“Born dead, darling”. My ex boyfriend scrawled that over a piece of art work he had created about me, many years ago. I turned the page upside down and scrunched my nose up. Born dead, darling? Quite offended, I had a well-earned sulk. Then he directed me gently to the first letter of each word…
Body Dysmorphic Disorder was my first ever Mentally Interesting diagnonsense. Long before any doctor saw that I was suffering from depression, eons before a doctor even got a sniff of my mania, I was told I had Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Body dysmorphia is disabling, but little known. From a psychiatric point of view, it is an Axis III disorder defined in the DSM-IV as:
Preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance. If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person’s concern is markedly excessive.
The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
The preoccupation is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., dissatisfaction with body shape and size in Anorexia Nervosa).
The DSM-IV is as dispassionate as always, there.
I tend to think of Body Dysmorphic Disorder as a type of OCD. My symptoms flared up when I was 12- around the same time I had my first manic depressive episode. I would spend all day indoors applying make-up, fixing my hair, my skin, picking away and then I would go outside. I only went outside when it was dark, heavily made-up. In the summertime, I would have an hour or so of socialising before I went back indoors. I waited all day for the moon to rise.
As time went on, I began self harming. I cut the skin I didn’t like, which eventually became everything. I wore huge anoraks all day, every day, to try and hide my repulsive shape. I would get hysterical if anyone tried to take a photo of me. My particular focuses were my weight and my nose. I hated my nose and tried to break it once by slamming my face against a wall. I cut my stomach to try and claw out the fat.
Sounds crazy, I know.
I became a recluse for a long time, and only went out when that manic energy took hold. I loathed every single atom of my flesh.
For the sufferer of BDD, the body is a prison, a horrible, malignant prison.
And I still do, but I’m different now, and this is why.
I never did go to the doctor for treatment. I had a brief period of counselling but my heart wasn’t in it. When I moved to London, my dysmorphia was in full-flight. I hated going out, was terrified of people seeing me. I’ve always worn excessive make-up in an attempt to hide myself.
I began obsessively taking photos of myself. Scrapping photos I hated, treasuring the ones I liked. I showed them to my friends. They would say, “You look like that”. Over and over again, “That is you”. And I liked that image.
I still hate it when people take photos of me. But there are images of myself I like, and cling to. The ones I hate, I abuse, shout at, hiss at. It may seem ridiculous, but this stops me from taking something sharp to my face. In a photo, I can focus my hatred. I have broken down in tears at the sight of my body in a photograph. Yeah, I know.
I hear you cry. How many bloody issues can you have, woman? Many, is the answer. But I try not to let my issues PWN! me, as you crazy Internet kids would say. Over the years, I’ve learned to be doctor and patient with myself, getting a neccessary amount of distance to deal with things. I know it’s horrendously self-obsessed. But it stops things from completely taking over. And really, my horrendous self-obsession only exists in Blogland, where I come to lay it all on the table and have a damn good word with it.
Here is a pile of photos of BDD sufferers. Not a bad looking one among them. Still, I think, “I’m the exception. They’re beautiful and I’m ugly”. Nothing special, no big deal as I expect everyone who suffers from BDD things exactly the same thing.
If you click the above link, though, prepare for your, “Hah, people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder are just vain” preconceptions to be proved partly right. In that particular thread, there is a lot of assurance seeking. But people with BDD do geniunely believe they’re ugly. It may surprise you, what with my being level-headed and detached an’ all, but I believe I am geniunely ugly and no amount of flattery and assurances will change that. But that’s my crap to deal with. I have, at least, moved on from thinking that everyone who said I was pretty was a vicious liar. Now I nod sagely with a deflating, “Well, that’s your opinion”.
I am much better than I was. I sometimes don’t wear make-up because my boyfriend says I am pretty without it. A few years ago, I would have thought that people would have been vomiting in the streets at the sight of me without my slap-on. It’s baby steps. But you work through it.
It’s scary to be at war with yourself, and to find cause to wage it. It’s scary to look in the mirror and see nothing but rotted, ugly flesh.
The scariest thing you will ever do is look in the mirror and say, “I look good”. Once you say that, you’re no longer a victim. You’re stronger. You win. So say it.