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What I Learned From Body Dysmorphic Disorder

In hindsight I can now see that I had body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) growing up. Which is no surprise given that BDD is part of the OCD family (what a messed up family). I was so obsessed with my ears. Constantly doing my best to hide them, draw attention away from. It was a full time job. Looking in the mirror only made me feel less than, a freak if you will. BDD went on in my head for so many years, fearing I would forever be alone and an outcast due to my perceived physical flaw. The idea of suicide crossed my mind a couple times (thankfully a thought I never entertained for long, or seriously). I was considering getting my ears pinned back, however it took me months to address this with my parents. I felt so vulnerable. In a world of pain inescapable from my own mind. BDD lead to me becoming very introverted, more than my nature originally intended. Too this day I’m still working on removing some fears, habits and quirks I adopted as a result of BDD.

Over time, it got better. What seemed at the time like there was no way out, no hope for my future. Slowly changed. I went from seeing a freak in the mirror, to just me, to now a person I am happy to be. I didn’t get my ears pinned back or any surgery. So what changed? My mind. When I looked in the mirror I no longer saw what my mind wanted to see, I saw reality. I saw my own reflection without all the warped stories my BDD/OCD wanted me to see. It always blows my mind the way BDD/OCD convinces us of something so emotively, then a day, month or year later you realise it was all just an elaborate lie.

If you suffer with body dysmorphic disorder I feel for you. It’s horrible. It can be isolating. My thoughts are with you. But there is hope.

BDD is not an area I have researched yet, so the below advice is purely from observation of my past experiences with it.

  • Talk with someone
  • Love yourself
  • Apply Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Talk with someone

The worst thing I did was keep it a secret. This also delayed my acknowledgement of OCD. Talking it through with someone can seem terrifying. Whenever I went to tell my parents I would freeze and couldn’t speak. So I suffered in silence which only delayed my recovery. If you find it had to speak with your family or friends, contact your doctor who will happily listen and in fact could point you, or refer you, in the direction of some therapy (usually CBT).  The charity OCD Action has a helpline and email service that you can use for support: http://www.ocdaction.org.uk/i-need-information-support. If you are outside the UK a simple Google search should bring up BDD support services in your local area.

Love yourself

When I was suffering with BDD, in no way did I love myself. I don’t mean love yourself in an egotistical way, I mean it in the sense that every human is worthy of love. If you look in the mirror and are shocked by your reflection it is highly likely that you don’t love yourself, or think you are flawed. You need to start loving yourself. A good way is faking it until you make it. It’s hard to love yourself when you don’t love yourself. Each time you look in the mirror you may tell yourself “I love you”, or “you look handsome/beautiful today”. At first you won’t like this, you may even cringe. But over time, it may just start to change your mind. The brain is quite easy to trick. A good book on loving yourself is called “Love yourself like your life depends on it” (My review here). There are some great exercises in this book tied into a great (real life) story. Above all, you are worthy of love and belonging; start telling yourself that, even if you don’t currently believe it.

Apply ACT

ACT in short is mindfulness. The ability to watch what your brain chucks at you without judgement or reaction. When you start to panic over a particular body part and your brain starts telling you all these awful things, do not answer your brain, do not justify it and do not try to prove it wrong. This will only make it worse. If you start to accept the thoughts in your head as just thoughts and not fact, they will slowly, over time, dissipate. Start to learn to observe your thoughts. Meditation is great for this. Defusing yourself from your thoughts, will help break their illusion. Once you apply this, take action towards your values or goals straight away. This is then retraining the brain on what it should be focused on. ACT is simple but not easy. Stick with it.

When you’re in the midst of an OCD or BDD outbreak, it can seem so real. In a way it is real, the emotions at least. It’s the stories that are fake. Test out the above advice, see what works for you, add on your own research. Apply recovery tools daily and in time this too shall pass. Like me, you will look back on this period and think “Wow, the mind is tricky. It sure was painful, but I’m stronger now because of it”.

Let me know what works for you, and drop me an email if I can be of more assistance in your recovery.

To your success,

Stu

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