I’m going to be honest with you: donuts have nothing to do with this post. But boy, are donuts a great ice breaker. I want to talk about something difficult. It is something that is common enough to be worth bringing light to, and devastating enough that I feel morally compelled to speak openly. If I only reach one person five years from now who has struggled with this illness, I think that is reason enough.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a self-image disorder that causes the sufferer to focus on appearance for hours each day. Whether flaws are perceived or real, BDD is an obsessive negative focus on one’s appearance. It usually shows itself during adolescence, which to me, is no surprise. This is around the same time many of us get our first stinging slap of reality, that the world isn’t the whimsical place free of judgment it perhaps was to you as a child. Magazine advertisements and covers begin to hold more weight, you notice your peers doing things you are not, and it becomes apparent that while life might be a fun game to you, it is a competition to everyone else. You start to question your place, and it snowballs from there.
Growing up, I never wanted to go to family gatherings. I was bothered by the littlest things when my mom helped me get ready. Clothes were uncomfortable and didn’t fit right, feeling socks on my feet was enough to send me into a temper tantrum. It was always a process to get me to go anywhere, and by the time I was 12 years old I officially disliked everything physical about myself. I was chubby, my hair was too thin, too greasy even when freshly washed, the bump on my nose made me a monster, my feet looked deformed, the list goes on. In hindsight, there were many false diagnoses (agoraphobia being the main one) before I arrived at this realization myself a few years ago.
I missed, altogether, months of school from grade school to high school graduation. Not once was my name called to collect that cheap little “perfect attendance” pin handed out at school, all because of this thing I didn’t understand at the time. I just thought I was anxious, which was of course true, but it was partly caused by BDD. I did not want to be in pictures, and by the time I was in high school, I was thoroughly convinced that with all of my flaws, I’d be alone forever.
Thankfully, throughout high school, I was blissfully unaware of Google. Search engines are probably the single worst thing to have access to for someone suffering with BDD. As it stands today, I spend probably 4 hours minimum per day looking into various plastic surgeries, or using the paint tool on my phone to imagine what I might look like without my perceived flaws. It has been this way for 10 years, with months here and there free from the obsession. I am unsure of others with BDD, but during those months I was not truly free, my compulsions just turned to health anxiety instead.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder has an extremely high rate of suicidal ideation, due to its unavoidable effect on quality of life. It harms relationships of all kinds, and can even make it difficult to maintain lasting friendships. You can only cancel at the last minute so many times before someone stops inviting you. There were years in my teens and early twenties that I refused to acknowledge my physical self genuinely – I would wear the same 3 outfits because I truly could not handle the way other clothes made me look and feel.
Many people with BDD experience major depression, which in turn can make day-to-day activities very difficult. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, I have learned how to manage my life with this disorder. I have a full-time job that I love, and my own place. Thankfully, although the disorder itself will probably never go away, I continue to improve the things around me. If you can’t fix yourself, at least try to make the scenery comfortable.
While physical self-improvement can be a scary thing for someone with BDD to take on, I do hold out hope that changing some of the things I don’t like about myself will make me feel better day to day. Is it delusional? Probably. But given the fact that my chance of dying at the hands of this disease is much, much greater than my chance of dying on an operating table, I’m not going to discount anything. Improving quality of life is a worthwhile pursuit, I think, and anyone who has struggled with themselves knows that the answer isn’t always to sit down and talk.