Did you guys have a good Thanksgiving? :D Now it's Christmastime! I broke out the Christmas music at last and I am thrilled about it. Also in news, Ch1Con 2016 has been announced for August 6th in St. Charles, IL. I won't be able to go this year, but I highly recommend it for all young writers! It'll be fantastic.
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 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 didn't seek help until college. In my original post about my OCD I did talk some about this, but I'll go into more detail here.
*Contains discussion of self-harm*
As my original OCD post notes, I first had a full-blown OCD episode when I was 8. I struggled off and on with worsening anxiety 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 an interest in it.
But when I was in fifth grade, I was in a play with a friend. She was selling some makeup at the time, and when we were doing our stage makeup, she introduced me to foundation. I'd always been around colorful kinds of makeup, and I hadn't realized there was makeup that could even out your skin tone and conceal things. I found it fascinating. So I convinced my mom to let me buy some, and a very complex long-term relationship with concealer began.
At the same time, I was beginning to develop the less clear skin of a preteen, and I was experiencing some cruelty from others that led to me taking a hit on my body image. This, combined with how my 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. Sometimes, I'd have dreams where my nose would be destroyed and it was a relief, because I could get a new one I hated less.
This was the beginning of my experience with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a destructive OCD-related condition in which the mind becomes so obsessed with minute flaws on certain parts of the body that the sufferer literally sees something in the mirror that isn't real, and is compelled to take measures in order to fix or hide this problem. Anorexia and other eating disorders are similar, but considered a different diagnosis because they focus on an overall rather than a specific concern. Like many BDD patients, I had an irrational fear that my ugliness would cause everyone to hate me as a monster, like Frankenstein, or the Phantom of the Opera. I wanted to "protect" people from my own disgustingness. Because moral scrupulosity is my primary mental issue, I also saw beauty as a way to make up for my lackings in other areas--if I wasn't interesting or smart or gifted or charming or good, at least I could be pretty.
My body image issues started with my nose, but as I hit middle school, the problem 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 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.
I spent my freshmen year wearing only loose shirts that wouldn't touch my stomach, and I began to develop disordered eating as a result, though never to the point of an actual eating disorder. I did restrict my calories very carefully, down to 1200 a day, and after a P.E. class helped me find the ways in which I, with my pre-fibro symptoms, could manage to exercise, I became a compulsive exerciser too. After another girl in P.E. mentioned it as a test for belly fat, I developed one further compulsion which I still find myself doing unconsciously sometimes, pinching my stomach.
The situation 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 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 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?
I skipped out on social activities and church to avoid being seen. I developed a hatred for any stranger who looked at my face and began glaring constantly while out in public in order to scare them away. I didn't even like my friends watching me fix my makeup in the bathroom, because I didn't want them to see. I didn't want them telling me there wasn't a problem, that they couldn't see it, that it wasn't there, and thus disrupting the process--at least, not until I asked them to, which I did, after every makeup application. (This is a common compulsion known as "seeking reassurance.") "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. 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 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 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 that's still there today--but it became consistent in high school. It did me no good, of course. I hated myself worse after I'd torn holes in my face. It meant I had to cover those too, and they were worse than the problem in the first place, bleeding and painful and hard to gloss over with just makeup. But I couldn't help it. I'd see a spot on my face and I'd halfway disassociate as the OCD took over and tore at the spot until it was "gone," even though most the time it left something worse behind.
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 realize that the way I was eating and exercising wasn't healthy. 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. 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 by 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 more of a trichotillomania/dermatillomania mix that I would later end up seeking help for, leading to my OCD diagnosis. 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 core problem that is my OCD has done wonders for me. The BDD, or my obsession with body image, was my second biggest obsession, only one of the many I've dealt with, and as you can tell, it was horrific. 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.
There you have it. Hope that was educational in some way or another, and I also hope you liked that picture of me as a little makeup monster, LOL. Thanks for finding it for me, Mom! I will see you guys again on Tuesday.
Images via [my own], music.disney.com, emergency-live.com, The Phantom of the Opera on Fanpop, and yankodesign.com.
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