Once a month I can’t decide what to wear. Everything I put on I feel disgusting in. My hair feels yuk and my face is hideous. I dislike everything about myself. Know what I mean? It’s a girl thing.
Okay, so on a normal day we all have something we don’t like about ourselves, right? Big nose. Small eyes. Big bum. Small boobs. Stretch marks. A hideous scar. Now imagine your dislike/discomfort about your least favourite body part and times it by a zillion. What you see is exaggerated and with it your disdain for it. You don’t want anyone to see it, you’re ashamed. You cancel your plans to go out with friends. You can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror, or you can’t escape it and become trapped obsessing over the issue. You’re absolutely disgusted by what you see. When you do go out into the big wide world you feel people are watching you and you know they can see how ugly you are. You know they are looking at that nose, that scar, the fat. You don’t want to go outside any more, it makes you anxious. Now you’re depressed. You hate yourself. You hate life. Life is worthless. You are worthless.
Everyone has moments when they aren’t happy with the way they look but these thoughts are fleeting. For someone with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) these thoughts don’t go away, they are distressing, they can consume you and impact on every aspect of your life. Meet Emily Kay.
At seven years old Emily lost her father and with the bereavement, anxiety grew rapidly. Her mother remarried and outside of her control the home environment turned hostile and negative. From eight years old Emily was left feeling ugly and useless, and soon these feelings evolved into factual evidence used against anything negative. Emily was sixteen when her mum caught her self-harming. She refused medication and given the options Emily chose Reiki over seeing the doctor. It wasn’t until she was nineteen that Emily went to see her doctor about her anxiety and depression, shortly after the family environment changed again and her mother got divorced. The NHS (National Health Service) in England kindly provided Emily with twelve bi-weekly sessions of Talking Therapy to try to combat her low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. At twenty-five, still suffering, Emily returned to see her doctor. She found it hard to trust people, had few close friends, she was unreliable with her anxiety-driven reluctance to go out socially, and now one of her best friends had moved away. She was lost and so upset that life had become a blur. One new therapist and ten more Talking Therapy sessions later Emily was discharged. Life continued unchanged.
Welcome 2013. After the break-up of a rocky relationship Emily was left heartbroken. She stopped eating for three and a half weeks; her work noticed she wasn’t well and referred her for a workplace health diagnosis and somehow she was declared fit for work. She agreed to visit her doctor in order to make progress before being sent back to Talking Therapies; however this time she met her match in her new therapist whose tough love policy was just what Emily needed. She was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and BDD, which had given her the fundamental belief that she was ugly, disgusting and deformed. To her it was just a fact and she was offended by any suggestion from anyone that she was anything different. Could you imagine feeling that way about yourself? There is a common misconception that someone with mental health issues can go into hospital and walk out a new person, as if a metaphorical bandage can be applied and work its magic. I’ve been there, it’s a huge disappointment. You don’t change that quickly. It takes time. Every day is a learning process, every day you fight to get better.
Everyone has body hang ups. I just want to make every day as good as I can. It’s okay if I slip, everyone has a duvet day now and again
Emily is now on medication which has helped with the anxiety and the OCD. She takes lots of “selfies” and posts them on Facebook, because each photo is another step closer to self-acceptance. However BDD behaviour can change dramatically and as her mood shifts to negative “selfies” can just as quickly be replaced by inanimate objects as profile pictures in an attempt to escape from the very image of herself. I imagine those not in the know perceive Emily as vain and attention seeking but all she wants is reassurance, to know that she is okay and that she fits in. In one way or another, don’t we all want social acceptance? Who wants to be thinking that no one wants to hang out with them because they’re sad, lonely, ugly and single. We all want to be perceived as awesome. The sad thing is we all are. Some of us just don’t see it yet.
Emily has stopped dyeing her hair every other day to try to change her appearance, although reassures me that she will continue to have some crazy, beautiful colours in the future. She even laughs telling me about trying on prom dresses with a girlfriend, she could never have done this a few years ago. Video games have provided an easier, virtual world for her to inhabit at times. In moderation gaming can help with dexterity, problem solving and provide a distraction. For Emily it became an outlet for her anxiety and depression.
Emily has a great job and a very close and supportive family. In a few moments with her mother I feel her pain and want to call my own mum to tell her I’m okay and that I am grateful for her. Emily’s mum gives her opinions and helps put things into perspective but she won’t indulge her. She has had to watch her daughter destroy herself in front of her eyes, knowing that there was nothing she could do. As a parent she wanted to make it better for Emily and it felt like she had failed her. She hasn’t, far from it. If only all mothers and daughters had their relationship, it filled me with warmth to watch them together. Emily is one lucky daughter and her mum is amazing.
While her emotions aren’t gone, Emily can now accept that while her hair may not be perfect it’s not the end of the world, she’ll just make it look nice. If she has something wrong with her make up, it can be rectified or she’ll recognise that no-one will notice it. Emily has accepted that her BDD is with her for life but it doesn’t have to control her. She knows her journey is not over but she also knows how far she has come and that what she has now is great. With one in four people in the UK suffering from mental health problems, she’s not alone. I’m not alone, and if you’re reading this knowing or thinking you may be the one in four then you’re not alone either. Mind estimate that one in ten people suffer from BDD but don’t know it, or won’t speak up.
It doesn’t matter what you’re going to say, just say something, anything.
Baby steps; that is what Emily has been taking since she was discharged in August 2013. She is happier with the tools that the therapist gave her but it is still hard to let go, after all it took over twenty years for her to get to this point, it will take some hard work to undo the damage. Life is difficult but Emily is a fighter, and I have no doubt that she will win. But for today Emily is raising awareness for the condition that affects so many people by doing something that truly terrifies her. She’s going to get naked in front of the camera to raise money for Mind on the 22nd February 2014. So far Emily has raised almost £5000 for the mental health charity, which is amazing. Can you help her raise more? This is a HUGE step and a noble cause so please check out her fundraising page and share her story. Help us spread the word so other people can feel that that it’s okay to talk. Thank you.
It’s the little things that make a big difference. #TimeToTalk
First Published 2014/01/21