans, and she refused to meet someone new in private. In addition to being safety tactics, both of these steps also helped weed out anyone who didn’t feel comfortable being seen dating a trans woman in public.
She had other requirements for what she looked for in a partner as well: “Am I attracted to the person, does the person treat me well and make me feel good about myself, does it feel safe?” Cox says. “A friend of mine said, ‘Would you trust this person that you’re dating around your child if you had one?’ I think about my inner child…re-parenting my inner child. Would that person be safe around my inner child?”
Cox jokes that when she met Draper, he checked all the boxes for what she was looking for—except, she thought at the time, he wasn’t tall enough. “If I’m being really real, it was about my ego,” she says. “When I dated men who were taller than me, it made me feel demure, it made me feel more feminine and all that stuff. None of that is about a real connection with someone. It’s about how we might look together in a photo, about superficial shit.” Draper was really funny, though, and kind as well as charming; he also made her feel good—and she thought he was sexy, too. Suddenly, she didn’t care about the height thing anymore. A year and change later, they’re happily in love.
I tell her that the story of her romance with Draper feels connected, in a way, to the whole idea of trans is beautiful, and setting aside certain societal standards of what beauty should be or should look like. She agrees that her feelings about height, for instance, were because she wasn’t fully at peace with who she was or how she looked. “I wanted a man to validate my womanhood or validate that I’m attractive,” she says. Because for so long, so many people have told her that she’s not. Men have told her that she’s not beautiful or sexy, even while simultaneously wanting to have sex with her. And she came to the realization, through acting, through therapy, through her affirmations, and through her slow building of her self-esteem, that she didn’t need to listen to it anymore.
“I’m not buying it anymore,” she says. “I’m not buying into that, I’m not having it. I’m sexy and I’m going to own that because I think trans women…are sexy. A lot of us are sexy not despite our transness, but because of our transness. That’s just the truth.”
One of the most difficult aspects of being trans that people often don’t account for is that while we want to be perceived as we are in the present, we often carry with us significant traumas from the past. Even though Cox today may not seem visibly trans, she began her transition process two decades ago, and it’s clear that she spent many years moving through the world as a visibly trans woman who is also black, with the attendant pain and danger that identity often entails. Even if strangers are less liable to perceive her as trans now, her status as a celebrity identified with the trans movement means that she’s visibly trans in a different way, so ever since she transitioned, Cox has never experienced significant respite from her trans identity being up for display and scrutiny.
Given the high rates of harassment and violence against trans women, especially black trans women like Cox, it’s understandable that she’s under a lot of stress, both internally and in her interactions with the public.
To start, she contends with a pervasive, nagging feeling of guilt—what she refers to as “survivor’s guilt”—over her success, while so many other trans women of color suffer. “I understand that I’m very lucky,” she says. “I understand that I’ve been chosen. It makes me sad…it’s very intense.”
Cox tries to blunt her feelings of survivor’s guilt by remembering that she should be proud of what she’s accomplished. She’s worked hard to live the life she’s always dreamed about, and she has a right to enjoy herself, even if others like her don’t have the same luxury. Meanwhile, she’s mindful about her consumption and spending: “I think there’s a difference between materialism and wanting to live comfortably,” she says. “That’s what I have to be really careful with, right? That I’m not just like conspicuously consuming and being materialistic.”
She reminds herself of what it was like to be a kid, bullied in gym class, daydreaming about one day being famous and showing them all. “I think about that little kid and I just think that how wonderful for her, how wonderful for her that she gets to live these dreams,” Cox says. And she says her brother reminds her that representation and visibility are important, and that she’s showing other little kids all over the world that a black trans woman can be successful, happy, fulfilled—and enjoy herself. There’s something beautiful in that. But there’s also a lot of pressure.
“I better damn well enjoy it because I don’t know how long it’s going to last,” she adds.
Cox is anxious about this feeling of scarcity, too—that her fame will be fleeting, that all good things are temporary, that the other shoe might drop at any moment, and that she should enjoy it while it’s here. The anxiety can manifest in scary physical symptoms, like the “full-on panic attacks” she says she experienced when she recently bought a condo in Los Angeles. “I think in part it was because of not being used to abundance, because I’ve had two eviction notices in my life, and I hadn’t fully dealt with that trauma,” she says.
Ultimately, Cox is not just any actor. The privileges of a strong arts education have not fully shielded her from many of the traumas that pervade black trans women’s lives. Moreover, Cox also functions for many as a symbol of possibility for an embattled community, one that looks to her for support and affirmation. And Cox finds herself constantly confronting this tension between her present position as an elevated exception and her past, which becomes clear when our discussion of preparing for a movie she’s in turns into a tearful look into the perils of being a black trans celebrity.
The movie is Dear White People director Justin Simien’s Bad Hair, a horror satire about a black woman and her weave, which Cox hesitates to describe at length because the film has only been announced recently. But Cox does recount the process of preparing for her role of Virgie, which she’s been doing by working with her new acting coach Kimberly Harris to find what she calls a character’s “private moment,” which leads to a discovery of her “unfulfilled need.” It’s a process meant to help an actor discover more information about the character, she explains.
Here’s how Cox describes the relationship between a character’s need and an actor’s own experiences: “[A character] has to match up obviously with your own unfulfilled need and your own traumas and it has to always be very personal for you,” she says. Maybe this is why Cox begins to shift from the needs of the character she portrays to her own needs, and how they match up with her own past.
“I don’t usually take pictures with fans…if I’m not feeling it,” she says. “I have guilt about it.” It’s another item on the long list of social challenges Cox has to worry about.
Cox recalls how excited she was when OITNB came out in 2013, and how she went through a six-week period when she said yes to every fan request to say hello and take pictures. But at the end of that time, she says, “I was exhausted from receiving all this energy, from saying yes to everybody who wanted their picture. I was like, if I don’t set some boundaries, I’m not going to have anything left for myself.”
Cox is able to ignore certain complaints from her dedicated fans better than others. For instance, she waves off the commenters who criticize her for dating a white man.
“It’s rough out there when you’re a black woman,” Cox says, citing OkCupid dating statistics that show men on the site rate black women as less attractive than other races. “And then you add being trans to that, girl, you can’t be limited. I don’t think you should limit yourself.”
Cox believes that it’s much better for her to approach dating with an open mind. “I’m going where it’s warm and I’m going where there’s a connection. That’s not about race, you know?” she says. And she’s not particularly preoccupied by the criticism anyway. “I can’t live my life for other people,” she says.
At the same time, though, Cox is deeply affected when she disappoints fans in face-to-face interactions, a tension that she constantly wrestles with, one that clearly upsets her as we talk and her tone grows plaintive. It’s as if she’s trying to solve a confounding emotional puzzle, one for which there is no solution. She begins to talk about how negative comments about her demeanor affect her. I mention that I’ve seen people call her aloof. Cox pauses as if to bristle, only to admit, “I kind of am.”
She described an incident where she walked into a Jennifer Lopez concert and fans were screaming that they loved her but Cox didn’t respond, until people online expressed anger at her. “I wanted to be kind of normal and just go to J.Lo’s show,” she admits, adding that she didn’t even remember anything out of the ordinary until she saw the comments. “To be honest, moments like that make me not want to leave my house.”
“It’s really hurtful, I could almost cry right now,” Cox continues. “But there are many, many people I’ve disappointed when they’ve met me in person because I was not able to receive their energy, I wasn’t able to listen to them or take a picture or whatever they wanted. That’s hard.”
Part of the issue is that, for Cox, it’s hard to overcome the natural reactions she’s developed from a lifetime lived in fight-or-flight mode, fearing for her personal safety.
Pre-fame, strangers approaching her on the street often meant danger—she’s been kicked, she says, and she’s been afraid of being murdered for being trans. Now people approach her on the street primarily for different reasons, but it doesn’t necessarily feel any different.
“This is the truth [about] people running up on me in the street,” she says. “It’s not like [suddenly] I’m famous and all my traumas have gone away.”
It’s as if when fans approach Cox, her experiences of fan adulation converge with her history of street harassment, which means that she carries an even greater weight than many other celebrities in terms of dealing with the public.
Even more difficult, because Cox is a prime representative for the trans community, she often finds herself on the receiving end of many heart-wrenching stories from trans people who, recognizing her from TV, immediately confide in her.
“I’ve heard the most incredible stories—people saying I’ve saved their life […] because I was on TV,” she says. “They were going to commit suicide and then they transitioned. And these are beautiful things. But, it’s also a lot to hear all the time.”
She describes a specific incident in which a trans woman approached her while Cox was shopping, and said that her mother watched the show and told her to watch it, after the two had not been in touch for many years. It was a beautiful, sweet story, one she’s glad she was available to hear, but it’s also a lot to take in psychologically when just going about her day.
Cox is crying now, and I suddenly notice that the space between us has narrowed, as we’ve found ourselves leaning toward each other while tears fill her eyes. It’s as if she finds it hard not to be emotionally vulnerable, and I wonder if that’s part of why she presents such a protective façade in public. Through her tears, a moment of clarity emerges.
“I just had my ‘aha’ moment,” she says. “It’s that it’s too much. That’s what it is. It’s like someone living or dying because I say hello or because I’m on TV and I know that’s what happening, but I can’t live in that every day because it’s too much.”
We talk about other things, about how Cox’s relationship with her fans relates to patterns of codependency she developed from a previous relationship—“there’s a part of me that wants to take care of everybody,” she says; how she doesn’t have to be friends with celebrities she idolizes, like Beyoncé or Oprah, because she wants to give them space to be human beings; how all your problems don’t go away just because you’re famous. More than anything, though, I feel as if we’re both absorbing what we’ve learned from our interaction. Just as Cox realizes that everything that’s happening to her—whether positive or negative—is too overwhelming, I realize that I, too, have been guilty of projecting unfair expectations of warmth and intimacy onto her simply because we belong to the same community, when she deals with dozens of other trans people every day. Maybe the best way to be someone who admires Cox is to give her space, to allow her to be who she is, and not take it personally if she doesn’t always meet your expectations or match your enthusiasm.
Our interaction ends as abruptly as it began, with Cox bidding a hasty farewell and skittering to the hotel elevator as soon as I tell her I’ll take care of the check. I think about her initial text message, how I had imagined becoming her friend. It’s clear to me now that we don’t need to be friends for me to continue to admire her, just as she doesn’t have to be friends with people she also admires. I also realize that one of the greatest gifts we can all give celebrities is to think of them not just as the characters we’re invested in, the symbols of success or happiness we’ve come to admire, but also as human beings with their own needs, traumas, and imperfections. As I look at the empty space where she had been just a minute before, I also can’t help but think to myself about what Cox’s unfulfilled need could be, that if she were a character in a movie and someone were to play her, what would be the emotional force that drives that actor’s performance.
This is what occurs to me: Not everyone has been good to Cox, so she needs to be good to everyone, even when being good to everyone isn’t something she or anyone is capable of. Often, as Cox is finding out, it’s more important to be good to yourself.
It’s been five decades since Madeline Manning Mims crossed the finish line of the women’s 800-meter race at the 1968 Olympic Games, winning the race by more than 10 meters and making history on multiple counts. Her time of 2:00.90 set a new Olympic record, and 20-year-old Mims became the first black woman to ever win the 800 meters. To this day, she remains the only American woman to ever earn Olympic gold in the event.
Yet all these years later, Mims, now 70, says the significance of that victory in Mexico City still hasn’t fully set in.
“I have not stopped to really reflect on this whole thing,” the four-time Olympian tells SELF as she prepares to join several of her ’68 Olympic teammates at a special USA Track and Field “Night of Legends” event on December 1 in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s really kind of overwhelming. It’s humbling. I’ve looked at what’s happened in my life and now I can see how I helped shifted the ability for women of color to run long distances.”
Here, Mims shares her memories of the ’68 Games, the early life challenges she overcame to make it there, her continued commitment to helping Olympic athletes, and more.
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
SELF: Let’s talk about your victory in 1968. When you look back on that race, what stands out?
Mims: My mother and the gym teacher who first discovered me were standing about three tiers [up in the stands] from the finish line. When I came through, I heard my mother in the stadium hollering at the top of her lungs, “Praise the Lord, that’s my baby, that’s my baby!” She was crying and they were in each other’s arms. I looked up and connected with her and had one of those moments where I was like, Wow, I’m so glad you’re here.
SELF: What a special moment for you and your mom. The win obviously had much larger implications, too. What did that accomplishment mean to you at the time?
Mims: I didn’t think of it [as significant] at the time. I was too young—I was a sophomore in college, and these significant measures of history being made were not something that I could reflect on and connect with at the time.
SELF: When did you first understand the historical significance of that medal?
Mims: It wasn’t until a track and field world championships meet in the 80’s when I met the Nigerian chef de mission [the person in charge of a national team at an international sports event]. A U.S. diplomat introduced us and he said, “I know very well who you are.” I thought he was just being nice, but then he started sharing with me. He looked at me and said, “You are the one who has opened the door for women of color all over the world to start running long distances.” [At the time, the 800 meters was considered a long-distance event.] That’s when it really hit me. Before then, I had no idea the broad impact of winning that gold medal.
SELF: Let’s talk about the events in your life that led you to that moment. You were diagnosed with spinal meningitis at age 3 and the doctors didn’t expect you to survive. Obviously you recovered, though you were quite sick until age 14. How did that early illness shape you as an athlete?
Mims: I was a very sickly little girl. I used to throw up a lot and every time that happened, my mom would call the doctor and he’d come give me a big shot. I hated getting that shot, so after I while, I started keeping the sickness to myself. I would quietly throw up and then continue doing what I was doing. I forced myself to push beyond the sickness. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was making me stronger and stronger. I learned to overcome.
SELF: Your athletic talents were first discovered in high school gym class. You then played on the basketball, volleyball, and track teams. What were you like as a young athlete?
Mims: I was really disciplined. I always did more than was asked of me. After track and field practice, I would stay and do a few more runs by myself. I did the same thing with volleyball. I would stay for 2 to 3 hours after school and practice my serve over and over.
SELF: Who were some of your early influences?
Mims: I met Wilma Rudolph [American sprinter, world record holder, and medalist at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic games] at the 1967 Pan American Games. She said, “You are ready for that gold medal—now go out and get it.” I stood there trembling and said, “Yes ma’am.” Then, I met Jesse Owens [American sprinter and four-time Olympic medalist at the 1936 Olympic Games] at the 1968 Olympic Games. He was from my hometown of Cleveland and had heard about me. He gave me a hug and told me to go get the gold medal. If anyone made a huge impact in my life as far as athletics and character, aside from my high school and college coaches, it was those two.
SELF: Since winning Olympic gold, you’ve earned your Ph.D. in sports chaplaincy and have attended every Olympic Games as a sports chaplain since the late 80’s, providing spiritual guidance to athletes. How did you get on that track?
Mims: I was selected as a captain of three of the four Olympic teams that I made, and I think it’s because I was always listening to, counseling, and supporting the other athletes. Things evolved from there and in 1988, I was asked to serve as part of the first U.S. Olympic chaplain team. It was a multi-faith team. In 2003, I started the United States Council for Sports Chaplaincy, a 501(c)(3) of which the purpose is to educate and train Christian chaplains to provide pastoral care at the Olympic and professional sports level.
SELF: In attending so many Olympic Games over the years, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the sport of track and field?
Mims: There have been so many changes—eating habits, training, the types of clothing and shoes. Also, the track itself is different. When I was first running, we had cinder tracks, which were hot and hard, and we ran on these big spikes. But the largest difference is the finances. The first time I got some type of per diem, it was $7 a day. Now the sport has become a vocation and that’s how athletes look at it.
SELF: What role does running and fitness play in your life today?
Mims: There’s a path out here [near Mims’s home in Tulsa, Oklahoma] where I can walk or jog half a mile a few times a week. I also do weight training, water workouts, and jazzercise tapes. At age 70, I know better than to do anything close to what I was trying to do [during my competitive days]. Yet still, my mind will sometimes just really want to go for it and I have to remember to use wisdom [and tell myself to keep it in check] because tomorrow you won’t be able to get out of bed.
SELF: Where do you keep your gold medal?
Mims: In my dresser drawer. I want to pass it down to my family line.
SELF: What advice do you give to young athletes today who want to be successful in their sport?
Mims: If you want to be a leader and the very best of the best, you have to be willing to pay the price. It doesn’t just come laid out on a platter—it comes with a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears.
Having a horrible stomach ache or mysterious abdominal pain is never fun. And it’s even less fun when you’re sitting there curled up in a ball mildly panicking and Googling your symptoms, unsure if it’s just horrible gas, nasty period cramps, a bout of food poisoning, or something more severe—like appendicitis.
Appendicitis just means inflammation of the appendix, which is “a vestigial, meaning not useful, cone-shaped organ that we have hanging off the right side of the colon,” Kyle Staller, M.D., M.P.H., a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF. The cause of appendicitis isn’t always clear. In many cases, the appendix gets clogged up, like with a fecalith (a hard mass of poop), causing it to become swollen and infected, Dr. Staller explains.
An infected appendix is notoriously painful and uncomfortable—and it also can turn into a potentially life-threatening medical emergency if you don’t treat it quickly.
The tell-tale symptoms of appendicitis include pain on the right side of the lower abdomen (that typically feels worse if you move around), nausea, bloating, and possibly a fever and/or vomiting, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You may not have that textbook, localized pain off the bat, however. “The gut nerves really only tell you a general area of where something is wrong,” Dr. Staller explains. “When something’s angry in that area where your appendix is, people actually feel discomfort around their belly button.”
Generally, a person will first feel sick and notice that pain near the belly button—but these initial symptoms may be tough to distinguish from a typical stomach ache, so people often wait it out, Dr. Staller says. Then, as the appendix continues to swell, it will start to irritate the wall of the abdomen, which is when the pain will usually migrate down to the lower part of the abdomen where the appendix is located, and your body will pretty much start telling you, “S.O.S.!”
If your appendix ruptures, you might actually feel a sensation of relief. “Once in a while we see this in the emergency room. A patient will come to us in excruciating pain, and all of a sudden out of nowhere, the symptoms go away,” Michael Klein, M.D., trauma surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. “Usually this is an indication to the care team that your appendix has ruptured. So although a patient with a ruptured appendix might feel relief and think, ‘Oh, maybe this was a bad cramp,’ the physician will still want to confirm you don’t have untreated appendicitis.”
A ruptured appendix is a potentially life-threatening complication of appendicitis—which is why you want to rule out appendicitis as quickly as possible, before this happens. “When it ruptures it can cause very serious infections,” Dr. Klein says. “You never can predict when an infected appendix is going to rupture, so surgically removing the appendix before it ruptures is the best form of treatment.” (Patients do respond to antibiotics in many appendicitis cases, Dr. Staller notes, but there’s always the chance of recurrence and potential complications down the line if you do delay surgery.)
The truth is, if you are dealing with appendicitis, you will most likely know. Just ask these 13 people, many of whom went through a bit of hesitation and confusion about their symptoms, but eventually hit a point where they knew they were not dealing with run-of-the-mill stomach pains.
1. “It felt like knives mercilessly carving up my insides.” —Lauren, 25
“A few months ago, I came home from work on a Friday with plans to meet up with friends that evening, and the pain came out of nowhere. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to cancel my plans because I was curled up in a ball on my bed in the fetal position trying to find an angle to position my body that would give me a moment of reprieve. Nothing worked.
“I had always heard that lower right abdominal pain was the classic sign of an appendicitis, but my pain was a sharp and persistent stabbing below my belly button, before moving to the right. Having suffered ovarian cysts in the past, I also considered that possibility, but again, the placement seemed off. The pain never let up or dulled in the slightest. It felt like knives mercilessly carving up my insides. I couldn’t believe how fast I went from feeling absolutely fine to writhing in agonizing pain and crying. I was worried that I was overreacting and being a baby about it. I thought, What if my pain threshold was just low, and this was nothing more than a bad stomach ache?
“So after a good four or so hours of non-stop pain, to the point of tears, I bit the bullet and went to the ER. The last place I wanted to spend my Friday night was in the hospital, especially if it was for nothing, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I was seen within 10 minutes of arriving. Sure enough, they told me I had appendicitis and needed surgery. I had a laparoscopic appendectomy the next morning that took less than an hour to complete. I was released the same day, a few hours later. The whole ordeal took less than 24 hours.”
2. “I was so doubled over in stabbing pain that it took a couple of staff in the ER to ‘uncurl’ me so they could examine me.” —Alena, 43
“I was having breakfast with a friend and had what seemed like a nagging stomach ache. I was 23 at the time. I was never prone to digestive problems, or any health problems at that point, so I figured it would go away. As the day progressed, it got worse. I went to the theater to see a show in the evening with some friends. I was in a lot of pain and mused about going to the hospital until someone suggested it could be gas. By intermission, I simply couldn’t sit in a chair anymore with the pain so I went home and straight to bed. I still thought it would pass.
“This sounds ridiculous, but around midnight, my roommate came home and I was lying in my robe on the linoleum kitchen floor to keep cool, because I was sweating with pain, and still I refused his offer to take me to the hospital. Finally, by about 2 A.M., I drove myself to the hospital. I didn’t want to wake my roommate to take me or call an ambulance, and I couldn’t bear to wait any longer than necessary. I hobbled into the ER and said, ‘I’ll be embarrassed if this is gas, but I think something is really wrong.’
“I was so doubled over in stabbing pain that it took a couple of staff in the ER to ‘uncurl’ me so they could examine me. They did an ultrasound and ran some other tests and informed me that I was going in for emergency surgery to remove my appendix. I had just started dating someone new who I really liked at that time. My very naive 23-year-old self said to the surgeon, ‘Can we do it later this week? I have a date tomorrow.’ He laughed out loud and said, ‘You have a date with me!’
“The surgery and the whole experience really pulled the rug out from under me. I had never experienced pain like that. Up until that point, I thought I was in relative control of my body. It was a shock to discover that sometimes, when I least expect it, my body has other plans. I had never been intubated or under general anesthesia, and the pain coming out of major abdominal surgery took my breath away. Even now, 20 years later, I haven’t forgotten the experience of becoming a total passenger to my body’s limits, and also to modern medicine. It prepared me well for when I gave birth by c-sections though years later.”
3. “At first it would come in waves, then at some point the pain intensified and didn’t leave.” —Justin, 25
“I was 18 and going on college trips, deciding which school I wanted to go to. While visiting one of the schools, I came down with a [high] fever and started to feel lightheaded.
Later in the night, I started to feel a sharp pain coming from what seemed like my lower stomach. At first it would come in waves, then at some point the pain intensified and didn’t leave.
“I was staying in a hotel with my uncle, and I spent the whole night in pain and with a fever.
At one point during the night the pain became so intense that I couldn’t move. My uncle then inspected my lower stomach and put pressure on different parts of it. We called my other uncle, who was a doctor, and he confirmed that the symptoms sounded like those of appendicitis. We rushed to the hospital where they took me straight to the emergency room for surgery.
“The closest thing I could compare the pain to is the feeling a person gets when they get hit in the testicles. It’s a sharp pain that doesn’t go away, and it especially hurts when you apply pressure to the appendix area.”
4. “It feels like someone is stabbing you, twisting the knife and going deeper and deeper into your stomach, for days.” —Kendall, 28
“I’ve had appendicitis four times. Yep, four times. The first time was when I was 26 years old. The back story as to why I’ve had appendicitis four times is because the first time, my appendix wasn’t completely removed. Only a portion was removed, unbeknownst to me until two years later. I had an appendectomy in 2016 in New York City, where my appendix was thought to be completely removed. I had a second appendectomy in Boston in the spring of 2018. Between 2016 and 2018, I was admitted into the hospital two other times too.
“The first time, I woke up one morning with pain that felt like gas bubbles. I tried to do some Downward Dogs to relieve the pressure, but that didn’t work. Then, I thought maybe it was just an upset stomach from dinner the night before. I proceeded with my morning, went to work, tried to eat breakfast, but the pain got worse. It became excruciating and was isolated to the lower right side of my abdomen.
“I’ve never been in labor but I can definitely say appendicitis is the most severe pain I’ve ever experienced thus far. There’s truly nothing like it. The pain is stabbing, aching, sharp and constant all at the same time. It feels like someone is stabbing you, twisting the knife and going deeper and deeper into your stomach, for days.”
5. “I felt the worst pain in my stomach—like someone was stabbing me. I couldn’t move my body.” —Angelique, 24
“Two weeks before my big move-in day for my first year at university, I started to feel excruciating pains in my stomach. I thought they were just cramps. This was particularly interesting because I typically don’t experience cramps when I’m menstruating. So for the next two weeks, I continued to feel debilitating pain without thinking anything of it. This just goes to show you what women go through every month.
“On my move day, I felt the worst pain in my stomach—like someone was stabbing me. I couldn’t move my body. I’m a pretty tough gal, so I wouldn’t let that stop me, and my mom and I were caravanning the seven hours from my hometown to my university. But the pain was so bad that I began to cry as I waited for a red light to turn green. When my mom saw me crying through the rear view mirror, she knew something was wrong, as I rarely cry. So when we arrived on campus, she ordered that I go to the emergency room.
“After three hours of waiting in the ER, the physicians found that my white blood cells were three times higher than normal. They did a CT scan and [determined the issue was] my appendix. They put me under that night, before it burst. [The operation] only took 30 minutes. I was weak for the next month or so and also ordered not to drink alcohol, coffee, or spicy food.”
6. “I looked fine on the outside, but the scans showed a mess internally.” —Heidi, 46
“My case was unusual. I was 42, and in a small town in Turkey along the coast. We had just had lunch—crab pulled from the water—then got on a boat. I thought I had food poisoning. I felt excruciating, sharp pains on my right lower side. As we traveled through Turkey on a bus later in the trip, going over cobblestone roads and bumps was painful. It wasn’t until about two weeks later that I got home and saw a doctor.
“By the time I got home, the pain had gone down to almost nothing, but I knew something wasn’t right—so I pushed doctors to figure out what was wrong. It took about a week of tests before they gave me the CT scan to figure out what happened—and they were shocked when they found a burst appendix. I looked fine on the outside, but the scans showed a mess internally.
“They decided the best route was to give me heavy antibiotics. I was in the hospital for four days, and they released me with two more weeks of antibiotics. About six weeks after the original hospital stint, I went back in to have the abscess and remains of the appendix removed. There was a good bit of scar tissue that had formed from the burst that also had to be removed.”
7. “I felt an intense pain in my lower abdomen, and then it subsided and became more of a dull pain, more in my lower right side.” —Challee, 31
“I just had my appendix removed in June. It was a Saturday afternoon when I felt an intense pain in my lower abdomen, and then it subsided and became more of a dull pain, more in my lower right side. Since I didn’t have other symptoms of appendicitis (e.g. nausea or vomiting) and I was still able to walk, I waited until Monday to go see my doctor.
“After examining me, she sent me straight to the ER. After doing several tests and blood samples, I had emergency surgery at 4 A.M. on Tuesday. I spent the rest of Tuesday in the hospital recovering, and at 6 P.M. they discharged me. I had the surgery laparoscopically, and the recovery time was about two weeks. The recovery wasn’t terrible, as this was my second laparoscopic procedure; I had my gallbladder removed three years prior.”
8. “I thought that maybe I had gone too far during a workout and damaged some muscle.” —Luke, 27
“I had appendicitis when I was 20. The first thing I noticed was that my abs felt really sore, but no other muscles or parts of the body did. I’m an athlete, so if anything, I thought that maybe I had gone too hard during a workout and damaged some muscle. But as time went on, the area of the soreness shrunk and localized. Soreness became pain, and I had difficulty sitting up. I vaguely remember a burning sensation. Of course I turned to the internet, and all my symptoms seemed to line up with appendicitis.
“I was visiting my parents in Toronto at the time and thought I’d sleep it off. After pretty much laying in bed not sleeping because of the pain all night, I woke my dad around 6 A.M. and said that I thought I had appendicitis. We headed to the hospital shortly after and went through all the hoops of being an American navigating Canadian health care.
“Surgery went smoothly, no issues. I have three small incision points, each about an inch wide, and minor scarring. Healing largely required rest, also to let the incisions heal. After a few weeks I was able to run and start moving again, and any post-surgery symptoms wore off relatively soon after. It really wasn’t that bad!”
9. “It felt like there was an inflated balloon in my abdomen—and I had that classic localized, constant, dull, throbbing pain on my lower right side.” —Julia, 27
“Over fall break of my senior year of college, I woke up and needed to start getting ready for work, as my sorority sister was picking me to carpool. But I remember laying in bed with just this feeling of overall malaise. My stomach hurt like I was having gas. I got so nauseous that I threw up laying in my bed. It felt like there was an inflated balloon in my abdomen—and I had that classic localized, constant, dull, throbbing pain on my lower right side. It was more uncomfortable than painful.
“I called mom and she told me to have my friend take me to an urgent care. I walked into urgent care and they sent me over to the ER pretty much right away. You know it must be bad when you get to cut the waiting room line.
“I had to chug this horrendous big gulp of what I would describe as Satan’s piss prior to the CT scan. Shortly after, a surgeon came in and told me I had appendicitis and would be in surgery ASAP. I started crying in fear. I had never been to the ER before or had a surgery like this. Hearing those words was very surreal, especially when you’re without family.
“Recovery was long and uncomfortable. You don’t realize how much you use your core until you have it cut into. It’s the oddest sensation. I honestly can’t describe it, but have you ever eaten so much you literally cannot stand up straight to walk? Seriously, that’s sort of what the recovery felt like. I felt tight and full. Simple things like sitting up from laying down required a friend to help.”
10. “It felt like someone stuck a knife in my side and slowly pushed harder every 30 minutes.” —Alex, 26
“I first noticed slight abdominal pain, almost like gas pains, that started to severely increase. To be honest, I thought it was something I had eaten for lunch, or constipation. But as the pain got worse, it started to align with the horror stories of appendicitis I had heard. It felt like someone stuck a knife in my side and slowly pushed harder every 30 minutes. After about five hours of pain I realized it wasn’t going away and I needed to seek medical care ASAP. Of course looking back on it, I’m realizing I probably waited way too long.
“I learned I did have appendicitis, and my appendix ruptured. But based on my doctor’s recommendation, I did not have my appendix removed once it was ruptured. Big mistake. I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have. I was treated in the hospital for three days until I was cleared to leave. Then, I had outpatient surgery two weeks later. The laparoscopy was seamless, and, years later, I can barely see any visible evidence that this happened.
“My advice would be, when you feel discomfort in your abdomen for more than an hour, I would seek medical assistance quickly. Alert your friends and family, and get to the emergency room (not a local walk-in clinic) ASAP. Also, you can never ask the doctor too many questions.”
11. “At first it felt like indigestion. But it increased rather drastically, and I got to a point where I couldn’t even stand up.” —Sami, 26
“The pain was super erratic, and at first it felt like indigestion. But it increased rather drastically, and I got to a point where I couldn’t even stand up. I had a complete loss of appetite and was feeling very fatigued. I was 22 and in college at the time, and luckily my dad is a doctor. When the pain started to become more severe I FaceTimed him. He had me poke my stomach in different spots, and as soon as I pointed to the pain in my lower abdominal area, he told me I needed to go to the hospital immediately.
“When I was in the hospital and they were running tests, the pain was so bad that they had to put me on a morphine drip. During the procedure, they also noticed that I had an ovarian cyst that had ruptured around the same time.
“The scarring was very minimal, and the healing process was fine. It definitely felt like my stomach was tight because of the surgery and scars, but the stitches dissolved, so that was easy.”
12. “It was genuinely the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life—it hurt to breathe, walk, even speak.” —Eliza, 25
“I had been having stomach issues for a few years. I had also been in Thailand for two weeks, and my diet was super out of whack and I was on my period. So I thought I was either experiencing the worst cramps of my life or that I had caught a virus while I was away.
“After returning from Thailand, I went to a black tie gala with my family and stayed seated while my family danced and enjoyed the night. When everyone asked if I was feeling alright, I just chalked it up to jet lag. The following morning, my mom heard me downstairs hysterically crying in the family room and unable to move. I described the pain, and my dad eventually rushed me to the hospital.
“It felt like someone was trying to stab me from the inside of my stomach. It was genuinely the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life—it hurt to breathe, walk, even speak. Before my surgery, I asked a billion questions: How many of these procedures had they done? How many years had they been doing this? Had they ever killed someone? At this point my anxiety was really at the forefront.
“Once I was in the recovery area of the hospital and awake, the surgeon came in to let me know that I had been dealing with a recurrent appendicitis, and I may have been having flare-ups for the last couple of years.”
13. “I felt intense waves of nausea, like I really needed to throw up, but nothing was happening.” —Angelina, 26
“I had appendicitis when I was 22. I remember that I just could not fall asleep because I was so nauseous. I was tossing and turning for hours as the nausea got worse and worse. I first thought it was a hangover as I was laying there trying to go to sleep (I had gone out drinking that night, oops). As the nauseous feeling got worse, I knew something worse was going on because it was like nothing I ever felt before. I started having pain in the lower right side of my abdomen specifically—it was sensitive to the touch—and I was so nauseous but I wasn’t vomiting.
“I had been alternating between laying in my bed and on the bathroom floor. I felt intense waves of nausea, like I really needed to throw up but nothing was happening. So I started looking up symptoms online. I know it’s usually bad to self-diagnose, but at around 5 A.M. I just knew it couldn’t be anything else, since my symptoms fit all the descriptions of appendicitis online so closely.
“The surgery was smooth, and my recovery took almost no time at all. The worst part of it was that you have certain restrictions on what you can eat, including fruits and vegetables. Someone sent me a get well gift of Shari’s Berries, chocolate covered, and I couldn’t eat them.”
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.