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.

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.

 

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.