I need to talk to someone with BDD

Recognizing that this blog reaches about 5 people, I’m going to try this anyway because the isolation is becoming painful and worsening the illness.

To clarify: I am not isolated in life, not usually. I AM isolated in my experiences of body dysmorphic disorder. I have yet to meet another person affected with this disorder. Not one single person. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, my reach isn’t particularly wide. But today when everything hurts so much, I would love just to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to truly hate their own face so much that they wonder about their own life’s viability.

The body is everywhere. You can’t escape from the physical reality of yourself as a being. I can go to a lake, I can go to a movie, but I will be there, that same face I dread seeing reflected in the mirror, that same face I can barely stand to walk around with at all. It robs me of outward meaning like a vacuum or a drain: the face takes everything. There is no meaning at all if I am what I see, if such ugliness is in fact me. It does seem wildly vain but it is the truth. I am nothing but flaws walking around glued together. And it robs me of of my enjoyment of outward things, of books and sunlight and bustling market streets, because I can’t disappear, I am always there to be seen and perceived. I wish I was a tiny creature very close to the ground so no one could see me and I could perceive everything and take joy from it, too, understanding that I was merely watching and not being watched. I just want to see a beautiful girl and appreciate that she is beautiful while not being reminded of my own ugliness.

Is there anyone out there who has been diagnosed with or thinks they may have body dysmorphic disorder? I’d like to start a dialogue with others about their subjective experiences with it. I’d like to start a group for this under-recognized but terribly painful disorder. I know what it’s like, and if you need to talk, I will be here.

Reach out.

I want to talk about the lazy stereotype

I want to talk briefly about something hugely common among depressives but which is almost impossible to accurately describe, though as soon as you begin, the people around you who have been depressed themselves automatically connect the sensation you are clumsily attempting to explain with what they themselves are experiencing on a daily basis. Doctors have an easy time discussing it, because it sounds so simple and matter-of fact. Loss of energy. Loss of focus. Loss of motivation. Classic symptoms, boxes to check off.

But when you open your eyes and stare at the dust motes in your room and think how difficult it is going to be to walk down the stairs and brush your teeth, or worse leave the house and be in the world and walk and take the bus and talk to people and attempt to be sweet and lovely as you hold this fragile image of yourself up to the world and ask them to love you. That is an astonishing amount of work, and for a lot of people it is impossible. This is not something we discuss with those outside of the community, because frankly, to those unfamiliar with the symptoms, we come off sounding lazy. And part of me thinks we always will. There is no way to understand how difficult it is for some people to do the simple necessary daily things that everyone else takes for granted, if, for you, those things are part of an easy and ordinary dance you perform naturally every day. I won’t even talk about cooking meals; that is one regular, routine thing with which I particularly struggle, and at the moment, can only do in the simplest form.

It’s such a simple thing. Lack of energy. But massively difficult to communicate to the people in your life who are wondering why you are not fighting harder. I’m lucky in a sense (mixed blessings) that anxiety and BDD symptoms often drive me to do those simple things like brush  my teeth and wash my face and make sure I am not falling even more in my own estimation. But a lot of people who suffer from major depressive disorder have trouble even getting out of bed. You hear this said so often, it’s almost a cliché, but when was the last time you thought about what that would be like, to be unable to move because the fog surrounding you and occupying your body is so dense and thick and heady that your body instinctively, biologically, surrenders.

I am not advocating for lethargy or for simply giving in to every negative sensation. I am simply advocating for greater compassion for this particular symptom of many mood disorders, especially depression. Your 21-year-old son may not be a “lazy shit” who is addicted to video games. Lack of energy, lack of motivation, can be biological, something they cannot control nor have chosen. Care for them and teach them to care for themselves. Ask them to meet you in the middle instead of doing the entire task themselves, NO MATTER HOW SIMPLE AND EASY IT SEEMS TO YOU. Do not give up on them and do not expect miracles. The steps they are taking may seem hopelessly small and basic but that is their fight and often what defines the beginning of recovery.

Home movies

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.

 

 

When daydreams are your solace

What happens when a fantasy life is more compelling to you than your own present or even potential future? I’m not talking about visualizing your future – seeing yourself financially and emotionally stable, for instance. Of course that is more compelling. Of course you would long for that and dream of the day it could become reality. I’m talking about when your depression has so thoroughly overtaken you that the only way out is complete separation from self: the imagining of oneself as someone entirely other, entirely different. These sorts of fierce and often episodic daydreams rely on the dreamer’s complete acceptance of the impossibility of said dream: in order to become lost in the beautiful details of the day-to-day life of an Irish ballerina with two different-coloured eyes and long spiraling yellow curls (to cite one of my own), we must first inevitably accept that this can never be. (In high school, I got around this necessity by convincing myself of the possibility of reincarnation.) But now I’m 26 and can’t convince myself that things must be real just because I feel in the deepest cavity of my chest that I need them to be.

Once the impossibility has been accepted (though nothing will mute the physical longing to make it otherwise), characters and dialogue, physical sensations, even previously unfamiliar feelings, grow like wild blueberries. Suddenly you are a child, binging yourself on these sweets, standing barefoot and purple-fingered beside the blueberry bushes. I was enchanted, happy, free, believing (and seeing evidence of) my own prettiness in the exhaustive details of an imagined face (freckles, rosebud lips, large eyes shifting in colour and meaning). What was biting would become gorgeous, tender, symphonic. I could be Christine Daaé, Lizzie Bennett, Elizabeth Swann, Kitty Shcherbatsky, Bathsheba Everdene, Valentine Wannop. I could be a young girl with long black eyelashes and an unspeakably beautiful face, and I could be loved with the ferocity of a Heathcliff or a Rochester, a Vronsky or a Maxim de Winter.

This is the part where anyone else would warn you about the dangers of becoming too consumed by these daydreams, these rich almost literary fantasies. But I can’t, because I don’t know a suitable (or even efficacious) alternative, nor have I ever turned from them entirely. When life (your life) offers you gifts, gifts based in reality, stark, plain, real, you wake up momentarily, you engage, you touch, you feel. Sweet faces and snowfalls and lovers with brown eyes. But when the gifts are taken away again, you close your eyes and you pretend.

Suicidal ideation (trigger warning)

Suicidal ideation is more complex a concept than suicide. It is defined as “the contemplation of ending one’s own life” that can “vary greatly from fleeting thoughts to preoccupation to detailed planning” (from A Site on The Internet). This is one of the reasons it’s so fascinating: a person can possess whole internal narratives in which they prepare their suicide, perhaps write notes, live their final moments and experience their own death, without ever actually acting on these thoughts or bringing them into concrete existence. On the other side of this, a person can have the most fleeting thought of suicide and in an impulsive moment act on it.

A lot of fantasies of suicide remain just that, fantasies. It’s been seven years since I could honestly answer the question “do you have thoughts of suicide?” with the word “no.” These thoughts can be inspired by desperation, helplessness, anguish, a seeming total lack of other options, or they can stem from exhaustion, a longing for quiet, or poetic ideas of being remembered in death. I have imagined that I might look almost pretty lying in a coffin with my eyelids closed. I have waited patiently for my skin to clear and my hair to lengthen before beginning to plan seriously and with intent. I once planned my suicide via freezing to death in the snow because I thought it was aesthetically pleasing. Even in death I am vain and terrified of ugliness, as desperate to capture prettiness as a wounded animal is to avoid the jaws of a predator.

I have told myself repeatedly that it will be necessary to perform the act of suicide within the next ten or fifteen years, before my looks deteriorate even further. (I am not crying for help, I am simply explaining the contents of my own suicidal ideation; a lot of it is and has been related to the body dysmorphia). This is my customary state of mind; oftentimes, especially lately, it gets worse and I start thinking in the short-term (not even thinking, really; it is a horrible, amorphous and awkwardly heavy sensation like being smothered in your sleep or having your limbs chained with weights).

Today I’m trapped. To be perfectly frank about it, I know I need inpatient or residential treatment but it’s out of my reach. The mental health system in Ontario is failing a lot of people, and I’m no one special, I’m no one who deserves preferential treatment. I do know this. But when I look in the mirror I see a disgusting creature, not a woman. When I sit through the minutes of each day and count my heartbeats or recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary (the repetition of memorized words seems more effective than benzos, these days) I feel terrified, out of my own control. People sometimes say they feel they have a “void” in their life, that something is missing. In those moments I feel I AM the void, I am the absence of meaning. Suicidal ideation is perhaps my brain trying to rectify that, to correct the aberration that I feel is my own face, my own form, my own internal substance (or, as I perceive it, lack thereof). I feel I am trying to right a wrong, correct a mistake.

 

It could be worse

Someone at the next table is doing math problems with a tutor. I remember when I had to do math problems with a tutor. I am grateful that today I am NOT the one doing math problems with a tutor. (My long list of former counselors would be so proud of me, listing the things I’m grateful for). Let’s try a few more. I am NOT bleeding uncontrollably from a major artery NOR do I have gangrene.

I feel like this is not quite what they had in mind. They had in mind a lovely little list of everything I HAVE that I’m grateful for, like sunny days and kittens, not a list of every horrible thing that is not currently happening to me. But I feel like sometimes you have to remind yourself that it could always be worse. You COULD be suffering MORE. That doesn’t make you lucky, or mean you are obligated to be grateful. It’s just there, like a tiny life-raft.

Today, I am thinking, it HAS been worse. It has been MUCH worse. I have been that little moon-faced forgettable in a hospital bed, asking for updates on how long the doctor will be. Today I am not that little girl, shivering and terrified, anonymous with all the other young people in blue cotton dresses eating food from a tray. (Unfortunately for me, Ontario hospitals are worse than nothing. They actively made things worse.)

So I steer clear of them now, and keep my thoughts to myself, and wait and bide my time and fix my eyes on a certain point in the future at which potentially there will be help, genuine help. And today I think, it could be worse.

 

 

 

I am depression’s bitch.

I’m at the public library in T.’s hometown. It’s near the pier and the water, which is definitely the town’s best angle. There are long windows in the library and I can see a huge stretch of sky, blue but thickly clouded, oppressive angry clouds. There’s a weeping willow outside the window closest to me.

I’m definitely beginning to experience that phenomenon they describe in self-help books of being able to run away but not being able to “escape from yourself”. As much as I hate that phrasing and all similar clichés of the self-help industry (being your “best self” for instance, or “finding” yourself as though you are a lost child in a grocery store), I’ve been a whining, cringing, hand-wringing, inactive, indecisive, uncertain mess for the past week and even here, with the boats (white, shiny boats, rich people boats) and the distant shoreline and the books and the quiet voices (the quality of the light, too, is beautiful, despite the humidity) I feel terrified, anxious, tremulous. I feel ugly (more than ugly, so thoroughly plain, nothing there, nothing to see). There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe complex and antagonistic emotions, because “sad” and “depressed” won’t do it. The depression feels like someone is trying to perform dangerous surgery on my body without my permission. Or rather, it feels like they did perform it, and it went very badly (so much internal bleeding, and I think they left a watch or a wedding ring in my brain before they stitched me up). Inside my head, I hear a small, sharp scream like the shriek of a microphone’s feedback and it won’t let up or lessen. I don’t want to write about this on Facebook because describing mental illness can sound so much like complaining, and the inability to communicate this rampage of feeling and thought makes me ashamed.

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.

Body dysmorphia

Let’s be frank – I have never been beautiful. We all know the beautiful girls and I am not one of them. In reality I am probably sweet-looking yet plain, homely with flickers of prettiness like a hand mirror reflecting the sun, a spot of light dancing on the walls.

But if you asked me most days, I would say I am ugly. I would say I am hideous. I would say I am monstrous, mean- and stupid-looking, my features completely without charm or redemption. I would tell you I appear moronic or dull-witted: my eyes are tiny and without light, my cheeks and jaw are obscenely fat, my skin is severely lined and covered in glaring imperfections.

I would tell you I have a doll of whom I am jealous.

I wish I was even a quarter as beautiful as Iris Rose. Even if I could not move my features or assume expressions, a beautiful face would be a gift of quiet. Every disorder has its monsters and dysmorphia has The Face. Any face is better. Even one that does not blink or smile, does not bat its eyelashes or screw up its mouth to cry. A frozen prettiness is better than The Face.

Treated depression feels like untreated depression

And isn’t that funny? They should have led with that. Every flower-scented moment you pay for, with interest. For every day I see myself in a mirror’s reflection and think, “what a pretty girl”, there will be ten thousand days I shrink from the image as though from a monster in a fairy story.

Welcome, anyone who has stumbled upon my ramblings. This blog will chronicle my own experiences – I haven’t the heart to call them adventures – with anxiety disorders, major depression and body dysmorphia.