Anyway, today I thought I'd talk some about body image. With my OCD, I've suffered a lot of trouble regarding body image, which was, in fact, the first long-term thing I really recognized as a problem. I self-diagnosed as having body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) when I was 15 or so, though I never sought help. I'm not sure why. I think I hoped I could overcome it on my own, and in some ways I did, but if I'd gotten help for it when I first recognized it, perhaps I would've been able to address the bigger issue of the OCD sooner. Who knows, though.
So in my original post about my OCD I did talk about this, but I'll go into more detail here (it's gonna be a long post, fair warning). As that first post notes, I first had a full-blown OCD episode that I can now recognize as such when I was 8. I struggled off and on with worsening anxiety and various OCD episodes for a couple of years. Then when I was ten, I got introduced to makeup.
This wasn't my first time seeing (or using) makeup, obviously. Since I was in ballet from the time I was three, I'd done stage makeup before, and being a girly girl for most my childhood, I'd always had interest in it.
At the same time, I was beginning to develop the less clear skin of a pre-teen (or at least I think I was -- it's hard to know for sure because the OCD is so in the way of my memory) and I was experiencing some cruelty from others that led to me taking a hit on my body image. This combined with how the OCD was already wreaking havoc on my stability and confidence led to me developing a distinct hatred for my nose. By the time I was halfway through sixth grade, I would look in the mirror and see my nose as, basically, a strawberry -- bright red and covered in nasty black pores. I became dependent on foundation/concealer as a way to "fix" the problem, while constantly feeling disgusting and ugly, searching for more long-term ways to mend it. I cried in bathrooms, wishing I didn't have to go out in public. Sometimes, as I said in my OCD post, I'd have dreams where my nose would be destroyed in some way and it was a relief because I could get a new one I hated less.
It started with my nose, but as I hit middle school, began spreading across my face. Though my nose-strawberry has always been the focal point, I became generally obsessed with my facial skin and was convinced that I had a terrible awful case of acne that turned my skin mottled red and yellow, covered in scars and pocks and nastiness. In order to combat this, I became a compulsive user of concealer, to the point that I wouldn't allow any of my family members even to see my face without makeup. I would cover my face with a towel when moving from the bathroom to my room, a walk of literally a yard. I cried at the thought of having to live with a roommate or a husband who might accidentally see the horrors of my face while I was asleep. I would spend hours trying to get my concealer exactly right, bursting into crying fits on bad days when I couldn't, refusing to leave the bathroom until it was "acceptable."
When I hit high school, the disorder added on another place -- my stomach. I began seeing my stomach as a round balloon, fat and disgusting, almost pregnant in appearance.
And the condition continued to worsen, I went to the bathroom between every class. I would be late to classes after spending too long there trying to "fix my face". Sometimes, as I sat in class in between, I was all-too consumed with the thought of when I could next do my makeup, or gripped tight in the urge to leave class and go run on the track outside to get rid of my belly fat. (I once mentioned that to a girl I knew who was suffering from an actual eating disorder, begging for some kind of camaraderie, and she shut me down hard. I cried. But she was right to do it.) I could feel how gross my face was getting, how much fat was on my body, and all I wanted to do was hide it. One boy, in saying the cruelest thing anyone has to me, perfectly summed up my fear: "You're so fat and ugly you shouldn't come to school and make people look at you." Because how dare I? How dare I subject other people to the horror that was me?
"Do I look okay?" or or worse days, "How terrible do I look?" And a lot of the time they'd laugh and tell me I looked gorgeous, which I didn't believe, but it had to be enough.
I went to a dermatologist for help, even though my mom kept telling me she didn't see anything, certainly not to the level I saw it. The dermatologist told me nothing was wrong, and I cried, because she hadn't fixed it. I tried a billion different cleansers and remedies. I went to a facialist for a time in order to get extractions for the strawberry nose. I knew there was something wrong with me mentally, that this wasn't normal, but I chalked it off as an "addiction to makeup" and a severe lack of confidence. I had a mini episode over a haircut that just looked wrong for a couple of days, and repeated episodes where I suddenly looked like a Botticelli painting. I kept trying to lose weight.
Over time, I developed another couple of BDD compulsions -- strictly avoiding my reflection whenever I wasn't in a place where I could fix my makeup, and one even more worrisome: skin-picking, otherwise known as dermatillomania, another compulsive disorder. I'd had a couple episodes of that when I was younger--in sixth grade, I took a thumbtack to the side of my nose in desperation, leaving a small hole--but it became consistent in high school. It did me no good, of course. Much as I hated myself for overusing makeup when, as so many boys say, they don't even like it (they want natural, down to earth girls, not gross plastic fakers, ew to girls who use too much makeup, right?), I hated myself worse after I'd torn holes in my face.
Then, around 10th grade, I took an online health class, which covered body image. In taking a quiz for the class, I was forced to a stark realization--that the way I was eating and exercising wasn't healthy, that I was on the cusp of an eating disorder. By then, the balloon belly of my mind had deflated and I was just left with a general feeling of fatness, so it was easier to force myself to stop counting calories and to not push myself too hard on the exercise. Immediately following, the class taught us a little bit about BDD, which I had never heard of in my life, but as I started researching it, I recognized it. Painfully. This was the "makeup addiction" I'd been suffering for five years, laid out in dark and urgent terms online, with horrifying statistics on suicidal ideation and similar things. I knew then that I needed do to something about this, quickly.
But I couldn't bear to talk about it, to anyone. Discussing my face meant people looking at my face, and I didn't want that. I couldn't lay bare all the secret pain I'd been suffering in my shame and guilt. So I decided I'd take care of it myself. I knew a lot about psychology, after all. Why couldn't I talk myself out of it? And, though it was a hard run and hurt me in a lot of ways, I did make fair progress with it, repeatedly telling myself that what I saw in the mirror wasn't real. Starting a low-level antidepressant for my fibromyalgia also helped some. My BDD had improved significantly by the time I started college. But at that point, it shifted into the less obsessive and more compulsive trichotillomania / dermatillomania mix that I would later end up seeking help for, leading to my OCD diagnosis. And even during OCD treatment, I struggled with the BDD at times. One significant moment occurred last Fall when I got stuck in front of the mirror in my apartment, missing a class and a half, unable to force my OCD away from one spot on my face that it had magnified mentally to the point that, to myself, I was basically a walking pimple. Which sounds funny, I know, but it didn't feel it. I was crying, exhausted, unable to get my makeup just right, and I ended up having to turn to my roommates for help forcing me away from the mirror. They were delightful helpful, but I still felt fragile all day.
Today, I still struggle with trichotillomania, though, thankfully, the actual BDD is in remission and the trich is much more low key than before. Getting proper treatment for the overall OCD has done wonders for me, I can't stress that enough. This post is just about one area that the OCD fixated on, the area that was most obvious to myself and others, and as you can tell, it was horrific. All the others on top of it, as talked about in that first post, did a lot of damage. So yeah, I'm grateful for the help I've gotten, and as always, I encourage anyone who's experiencing something like this, or anything else that feels wrong, to get counseling. I might've made some progress on my own, but it wasn't enough. I needed the professional assistance, as well as the medication.