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.

BDD suck my balls


I consider myself pretty cool in terms of body dysmorphic disorder. I had therapy, it helped, I kept those strategies with me. I understand my fears are irrational. I hate the way I look. I think I will always hate the way I look. But I can get through days without thinking I am a deformed goblin, and I can go out without make-up now and spend less than 3 hours a day putting on make up. I can leave the house and mostly look at myself without wanting to break down, and I have a mirror in my house that’s bigger than a hand mirror. Two in fact. I may not look into them much, but they’re still there, which was a thought intolerable to me in the past. I couldn’t be in the same room as a mirror without panicking. All good.

But being in a new environment, with new people, in a frankly bizarre situation (for me) on placement is making some things flare up again. My little tics are returning. I find myself touching my nose an awful lot. I have really good insight into my behaviours so I understand the touching thing is an anxiety reaction. I have a thing about my big, hideous, misshapen, gonky nose so I tend to try and cover it with my hand if someone is looking at me or speaking to me. I hate my hair too so wear hats, which I’ve started to keep on in the office (not entirely appropriate). The coats are staying on longer, too. The plus side is, it’s cold. But I know it doesn’t look professional to keep a big coat on. But I don’t want to take it off and have people see me. I’ve started taking my make up in (one of my, “homework” tasks when I did therapy was to come to it without make up on, so I try not to take my make up bag out with me as I know I’ll end up getting obsessed by it). So far I haven’t used it and I need to leave it at home.

I’m avoiding mirrors again too because when I look into them my face seems to swell and I can’t cope with the fact I look like this. It frightens and disgusts me that I walk around looking like I do. I’m getting to placement but socially, I’m beginning to withdraw again. I just do not want to be seen. It’s something I’ve discussed here at length before. I do have problems with sociability, ones which nobody who met me would foresee as I come across as being extremely confident and outgoing. As soon as I’m out of a situation where I need to be (work, university), I pretty much sprint back to my nice, safe, anonymous flat. I don’t really have a social life and part of it (though certainly not all of it) is due to worrying about what I look like and being laughed at.

I’ve joined a gym because I want to get healthy this year and lose weight before my wedding but the thought of going there, with other people who are good looking or slim while I am there lumpen and ugly is causing me so much panic that I can’t face it right now. I know I annoy Robert with my excuses; I declare I’m going to go to the gym, join a slimming club, lose weight, get healthy! and then don’t do any of it. It looks like weak-willedness, but I’m not entirely a weak willed person. It’s the people that freak me out.

The thought of having my photo taken on my wedding day is making me feel sick. I’m okay with photos as long as I take them, I can choose them, edit them etc. I hate other people taking my photo and thankfully most people who know me know that and avoid it. I’ve also put on loads of weight and my clothes don’t fit. I can’t afford to replace them (especially not now as I’m paying for a wedding) and it’s making me feel even worse.

I know this is an anxiety thing. I know it’s facile bollocks. I can rationalise it easily and understand it, but I don’t know how to control it. I keep telling myself, “You’re anxious, it’s fine, this is new. All that you’re doing is trying to displace this anxiety from something real and present and out of your hands into something that you can control”. But it’s easier said than done.

But the image anxiety, I am hopeful it will pass, but I don’t like feeling like this.

Bollocks to it anyway.

Body dysmorphic disorder- the only ex I hate

I received an email a few days ago asking me why I never mention body dysmorphia these days. (This reader also has body dysmorphia and wrote that she liked this blog because there’s not a lot out there about it).  And I realised I did rather abruptly stop talking about it.

Well!  There’s a few reasons for that.

The first one is that I have never liked to discuss it as I just felt vain.  It’s also a very boring topic, your looks.   The times I talked about it most were when I was going through CBT, with body dysmorphic disorder being the diagnosis that led me there.

The second and most important reason it doesn’t feature largely on this blog is because it no longer features largely in my thoughts.  I don’t have body dysmorphic disorder any more.  The rituals are gone, as is the overwhelming anxiety.  So I consider that one dusted.

So, in this entry I’m going to talk about why that is, and what helped me.

This got long…

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Who are you?  Tell me a little bit about yourself.  Even if you don’t normally comment, and even if you do.  I know I’m toss at responding to comments but I do read them.  And I wonder where you’re all from.  Where do you live, do you like films, what’s your background, how has your day been?

It would be good to hear from you out there, in the great beyond.

I’m Seaneen, by the way, aged twenty seven standing four foot eleven inches high in my stockinged feet, , with a penchant for flamboyant men and equally flamboyant women.  My lifetime’s ambition is to out-sarcastic Charlie Brooker in a TV-watching competition.  My favourite films are the nigh on stock student response- Brazil, Withnail and I and Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.  I also love Bedazzled, the original Cook and Moore version, not the godawful Crazy Frog lookalike Brandon Fraser’s version.  I want to watch Gaslight again and I’m very fond of Blithe Spirit.  In general, though, it’s music, comedy and books that tickle my fancy and I really don’t have much to say about films.

Please carry on talking to me here so that I may be deliciously nosey about you all and compile a dossier about you on my return.  For all those suffering from paranoid psychosis out there, I mean YOU.

Operation You Make Me Sick

I spent a good hour on the phone this afternoon to an eating disorder charity, Beat. I initially rang them to ask one simple question- “If I begin eating again, will I gain weight?” The answer was, “Maybe to begin with you’ll gain a few pounds as your body adjusts”. Looking down at my bruised and scarred knuckles, I felt my stomach plummet into my shoes. It wasn’t the answer that I wanted.

My knuckles roughly look like this, on a scanner at least:


There’s a bruise there, under my forefinger, and those scratches and scars are due to abrasions from my teeth. My hands feel very rough as I scrub them often.

Time ticks on, and the elephant in the room is about to “Ta da!”

There is one thing I do every day that I never discuss.

I have a serious eating disorder. And I have to say something about it to a professional. So far, I have backed out of mentioning it. For a year and a half of being cared for by the community mental health team, I have mentioned it maybe twice, then immediately dismissed it. On Thursday, I have my first meeting with the team psychotherapists.

Oh, I know I have an eating disorder. Every body has an eating disorder. I don’t know very many people who don’t agonise over every scrap of food that goes into their mouth. Who don’t say, “I feel bad eating this” as they nibble a biscuit, who are afraid of putting sugar in their tea, who eat their lunches self consciously in suicidal offices, buying a salad, but they wanted a sandwich.

It’s all very cloak and dagger. I’ve come up with some ridiculous lies as to why I can’t eat that and why I need to throw up right now, so that when I return from the toilet (in public places, disabled toilets are a godsend) I can just smile apologetically and eat a mint rather than rub soap all up my arms and inside my fingers and chin, panicked about the smell. I’ve had so many mysterious tummy bugs, I can’t count them on one calloused hand. Rob found out recently that I had been lying to him.

He is worried about me. He is very worried about me. We have lots of pleading conversations in which I promise to try. I did not realise until recently that this had stopped being something I had a handle on. I have totally lost control. It is an automatic reflex. I don’t binge eat. In fact, when I do eat (and it is rarely), I eat very healthily. But even that is not good enough. I throw it up anyway. My trying lasted three horrible days. During those three days, I took laxatives. I have to get them from two different chemists after my usual place began asking questions. Why would I need two packs in three days?

It is panic. Pure panic when I eat. I feel it clogging up in my blood stream. I feel it attaching itself to my flesh, making me fatter. For about two months, I was on a meal replacement diet. I thought it would make me better. I thought it would be so controlled that my old habits would disappear. They didn’t. It has become so much worse.

I have lost weight- I am 8st 12lbs now, as opposed to the 12 stone I was at the beginning of the year. I know this because I have two sets of scales that I weight myself on at least seven times a day. I haven’t really been on that diet since April. On, then off, then on. Alternating between drinking shakes and then eating and throwing up. One is safe, the other is safer.

I love the fact that people tell me how nice I look. I hate the fact that I can see absolutely no difference in myself. Rob thinks that I never will. Another conquered thing, I thought, was body dysmorphic disorder. Because I wear less make up these days. Because I go out in daylight.

It is not.

I think about my appearance and my weight constantly. I am in a state of paranoia and panic twenty four hours a day. I can’t watch most films because the actresses are so much more beautiful than me. I can’t look some of my friends in the eye. I am back to self harming. I tremble as I pass people in the street, silently praying that they won’t remark on my appearance. I am The Monster. I will always be the monster. I am still torn up inside by self hatred that refuses to diminish. I could be the most successful writer in the universe and I don’t think one shred of it would shimmy way. It is as though it is threaded into my veins.

Of all the things I am ashamed of, I am most ashamed of this.

I’ve never considered my eating disorder to be serious. I’m not thin. I’m not even underweight. To me, that marked “serious”. Me, I’m fat. You’d never guess I had an eating disorder by looking at me. You’d probably assume that I ate to much. You’d probably assume that I was going back to my lair armed with donuts. I could go to a forum and talk there, but I’d feel like they could sense through the screen that I was fat, that I didn’t belong there.

The woman on the phone said, “It is serious. You are seriously ill”.

“No, I’m not. I’m not ill, it’s not serious. I’m not thin”.

“You are doing so much damage to your body. Damage you can’t see. You’re going to end up in hospital”.

I see the logic. I say I don’t know why I’m exhausted and can barely walk half a mile. But I know why. I know what I’m doing to myself.

I throw up about three times a day. I throw up normal amounts of food. I don’t binge.

The lining of my throat bleeds. It hurts to swallow.

My teeth are rotting out of my head.

I have so little energy. The lack of physical energy is at odds with my overt mental, slightly manic energy at the moment. It is killing me.

I can’t have sex. I don’t have the energy. I get exhausted after walking half a mile. I don’t have the energy.

I am having heart palpitations. I am getting breathless.

During the times I have tried to eat solids and not throw up, my body’s reflex was to gag, and I would throw up over myself.

I feel dizzy all the time.

I strongly suspect, and so does Rob, that I have developed anemia.

My rationale goes like this:

I don’t care. I’m fat.

But you’re going to end up sick.

I don’t care. I’m fat. If I stop doing this, I will become fatter.

And I hate myself for the fear that puts into me.

As if I need any more problems. I am already contending with manic depression.

The woman on the phone said I had an illness. I never considered that I did. Not bulimia.

She gave me the number of some places that could help me. I do not know if I’m ready.

I hate smelling of sick and I hate, more than anything, what it is doing to Rob. How we can’t enjoy anything because I am so paranoid about my looks. No lovely meals out because it’s a waste of money. I just throw it up. I like food. I want to enjoy food. I want to enjoy something in my life because manic depression has stripped me of that. It should not be minutes or hours, it should be days, weeks, months, years. I hate the sad look on Rob’s face when he realises that I have only been lifted for a moment, and there is hideousness swirling in my head.

My first therapy meeting is on Thursday, after a year and half of saying nothing.

I have to say something. And I am terrified.

What if she looks at me and thinks I’m lying? I’m fat.

What is she thinks I’m vain? I’m ugly.

What if she thinks I’m an attention seeker? I am covered in self harm scars.

It is trivial, it is vain.

Hannah brings it up, I dismiss it. I am scared. It means admitting to it in front of another human being. And it means I will not be allowed to continue anymore. It means that someone else is in control. And that is already the case, with the medications, the psychiatrists, not being able to drink, having to sleep. My whole life is ticked and measured week by week. The pressure to be well, to get better, to be insightful and helpful when sometimes all I want to do is retire to self abandonment, it is incredible and it is constant.

This is all so frightening to me.

But I’m looking at my knuckles again. I have no choice. There are so many mental mechanisms that are trying to kill me. And I know, deep down, this is one of them. I just can’t have another conversation with Rob where he pleads with me, and where I do nothing, where I confess that he can do nothing.

I have to do something about this.

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