What do Sylvia Plath, Robert Pattinson and me — a 21-year-old student from Manchester, England — all have in common?
We all have suffered or are suffering from a condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
I suffer from the comorbidity of depression and anxiety, which are both mental illnesses widely discussed and understood.
However, when I tell anyone I suffer from BDD, I'm greeted with a confused reply like,
“So, you just think you're ugly? Most girls have low self-esteem.”
The truth is, living with BDD is so much more than that.
After seeing this video The BDD Foundation released, which aimed to convey the deluded self-image of someone who suffers from BDD, I thought it was time to share how my BDD has been terrorizing me for more than a decade.
In order for this disorder to be identified and treated earlier in life, we need to bring it into the spotlight.
BDD isn't usually diagnosed until your 20s, but my earliest memories of encountering my BDD date back to when I was around 9 years old.
I saw a picture of myself, and I first became aware of my horrifying appearance. I remember being inconsolable as I realized I was fat, deformed and generally hideous.
Bullying exacerbated these feelings, and soon, all the classic signs of BDD revealed themselves:
A preoccupation with my appearance
When I say I was preoccupied, I mean I was anxious about my appearance at obvious times: When I was getting ready; when I saw my friends and compared myself to them; when I saw an attractive person in the street; when I saw someone on television or in a magazine; whenever I saw a mirror or reflective surface; and whenever I was in a crowded public space.
But then it progressed, and I found these thoughts would invade my mind at any given opportunity.
My concentration would be on a task for about two minutes before my mind strayed back to listing all the reasons why I should loathe myself.
In order to appease the anxiety my preoccupation caused, I engaged in certain ritualistic behaviors I believed would make me more acceptable to be seen in public.
These included dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking), excessive use of makeup as a form of camouflage, wearing makeup constantly (even to go to bed), constantly wearing a scarf in order to hide parts of my body and sitting in certain positions while in public so people were unable to see my side profile.
Of course, this was exhausting (to put it lightly). Although I didn’t realize it at the time, these behaviors worsened my anxiety and depression.
If I wasn’t able to complete them to what I considered an acceptable standard, they would lead to avoidance behavior.
The nature of BDD is delusional itself, meaning it’s difficult to separate reality from the falsehoods your brain makes you believe.
I’ve been told the reflection I see in the mirror is different from what other people see.
I’ve been assured the people I notice in public who stare and laugh at me actually are not.
When my delusions were at their worst, I had convinced myself my image was so abnormally deformed, there was no way I could have been conceived naturally.
The only logical explanation for my appearance was I was some sort of scientific experiment that had gone wrong.
Fortunately, I am now know this was a delusion my BDD aroused, and I am, in fact, a normal human, just like the rest of you.
An incessant desire for cosmetic surgery
When I was 9 years old, my class had to write about what we would do if we won the lottery.
All I could think about was cosmetic surgery or, as I called it, "self-correction."
From the age of 9, I wanted a cosmetic procedure to rid me of my awful skin. I also wanted my ears pinned back, a nose job, longer hair, liposuction, my teeth fixed, my forehead reduced and even an eyelift to make my eyes look bigger.
Remember, this all took place in my 9-year-old brain. The thought of all that "self-correction" still appeals to me to this day, but I know it won’t make the BDD go away.
The problems that actually need fixing reside in a place much deeper than my love handles and ears that stick out.
I first time I realized there was something wrong was when I was 19 years old, just after I’d moved out of my home and gone to college.
As I was starting to mature and become a "real adult," I accepted my behavior and thought processes were not healthy.
As the depression and anxiety became more debilitating, I knew it was time to admit I had a problem.
I started to take anti-depressants and engaged in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Three years later, I am still taking anti-depressants and still engaging in therapy.
I am in no way cured, and to be honest, I doubt I ever will be. But, it does get easier.
I have made so much progress throughout the last three years and I am determined to continue to do just that.
I can’t help thinking that if I could have identified my problem earlier, the chances of a full recovery — or, at least a quicker one — would have been better.
I beg people who feel they may have a problem similar to mine to seek help immediately.
BDD is still a lesser-known condition compared to other mental illnesses, but awareness is steadily growing.
People are beginning to understand the condition rather than mistaking it for vanity.
Society is becoming more and more open-minded about mental health issues in general, and if you seek it, there is help out there for those of us suffering from BDD.