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In 1999, I was a happy child. Loud, rude, attention-seeking, self-centered, boisterous, bossy, overly talkative, irritating, maybe even grating (I don’t know how I would have put up with me 24/7) but happy. My incessant stream of chatter on these videos (which yields no useful information at all) is completely self-absorbed and details the minute details of mine and my sister and brother’s daily lives. We were happy, so of course there are no striking, startling, or revealing details. It’s normal; to someone who is not me, I imagine it is quite mundane, unremarkable. I am just a child with very large front teeth talking about my pet grasshopper (I’m sorry, Hoppy) and playing bad piano. I am not particularly insightful or interesting. But I’m so happy. Maybe I don’t even realize I am happy, because the happiness is so intrinsic and I’ve never known much of anything else. It’s just me and the old gray van and the grass and my grandfather’s soft British-accented voice. It’s just my words. (“N. is making an ant path. Here’s the woods. This is a shortcut. Dad, look at my grasshopper. He eats bugs. We’re cooking marshmallows. Hi! The stupid guy [my very patient father] is video-camera-ing.”) and my delighted, changing face and I know all of my childhood frustrations and fits and tears and furies are rose-tinted with the belief that nothing truly bad will ever happen to me, that I am whole and complete and fine.

Naturally, watching these videos at 26, I wanted to cry. Witnessing that sort of innocence is simultaneously crushing and wonderful – crushing because, holy shit, what the hell happened to that kid? She definitely should have turned out differently, and wonderful because, look at that kid, she’s rosy and without pain, she knows she’ll be okay. She has the gift of not knowing what comes next.

There is also, of course, the feeling of bewilderment. What did happen? Very often I become preoccupied with the thought that my mental illness is somehow more selfish and entitled than others’. This is because my childhood was bright and healthy and without loss; it was elaborate Playmobil stories and fights with my sister and Quebecois Christmas Eves and all of that messy blonde hair and NOT ONCE do I remember thinking, in the first ten years of my life, “maybe I’m ugly.”

To be brief about it, there is no reason I should be sick. No one “went wrong” anywhere, except me.

When my baby brother and I start to sing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ I can no longer hold it in and do start to cry. I know I’m very lucky that I did get to feel those fleeting, sunny, childish things and that I did have a head full of nonsense and ramblings and that my parents were kind. I was incredibly lucky. I suppose the catch is that it’s irretrievable, that I can’t go back, that I am here, now, and things look different, and feel different and I cry and scratch at my skin and wonder if death would be better.

 

 

The BDD before I knew what it was

I won’t write what I became afraid of in the summer and fall of 2011, what parts of me I considered repugnant, but I will say I did not see a way out. Before they started me on Seroquel, I could not stop crying. It wasn’t mournful crying, it wasn’t grief, it wasn’t a thousand emotions I didn’t understand; in other words, it wasn’t the way the sirens made me feel. It was hysterical crying, pure panic like an animal that has been shot. It frightened J. and my parents. I wished desperately, hatefully, to be pretty, not to be ugly anymore, not to be ugly anymore, and I was reminded every time I looked in a mirror, accidentally or on purpose, every time I even contemplated my own face without looking at it, contemplated my body, that I was. Disgusting was my thought, and repulsive, and my heart started racing when I could not think of an argument to counter this. Monstrous. Too monstrous to even share with my doctors, except in broad strokes. The BDD is what made me think I would have to kill myself.

The funny thing is, the BDD quieted. After the Seroquel, it was only intermittent, painful but manageable, sometimes even dormant. A few years later, it came back, raging like a fever, and I think this is the period of time I came closest to suicide. In my mind, there really was no other alternative. Every day I fought, every day I survived was simply the postponement of the inevitable. This is why I am so aggravated by the philosophy that happiness is a decision. At 20, I was braiding my hair in a crown around my head before going to work my shift as a grocery store cashier, singing to myself in the mirror, thinking myself sweetly pretty; at 24 I was caving in, despairing, crying in that way that is almost shouting. I was so scared of death, terrified of nothingness, terrified of blankness, a void, but in my own mind, I knew I could not live. I knew I was an aberration. I think this is what inspired the most desperate and unrelenting of the crying jags, lasting hours, days, the knowledge that my “only option” (as I saw it) was terrifying, and I wished so fervently it didn’t have to be like this.

Today isn’t beautiful

I’m not sure how to effectively communicate the desperation with which I wish for a different face, the desperation with which I despise my own. Anyone who has suffered from BDD will understand, but honestly, I am not sure how many of us there are. I have never communicated with anyone else with the disorder. I feel like I would find a great deal of relief in such a conversation.

Today it is eyes (so small! no beautiful girl has small eyes, I say again and again) and lines (there are so many lines on my face, cutting it in pieces, separating it from itself, deep creases that cannot be erased). This is what I see. I am willing to grant that it MAY not be the truth. My “insight” is “fair”. That’s what the doctors would say.

The Face is a monster in waking life which I must confront over and over again. It hasn’t killed me, but it has made me believe my lifespan is – must be – shortened. The Face is not something that can be endured over decades.

IMG_0199I drew this in art therapy in 2017. The Face takes on different forms and this one is still fairly accurate, only now the creases around the eyes and mouth are deeper, longer, more prominent, more glaring.

My blog is new and I’m under no illusions that it is being widely read but if you have your own Face that you fear and that makes you question your ability to survive (my own Face makes me believe I cannot survive, that, in fact, if I am correct in my perceptions, I should not), reach out to me and share your own stories. I would love to hear from others with this disorder.