Living with BDD (Body Dysmorphia)

‘Hi there! Tell me something about yourself?’

‘Hello, well I’m 32, I enjoy curling up under a warm blanket and reading, I adore cuddles with my dog, oh and I have Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD).’

Okay, so it doesn’t go quite like that but I often drop this into general conversation when appropriate, it’s as part of me as that love of reading. I was once given a piece of beautiful advice from my therapist, ‘you do not need to be fixed because you are not broken’. And she was right, some parts of me need more work than others but I’m certainly not broken.

For those of you who haven’t heard of BDD, I’d like to rewind a little to the beginning of my mental health story. I was diagnosed a year ago, and in all honestly I felt relieved to have a name for this. It had been called various things over the previous few years, depression, general anxiety, social anxiety and so on. All I knew was that it felt awful, a dirty little secret that was too shameful to let most people really know. The mirror checking, the avoidance, the mirror checking, the comparisons to others, the mirror checking, hours spent looking for ‘a fix’, the mirror checking, the need for reassurance, the mirror…well you get the idea. It was exhausting and I was done. Having broken down to a kind, supportive line manager and eventually (despite my original reluctance) signed off work for 2 months, here was someone (a CBT counsellor) who finally saw through it all. They saw the real issue, not the smiley girl who pretended she was fine, not the person who just needed a couple of weeks off to get her act together, no there it all was, the pain, the frustration and the confusion.

And I am not alone, recent research has shown that 2 – 3% of people worldwide are experiencing BDD and on average take 15 years to access help. This makes me incredibly sad that there are several million versions of me out there with all the pain and loneliness that it brings. In a world were social media is king (or queen) the very thing that is meant to be bringing us together actually isolates us more. A number of correlational studies have made links between increased social media use and being unhappy with body image. Although, not all social media should be tarnished with a negative view, for some people (myself most definitely included) it may well maintain psychological distress. However, despite all of this, I am hopeful. This hope grows with the recent surge of social media linked to the body positivity movement, which include blogs and posts from the men and women who promote this positivity, as well as those in the public eye who are starting to speak out against those unrealistic ideals.

So in keeping with this theme, I’d like to bring some awareness to the positives in my mental health struggles. Yes you read that right, the positives! Research in 2002, identified that people with BDD have a much greater tendency to have education or occupation in art and design as they may be able to home in on visual details and appreciate unperceivable aspects of art. I certainly found this for myself, whilst my BDD has worsened over the last few years I have found great distraction in drawing and photography. By no means am I the next Van Gogh or David Bailey but by taking part in some small local exhibitions I found something that made me proud of me. Not only that, by experiencing the devastating lows that the human mind can construct, I feel that it has helped me gain the tools to empathise and recognise some of those signs in others. I have developed many new skills from mindfulness and meditation to Yoga and all the abilities my body has developed in this.

Finally, but most importantly, it has provided me with numerous opportunities to meet a variety of wonderful people who genuinely care about what happens to me, from my husband (who is my greatest advocate), family and friends to the doctors and therapists who helped me find my way back from the darkness (a work in progress). So for those who have experienced difficulties in the past or present your journey to recovery may look a little different to mine but that’s what makes us so unique doesn’t it?

And that’s what I hope to leave you with you today. Some awareness to look through the mental health struggles, look through the labels to find the positives and the person underneath.

‘Hi, I have BDD but I really do love reading and cuddles with my dog’