Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Why Don't I Recognize Myself At All: A Personal Narrative on Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Self-Image Issues
This post is going to be more of a narrative than an information-based article, just FYI. I find that during my worst moments I am able to feel at peace when reading someone’s story as opposed to cold, hard, facts, so hopefully this helps at least one person! Also, it’s good to know that others (namely, me!) have struggles and that a health journey is full of ups and downs and zig-zags and loop-dee-loops (sp? Haha…).
Imagine waking up one morning, looking in the mirror, and not recognizing the person staring back at you. Even worse, picture not wanting to look in the mirror because you are so disgusted with your appearance. Well, since dealing with heavy metal toxicity, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, an autoimmune disease, etc. my physical appearance has crumbled before my eyes. It has taken me over two years to be okay with looking in the mirror, taking selfies, getting my picture taken at all, and feeling confident in how I look.
Yet, it doesn’t take a myriad of chronic illnesses to make us feel this way. Plenty of people obsess over their physical flaws and experience Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) (“BDD is a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one's appearance” (adaa.org, 2015). So, I hope in reading a chapter of my story, or rather the sharing of my thoughts, that you can feel less alone and hopeful in our never ending quest to loving ourselves.
I’m going to take us through a little timeline of when my BDD began and what it escalated into and where I’m at today with everything. I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible…
For those of you who know my health story, you know that birth control has never been kind to me. I started taking the pill in high school, and was met with continuous spotting, which caused me to switch my prescription. The next pill made me gain crazy amounts of weight and gave me cystic acne, but I also had beautiful hair for about six months or so.
I ended up switching to Yaz because I heard that it helped with acne. This was true, as my skin was blemish free for the entire time I was on it (except for this one time where I was really stressed and ate copious amounts of gluten and dairy products and drank myself into a beer-induced coma… anyway…), but my hair started falling out in handfuls. I went from a full head of hair to not even being able to straighten it because it was super thin, greasy, and lifeless.
I had no clue what to do. I didn’t want to leave the house, I would have panic attacks and break downs over my appearance, I became depressed, and spent HOURS obsessing over how to fix my problem. That’s when I came across information stating that birth control could cause your hair to fall out because of hormonal imbalances. Flash forward to me getting an IUD because it was “hormone-free.” As you can see, I based my entire decision on purely vain reasons – karma kicked me in the butt for that one!
With the IUD in my appearance (in my eyes) was completely destroyed. I gained close to 40 lbs. and couldn’t fit into any of my clothes (yet refused to buy new clothes because God forbid I had to go up in sizes or go into a dressing room), I had cystic acne all over my body, my face looked like a giant tomato all the time, my hair actually started falling out even more to the point where I could only wear it up, and I lost all my muscle mass that I worked so hard to build from high school throughout my senior year of college.
I was literally devastated. I avoided mirrors, didn’t want my picture taken by anyone under any circumstances, and felt worthless. I took advantage of my appearance before this point in time, and I was truly paying for it.
When I finally got the IUD out I made it my mission to lose the weight and figure out my acne issues (I had since given up on my hair – it’s fine, that’s what wigs are for am I right?). I saw immediate success with my weight, but my acne has stuck around for upwards of three years and continues to drive me crazy to this day if I let it.
As I read the description of BDD, it is me to a T when it comes to my skin: avoiding mirrors, constantly comparing my skin to other people’s, picking at my face, continually staring at blemishes in the mirror, and thinking about it during all waking hours. I was consumed by each and every blemish that popped up on my face to the point where I couldn’t think straight. Just like with my hair, I would work myself up so much that I would have an anxiety attack and completely shut down.
I have spent hours (probably more to be honest, I'll have to conduct a study... ;-)) crying over my skin, avoiding selfies/pictures with my friends (because I would actually feel nauseous when I would see myself on camera… oh Julie…), not letting a loved one kiss my face or touch my skin; I essentially built a wall around me because I felt disgusting and unpretty. Yet, thankfully, my obsessive behaviors are productive at times, and the research that I continuously conduct has led me to clearer skin through dietary changes, supplement implementation, and hormonal balancing... finally (I will post about this at some point in time – it’s more useful than this rambling haha)!
Even so, I have slip ups, whether it’s taking a supplement that messes with my hormones, eating food that I’m intolerant to,
attempting to celebrate my thesis defense by drinking wine, etc.
and without pause, up pops a cyst, and my anxiety skyrockets.
If I could, I would put a paper bag over my head on those days,
because I feel so vulnerable and yucky.
And while my skin is looking better and better lately, I am still hesitant to look myself square in the mirror because of acne scarring (my new hurdle to tackle… more on this at a later date!). There are still days where I feel so ugly that I don’t want to leave the house, or I think that my skin is never going to heal, but there are more and more days where I feel beautiful and I tell myself that. Out loud. Multiple times (it’s a funny image right? But sometimes you just need to compliment yourself and give yourself credit, because you are beautiful ;-)).
I have learned to self-love through my health pitfalls, because that was the only way I was going to get through. I’m not perfect with it, but I’m getting better with each and every day, and that’s all I can ask for. I must learn to be patient, as I am healing from so many ailments, both physical and mental. I grew up hating who I was, and now I am on a journey to self-love and acceptance all because of a t-shaped copper device… who would have thought?
Next week I will be giving you all a nice comprehensive list on how to learn to self-love during times of physical despair, so be on the lookout for that. In the mean time, try to compliment yourself at least once a day and truly believe those words if you can <3
Until next time!