Body dysmorphic disorder and, oh shit, a whole day of people taking your photo

The last time I wrote about BDD I got slammed for writing something so, “self regarding”.  Well, sadly for you, BDD is also a mental disorder. So suck it.

I was determined not to let my body image shit ruin my wedding. Not to diet. Not to fuss.  Not to fall back into an eating disorder.  I did on count 3 (largely because of count 1) , which I trying to get a stranglehold of. It is not something I want to discuss here- suffice to say, I am as fat as always, but with chipmunk cheeks added.  I confessed all to Robert, I have a friend who is contacting me every night to see how I am doing, and it is helping (I am still considering asking the CMHT for a therapy referral.  As the below illustrates, I’m sort of there, but I need a bit more help).

I know all brides (awful term) worry about what they will look like on their, “big day” (another awful term). I am not worried so much about what I will look like (shit, as always), but the actual exercise of people taking photos of me, looking at me, it being there forever, and having nothing to hide behind.  It is my worst fear. I can deal with some very carefully selected photos of myself but I still read my BBC Ouch columns on my phone with images disabled. In a way, it’s the thing that makes me miss hypo/mania the most.  “LOOK AT ME!” which, in my normal, non-manic life, I hate.  It was liberating, in a way, not to care.

I can handle being ugly in private.  It’s what I exist as, humdrum and ugly.  There you go, no harm done. Being ugly in public is what I needed therapy to deal with.  And in some ways, the therapy was successful.  I do accept now I have body dysmorphic disorder, which, although I had been diagnosed with, I had denied because I was, “that” ugly. What I have not intellectually nor otherwise accepted is that I am not, “that ugly”.  What I have accepted is that, for a long time, my behaviours surrounding that ugliness were disproportionate. Of course nobody is going to brick me in the street for being ugly (they will just call me a, “fat freak”, but hey, welcome to being a woman).  Of course my ugliness is not tied to my self-worth- I would be as worthy if I were beautiful.  That was my biggest victory and what helped me to, finally, accept love. Accept compliments, quietly and unquestionably, even if they have sadly little impact on my self perception.  Which is an incredible shame, because it is not just Robert who has treated me so beautifully.  I have always had partners and lived with men who were gentle, loving, complimentary and adoring and who did not put me down and treated me as an equal.  If I listened (how I wish I could listen to their real, real voices, and not the one in my head which is catcalling me, “your nose is too fat.  Your face is bloated.  Your nose nose nose nose nose, break your nose, get a new nose) I would have high self esteem.  I have grown so much in the past year, in so many ways.  Learned to listen, to accept criticism, learned to reflect more, learned to be more open, learned to be more healthy. To be aghast of the violence I used to direct towards myself, and, occasionally, others.

There is improvement- I don’t think, beyond my feelings about my appearance, I would meet the criteria for BDD anymore. Therapy was incredibly valuable in helping me to understand my anxious behaviours.  The smashed mirrors (in public places, bathrooms, that kind of thing, I would never allow one into my home then) and the thought processes leading to them.  That if you looked closely at anything (nose nose nose) you will find flaws.  I also used to see my face swell and utterly panic- I only recently understand that was a side effect of bulimia.  My face WAS swollen, and not delusionally, but also not naturally.  And it receded and ebbed and flowed. I don’t, for the most part, link my loveability to my appearance.  When in the past I feared to leave the house in case people laughed at me for what I looked like, and hated me for it.  That is an awful lot better. I don’t (often) look at myself in a mirror and want to die because of what I see, not being able to envisage a life in which I can live in this body.  I can leave the house now.  I don’t carry make up in my bag constantly, I don’t spend hours and hours applying it, rubbing it off in furious tears, then reapplying.  It takes 10 minutes, I’m out of there. Not satisfied, but so mindful, always mindful, of the terrible impact it had on my life for so long.

This, in a way, is the final frontier, the absolute last horror I can face in terms of living and somewhat recovering from body dysmorphic disorder.  It’s your wedding day.  You get photos taken of you, that’s what you do.  And it’s what I want- I want tons, hundreds, thousands of photos on the day as I have a terrible memory, and I don’t want to forget any of it.  I take a lot of photos myself so I remember.  I want to remember, I want to be remembered and have something to send to my granny, something to frame.

Part of me seethes, “How COULD you get married looking like this?!” in the same voice that used to scream, “How can you LIVE looking like this?”  And I try to ignore it, because I know it doesn’t really matter. I want to ignore it, I am going to do my best to ignore it.  And I am also doing all the things that make me feel nice- having my hair my “natural colour” (dyed bright red, my happiest colour), wearing something fitted, nice eyeliner.  I still have the socially-phobic me in there but IT IS MY WEDDING. I will deal with people. I will enjoy people.  I have no choice this time- I can’t turn on my heel and, “pretend” I went out when what I did was sit in a falafel place on my own, texting I had a great time and wasn’t at all too scared to go and speak to people.

It’s difficult to explain to Robert. He worries I won’t enjoy it, and this is partly why.  He does not understand the force of my feelings, which I get, because he thinks I am beautiful (and I believe he thinks it- how far I have come there!), so I wouldn’t want him to understand.  I have put on 2 stone since we met (happiness, recovering from an eating disorder, medication) and he said today I am lovelier than when we met, which is reassuring.  Hopefully the bloom of childbirth, ageing, ripening hips and EVEN BIGGER boobs will make me lovelier still to him.  I never worry what he thinks of my appearance, I cannot name the worry, or the who, I guess. It is me, I don’t want to look at photos and be frozen in this body and face when I still, doomedly, hold the belief, “It will change for the better.  One day, you will be beautiful”.

I hope happiness makes me, if not beautiful, then lovely.  Because I am very happy. I used to try and dissociate myself from my body back in the day, to say, “It does not matter what you look like, because you are you regardless”.  It made it easier to cope with living in it.  Now I try to be aware of it. “Yes, you are fat, but it is protecting you.  You have a funny nose, but it looks like your dad’s.  You would be so sad to look into a mirror and not recognise your father”. It works to an extent.

I am determined not to care. To pose and be happy.  To duckface with the best of them.  It is my wedding day, my one and (hopefully) only.  Mental illness has stolen so much from me.  Not this. This is mine.

1 week and 5 days to go. Wish me luck.

18 Responses

  1. Good luck!

  2. You go girl! Make that day yours and shine! Congrats and best wishes for the happiest of futures!

    Btw you are a great writer!

  3. Good luck! To me you’ll always be beautiful.

  4. Best of luck. Not really sure what to say – telling you you’re beautiful probably won’t help. But good luck.

  5. This is a beautiful post. I hope you can enjoy your wedding day.

  6. Getting married on Saturday. I could have written a lot of this. You know, if I could write. Good luck to both of us.

  7. You have come a long way! You have worked so hard. You are both lucky to have eachother 🙂

  8. I’m glad your BDD is better than before, and I hope you have a great day! Damn the mentalness for trying to ruin things!

  9. Oh…Seaneen, I know that voice so well! (nose,nose,nose!). I have my dad’s nose too and I have always thought it was huge and funny looking. I think now that it’s our differences and little oddities that make us beautiful. I never thought, though, that I would hate to not recognize my dad when I look at my face. My dad just died in April and I see him everywhere now. Everything reminds me of him. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes not. But I think now, since you said that you can see your dad in your face, I will look for my dad in mine and it will make me happy. Thank you.

  10. Thank you for the comments chaps 🙂

  11. Wow! Well written. I am at a time in my life where nothing seems to work. I migrated to UK seven years ago mainly because my wife made some really bad decisions in the country we lived in – my country of birth. Although she originates from there, she’s British. So seven years now and my life is basically shite. I have no job, being completely ridiculed and shouted in filth by her mother and brother in law. We just maintain a facade because our child is 17 years and a brilliant student.
    Unemployed and completely reliant on my wife to provide bread to the table I feel useless.
    No one honestly cares. What I hate is when my wife asks me to just get on with it. Get on with what? I take four Prozac a day with no result.
    Did feel good after reading your article. Thank you.

  12. […] And finally for today…congratulations and best wishes to Seaneen, author of legendary Madosphere blog The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, who is getting married to her long-term boyfriend Robert this week (yay!!!). On Sunday she discussed how the prospects of all eyes being on her and the constant snapping of shudders have affected her body dysmorphic disorder. […]

  13. Congrats on your wedding.. I am new on here and it’s so refreshing to find other like minded people. I now know i am not alone. And to the BDD? One bit of wisdom i have learnt in my 53yrs is that i spent too many of them wishing i looked like somebody else-anybody,else but me…But now im in my 50’s and look back at my old pics,i wish i looked like me 20-30 yrs ago.My BDD wasnt so important after having my son 20yrs ago,though my depression and agorophobia still exists and i have finally admitted to my GP to having it, along with my eating disorders!.I used to say it wasnt me that was scatty,but the rest of the world(that was my protection to the word “normal”). Im quietly comfortable being known as the ‘nutty friend’ to my close friends,as i know they accept me for who i am,and the one’s who dont have never walked in our shoes…For it is only us that suffer silently(or so i thought) until finding this site. Thank you.

  14. Just seen the photos – you’re beautiful. Absolutely stunning.

  15. Hello,
    My name is Cheryl and I live in the United States. Last year I nearly died due to a brain tumor that was undiagnosed for about ten years. I suffered from clinical depression as the location of the tumor was on my frontal lobe.

    As I rise from the ashes of my crumbled life, I am sharing encouraging thoughts, prayers, music, and other posts on my blog. I am a Born Again Christian.
    I hope you check it out.

    You can read about my personal journey by selecting CATEGORY on the right of the homepage. Then scroll down to ABOUT ME. I have pictures posted of myself right after surgery and present day. My recovery was quick with the Lord’s help.

  16. It’s awful that we feel like this, would be nice to feel normal. Planned my wedding in 8 weeks, thankfully I didn’t get a photographer, the less photos for me the better! I wish I had the support and could feel able to open up, looking toward to the wedding but would rather not have attention or photos, gah

    The photos from friends and family will be there and I’ll be forced to look at myself! Dreading it, my partner is very photogenic but I’m not and am petrified!

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