The truth about body dysmorphia? It’s so bloody hard to manage.
I hate writing when I’m in a negative place. It feels somehow like I’m betraying my image if I choose to not blab about the recovery glass half full.
But, frankly, ever since the holidays– I’m having a difficult time keeping my thoughts in check.
Every day, you have this choice to actively live with your eating disorder, and a choice to actively live in recovery.
Both are difficult- but sometimes you’re tired and you’re worn out- faced with big decisions in your life- and your eating disorder “principles” come creeping into existence- and they can simply be more comfortable.
No, I’m not throwing up. I’m not starving. I’m not even binge-eating. I’m just halfway in recovery and halfway out.
A lot of people have a tendency to live in this hazy line of halfway “recovered.” Drug addicts turn to candy; Alcoholics turn to seltzer water, but it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily happier living the “recovery” life because they haven’t fixed the mucked up shit inside of them.
I’m not actively abiding by the rituals or practices of my eating disorder right now, but that doesn’t equate to living a “good” recovery.
I’m struggling with Body Dysmorphia; Inwardly, I know there’s a ton of emotional reasons and upcoming life decisions that are triggering it but I’m not seeing clearly at this present time.
When I checked into treatment 2 years ago, I was diagnosed with a plethora of fun lil disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Who isn’t? I thought.)
- Obsessive Compulsive tendencies (Eating my finger isn’t normal?)
- Exercise Bulimia tendencies (What? 15 miles ain’t okay?)
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
- Self-harming behaviors
- Severe Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) of Thighs and Chin
Severe Body Dysmorphic Disorder, I remember reading.
Severe my ass, I said aloud- feeling my, in fact, plushy thighs push against my leggings.
I don’t have severe dysmorphia, I’m just aware of my flaws, I scowled.
What I didn’t understand then, and still struggle accepting (even despite writing this) is that I’ve suffered from BDD in one form or another since I was 10 years old.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): A body-image disorder characterized by “persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance,” people with BDD can dislike any part of their body, although they often find fault with their hair, skin, nose, chest, or stomach.
People with BDD suffer from obsessions about their appearance that can last for hours or up to an entire day. Hard to resist or control, these obsessions make it difficult for people with BDD to focus on anything but their imperfections. This can lead to low self-esteem, avoidance of social situations, and problems at work or school.
BDD sufferers perform some type of compulsive or repetitive behavior to try to hide or improve their flaws although these behaviors usually give only temporary relief. Examples include:
camouflaging (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
comparing body part to others’ appearance
checking in a mirror
changing clothes excessively
When I first began treating BDD in rehab, I was shocked that some of my childhood obsessiveness and “ritualistic” BDD behaviors weren’t “of the norm.”
As I came to realize, my thighs and chin were not, in fact, my first BDD characteristic:
Long ago, as a wee little underweight middle schooler, it was my ears and breath.
Being small and underweight at 10 years old, I had ears that stuck out. I don’t remember how I first noticed it, but I believe likely someone pointed it out (as kids tend to do) and I spiraled from there.
I was hyper-aware about hiding my ears; complaining about it on a near daily basis to my Mom and how I wanted surgery to have them fixed.
They were emotionally preoccupying. I wouldn’t wear a ponytail unless it covered both ears with hair, and I kept hair in my face so I wouldn’t have to tuck it behind my ears.
It’s vague; but I have memories of sitting in the bathroom at 10 years old pinning my ears back to my head and trying to duct tape them. (Obviously it didn’t work…)
I cried over them; wrote in my diary about them; prayed about them.
And then one day I’d grown enough into them that I became obsessed with something else entirely; my breath.
I have NO recollection of why or how- but in 8th grade I cleaned out my locker one day and had gone through 16 tins of Altoids in a 2-week period.
I ate nearly a tin of Altoid Cinnamons A DAY. To the point that they made my stomach hurt and I’d get sick.
If I didn’t have one in my mouth, I covered my mouth with my uniform blouse when I spoke to people or chewed on my ties to mask my mouth.
I was terrified I had bad breath. I think I’d gotten my first cavity and somehow convinced myself I had a terrible, dirty mouth and it went from there.
High school came along and I didn’t have any one body part I loathed again until the end of 9th grade when a football player off-handedly mentioned “you got some dark hairy arms for such a lil girl.”
I’d never even thought twice about the hair on my body until that day but immediately went into a nosedive of hair-awareness.
“OH MY GOD, I DO HAVE SO MUCH HAIR,” I thought- pulling the hairs out of my arm. By then, I was already shaving the other, erm, nether regions of hair off my body but that day I started shaving my arms.
NOT A HAIR LEFT, my motto became.
It was also then I noticed the light blonde hairs above my lip, and the peach fuzz in between my eyebrows.
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE NOTICED THIS AND HAVE JUST LET ME BE A CHEWBACCA BEAST?!
To this day, I still have a pretty resounding preoccupation of the hair on my body. I don’t shave my arms anymore because I find it too unnatural, but I do check and re-check the hair above my lip every morning I put on make up, and when I’m under a different light that I think might “light up unseen hairs.”
While I wouldn’t necessarily call all my childhood ticks “Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” it’s a building block to what it has become in my adult life with my legs and chin.
Don’t we all hate the mole on our cheek? Or the way our legs look from a certain angle?
Sure- but the reason I was diagnosed with BDD is that I let these things define my general well-being. I let these preoccupations take away from my life, and I’m doing it now.
I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2012. Alongside of not being sure how I’m going to get preggo in the future, one of the side effects is hormonal acne on my chin. Real pleasant, I know. It’s acne that I can neither “pop” “avert” or “wash” away. It comes and it goes- always in the same 5-6 places on my chin- always 1-4 at a time. Just a big ole spot of inflamed hormones bulging up onto the side of my chin.
I’ve had this acne so long I can actually feel one start to meld underneath my skin and predict how big it will be and how long it will last judging by the placement.
I hate it; resent it. Wear 1,000lbs of my acne cover-up but it’s never enough.
I cannot physically or emotionally rationalize my thighs or my chin during a bad BDD period. It makes me want to crawl out of my skin and rip it apart- and I am not even (barely) exaggerating. I cannot count how many minutes of my life I’ve wasted fantasizing about how different I’d look if I could stick a vacuum end into my thigh and suck out the fat that sits around a very specific section of my leg (up the thigh towards the inner part, where the stretch marks lie), or stick a pin in the center of one of my acne bumps and relieve the pressure of the inflamed spot.
BDD actively defines how my day will go. Every single decision- every single thought- every single action. It’s subtle- I don’t put a finger on it and just “know” that’s why I’m choosing to do something or wear a certain outfit, but it’s the root cause.
The last few weeks- it’s rearing its ugly head, but what does that *really* mean in terms of daily life?
Well, let me explain it in clips of a day:
- It’s uncomfortable sleep; waking up in a panic from a BDD dream in the middle of the night to feel your thighs.
- It’s a messy room; shifting through piles of clothes you’ve thrown on your bed because you’ve been walking in circles back and forth to your closet like a hamster on a wheel, unable to leave in anything you’re wearing.
- It’s walking down the street and seeing someone walking towards you; momentarily panicking that you both won’t be able to fit on the same sidewalk.
- It’s stepping onto the bus and looking immediately to see if seats in the front are open because you worry your thighs will knock against other people if you have to go down the aisle.
- It’s choosing not to sit on a subway between two people because you’re scared you won’t fit. So you stand and you stare at your legs in the reflection of the subway window, wondering if they look different from how they did in your bathroom mirror, your bedroom mirror, the reflection of your kitchen oven, the reflection of your neighbors window, the reflection of a shop window in Port Authority on your way down to the subway.
- BDD is last night- skipping therapy when I flew back from Texas because I’d stared at my thighs on a plane for 4 hours and HAD TO go work out immediately: (I ended up seeing my thighs in work out clothes and cried instead, refusing to go because I didn’t want the Planet Fitness employees to see me)
- BDD is being in an office meeting and staring at all my female coworkers thighs- fantasizing over who’s I’d take over mine.
- BDD is promising a friend you’ll go to dinner and then flaking because you just cannot spend another moment seeing your legs in these pants. You cannot imagine another 3 hours you have to sit with this discomfort- so you go home and put on baggy sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt and you sit under a blanket so you don’t have to look at it instead.
- BDD is showering (occasionally, because being naked- even alone- makes you well up with tears) and forgetting to bathe because you’ve sat with the water running down your spine, and played with the fat on your legs to determine how much of it you “should” lose to feel better.
- BDD is standing up at a table, and following your friends eyes to make sure they aren’t looking at your thighs.
- It’s wearing the same 4 sweaters a week because it’s all you’re comfortable going into public adorning.
- It’s running 3 more miles than you should because you believe in your heart of hearts that it might change your thighs in a night.
- BDD is buying 7 different concealers to put on your chin, only to have to wipe it all off when you start to look like your skin is 7 different colors of nude.
- BDD is bringing your coat to a meeting to lay over your lap so you can try and focus better on your job.
- It’s loss of interest; loss of presence. It’s hiking with family this weekend and spending an hour of the 2 hour hike preoccupied and thinking about how disgusting my thighs looked in a picture taken at the beginning of it.
- It’s total exhaustion. Getting back from that hike with my family and locking myself into a bathroom to shower- only to strip down and cry and stand on top of the toilet to get a better look at my thighs in the mirror.
- It’s a mosquito in your ear; a buzz from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.
It may not be a physical addiction- but it’s a mental one.
Partners in the past have said “how many times can I tell you you’re beautiful Lindsey?”
This has NOTHING to do with you, I want to snap back. You don’t know me the way I know me. You love me so therefore you put up with the thighs. You don’t get to tell me how I look when I “know” one day you’ll see what I see. You don’t get to dole out the safety of a compliment when you might take it away from me later.
It’s strange- the way the BDD mind works- but often compliments to my legs can send me spiraling back down the rabbit hole. Especially if I’m talking about them with that familiar self-loathing and someone tries to stop me and dispute what I’m saying.
No, don’t compliment me because you *think* you need to, I’ve hissed in the past. You make me feel like some little school girl that just needs to have her head patted enough, I huff.
It can feel like no end when you’re stuck in this cycle of preoccupation. It feels like you’re so far in it and won’t be able to get out unless you act on your ED behaviors.
I won’t – mind you- I’m in enough clarity and recovery to understand that throwing up a meal or restricting breakfast isn’t going to make me any less preoccupied with my thighs.
But, like the boy who cried wolf, I have lied to myself for so long that I have a hard time knowing what’s real with my body and what’s not. And the longer this has gone on, the harder it is to know.
Is the acne on my chin getting bigger? I see pics from the past and recall those nights by how I remember having one hormone bump and spending the entire night checking and re-checking my chin in the bathroom- and now I look at these pics and I can’t even see it.
I see pics of my thighs from college- from Spain- from when I first moved to New York- from a month ago- and don’t think they look too big, but then look down at my thighs today and in that picture I took this weekend and want to break down at my desk as I write this.
I tell my partner I’m going to “look better” the next time they see me- and even as they sit next to me feigning to be baffled- I wonder truthfully if I have even gained the weight I think I’ve gained- or if I’m just honestly BDD crazy?
I don’t know what I weigh right now- I know that for the first time in awhile my pants and underwear feel a little tighter but I can’t discern if it’s from last week’s laundry or the holiday cookie I think is festering under my thighs.
In truth, it’s exhausting. Every time I walk into therapy (which I did end up going this morning instead of last night) I tell her on days like this that I “feel huge” and make a point to say “this is probably the biggest I’ve ever been” and yet every time I say it, she says it simply is not true and that I don’t have the ability to see myself clearly.
But it’s like— Do I??? I feel like I do, but then again I wore a bikini in August and felt okay about how I looked- and yet now it’s January and I wouldn’t even get in the hot tub with my family this weekend because wearing a swimsuit makes me want to cry.
In short, I don’t have a lot of recovery wisdom to share tonight- and I hate that that in itself makes me so terribly human- and also, so terribly real about recovery.
I don’t like to be the person that moans about the bad days with ED because we all have bad days when you struggle with it, or anything else- but I’m tired tonight and I figure maybe if I write about it, if I vocalize my “truth,” if I practice that “rigorous honesty” I preach about- then maybe I’ll find the clarity I need to remind myself- and get back to that part of my brain that’s like “Yeah Linds- chill. You’re still wearing the same pants from college- still could wear the same clothes from high school (mostly)… We’re talkin’ about 10lbs here. 10lbs in 10 years. You’re fine. CAN THE CRAZY.”
But I just need to get there, one truth at a time-