BDD otherwise known as body dysmorphic disorder.
There's a few awful misconceptions I feel that comes from living with this disorder:
1) People with no education on the subject can think it's just a case of low self esteem.
2) People think you're being negative about yourself to fish for compliments.
3) People can get really frustrated and tell you to get a grip because they don't understand.
So my first part of this blog is going to be a little insight and educational discussion on BDD. Then I will go on to my experiences with it before diagnosis, when I was diagnosed, to how I deal with it now. After this I will give a few tips and advise on how I feel is best to support a relative or loved one living with the condition as well as a few links to helplines and groups specialising in BDD.
When you stop and think about it, the human species is the ultimate variety pack. We embody a collection of physical features in a staggering array of combinations. In all their diverse glory, though, most people are dissatisfied with at least one of their features. Some want a smaller nose or a flatter stomach, maybe bigger boobs or straighter teeth. But what if these insecurities have a crippling effect? What if your imperfections cause you so much distress that it consumes you? What would you do if you saw yourself as a repulsive, disfigured anomaly? What if every time you passed a mirror you wanted to smash it out of sheer hatred for what you saw. The idea of taking a group photo or selfie with a partner makes you feel physically sick because you cannot stand the sight of yourself. You need to do a zoom meeting for your college course but seeing your face in the top corner makes you want to scream and throw the laptop so you miss class instead. You need to go shopping but you're absolutely terrified that people will look at you and see you for the repulsive mess you are.
This is the warped logic of body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD. NCBI describes BDD as a “distressing or impairing preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance . . . in which patients are completely convinced that they appear ugly or abnormal”. BDD “is also associated with marked impairment in psychosocial functioning, notably poor quality of life, and high suicidality rates” In other words, it’s not just a simple case of low self-esteem. It is a perpetual state of a warped reality in which you cannot trust your own perception of yourself.
I remember flitting through my teens constantly comparing myself to others and physically hating my appearance in comparison that I would get so angry at myself for being so repulsive. It was in these absolute fits of rage and hate that I would self harm. I would cut at my arms and thighs with whatever was closest to me, I would regularly smash photo frames and use the glass.
I would go days where I wouldn't eat very much, maybe a can of weight watchers soup and straight after I'd either take laxatives or make myself sick and then walk 10 miles of an evening. I became obsessed with my appearance and what I felt it looked like. I wouldn't be happy until I seen the number on the scale that I wanted to see and even when I got there I'd still hate myself for not being good enough and looking disgusting. I refused to go out of the house without makeup. I would constantly be cutting and changing my hair colour in this quest to be anything but what I seen in the mirror. I missed out on many many social events, exams, friendships, job opportunities and more over the years.
It wasn't until I'd had my second baby around the age of 20, my self harming became really bad again and I ran away from my home with a packet of pills and a bottle of vodka. I sat alone on ton a bench on the sea front huddled as tight as I could get. The voices in my head had finally stopped, but I didn’t want to go on. I didn’t like being me. I was found on the beach front by my partner at the time and told something had to change as it wasn't normal behaviour. I thought maybe I had PND or something so went to the walk in centre by us and spoke to a doctor about how I'd felt in the past and how I felt now, how much I hated my body, my face, I just wanted to claw my skin from my eye sockets down and so on. It was at that point in my life the doctor told me I had BDD.
I would quite easily say it is something I definitely still struggle with every day. I have days where I don't want to go out because I don't want people to see me, I have days where I can't look in a mirror. I regularly buy the wrong clothes sizes because I see myself as bigger than I am and because I'm adamant in my head my boobs are small so I regularly buy bra sizes too small and then get really confused why they don't fit as my boobs aren't even big... they're a E/F Cup, I buy C/D Cups a lot! If someone comments on somebody's weight who's big I will have a meltdown and be like "I'm the same size as them so what must you think of me!?" but in reality I'm a lot smaller than them, but it's how my head/brain perceives myself. Having a photo taken is a massive massive no no unless it is on my terms and I'm having a day where I'm comfortable in my own skin. It makes it incredibly hard for loved ones as I'll winge about why they don't take pictures with me, do they think I'm disgusting and want to hide me away etc but then when they try, I'm a focking nightmare. I fidget, I'll squirm, I'll pull funny faces to try and lighten the situation but then I hate what I see on the picture so it makes me worse, I cannot describe that feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin enough. I'd rather lay on a bed of nails.
A thing happened recently for me where I've been through a particularly emotional time in my life and rather than not eating/being sick through stress, I'd given up on self care and over ate so in the space of 10 weeks I gained a massive 3 stone (easily done for me as I have hypothyroidism). I've had a few memories pop up on Facebook and on my phone albums from last year where I'd got down to my goal weight and at that moment in time- I STILL WASN'T HAPPY, I STILL HATED MY BODY AND THE SKIN I WAS IN. However... being 3 stone heavier and looking back has given me some clarity into my condition because I looked at these photos and honestly for the first time in my life thought "wow, you actually are pretty hot and you had a lovely figure, wtf!?" for the first time in my life I got a girl crush on me. So being in a mentally better place after seeing it, I feel much better equipped this time round to lose the weight that I gained and get back to a healthier weight and feel enough as I am rather that looking at others and hating myself for not looking a certain way.
A few things I have found that have helped me these last couple of years is gratitude journaling, admittedly I don't do it as often as I should, I tend to reach for my book when I'm down which is the wrong thing to do as it is really hard to write about things you like about yourself when you're in that bad place. So.... I would recommend journaling and writing 3 things you love about your body and three thing you love about you every night, if you have a partner ask them to join in too, write 3 things they like about you/your body. The more you do it, the easier it will be to believe. For example one of my pages is....
I love my legs because they are strong and they have helped me climb mountains.
I love my eyes because they're unique and see the best in people.
I love my stomach because it has grown my babies and my stretch marks are beautiful lines of the magic I am capable of that shimmer in the sun.
I am kind and caring.
I am compassionate and want to empower others.
I am the best mother I could be and that is enough.
My best advice when helping a loved one is to be patient. Don't push social events, going out or even pictures. Let it be on their terms 80% of the time. I say that as sometimes we need the push to have a little confidence in ourselves and to show us it's not as bad as we think. When complimenting them try to steer away from their physical appearance, tell them they look really happy today their smile lit up the room, tell them you loved their company and they make you feel loved. Focus on the inside out. There are information links below if you think you may have BDD or if you think a loved one does. Even if a loved one has been diagnosed and you want to know how best to help them.
How to Help Someone with Body Dysmorphia | The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab
Body dysmorphic disorder: Alex’s story - BBC Bitesize
Helping someone with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) | Mind
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
You can tell a friend, parent, guardian, teacher or other trusted adult. If you are struggling with your mental health, going to your GP can be a good place to start to find help. Your GP can let you know what support is available to you, suggest different types of treatment and offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.
If you are in need of in-the-moment support you can contact Shout 85258, a free, 24/7 text messenger support service for anyone in the UK. Text the word “SHOUT” or “YM” to 85258 to start a conversation.