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Simply put, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance – a flaw that appears minor or can’t be seen by others. But you may feel so embarrassed, ashamed, and anxious that you may avoid many social situations.
When you have body dysmorphic disorder you’re intensely focused on your appearance and body image, repeatedly checking the mirror grooming, or seeking reassurance, sometimes for many hours each day. Your perceived flaw and the repetitive behaviours cause you significant distress and impact your ability to function in your daily life. For example, you’re a muscular person in great shape, you then look in the mirror and see an out-of-shape obese person
Body dysmorphic disorder and me
First off I would like to make something abundantly clear. There is no possible way that this article can truly describe how BDD makes me feel. It is truly too difficult to put into words. It remains deep inside my head.
Let’s begin. You’re fat. You’re ugly. Look at your chubby face. Why don’t you lose some weight? You’re a loser. Nobody will ever love you. These insulting words may hurt when you hear them from a stranger that you cut off in traffic or someone you bumped into by accident on the street. I’m sure most of us have even heard a family member or two
utter some harsh words. However, when speaking to yourself every minute of every day, like a broken record, the pain and emotion become quite debilitating.
We all have heard the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. I always found this saying to be a crock of shit. Your body is resilient and those cuts, scraps, and bruises will heal over time. However, negative and abusive words repeated over and over will crush you emotionally and will tear you apart mentally, leading to potential physical ailments. Now, eventually, that physical wound will heal itself, but those emotional and mental wounds tend to take a much longer time to heal if they heal at all.
The battle begins
So, when did this all begin? When did I start identifying with this feeling of pure disgust with myself? For me, I would say it all began around 1987. I was seven years old and living in Queens, NY. This is where I truly started to compare myself to the other kids. You see, in New York, you always had three groups of friends. You had the school kids, the church kids, and the kids on your block. I would notice most of my friends shake off the occasional joke and friendly insult, I mean, we were kids, and that’s what kids did. However, when the jokes headed in my direction I began to deposit them in my, ”Bank of Self-Hate”. Not only did my friends joke around, but I would also receive a nice chunk of taunts from my only family. Let’s just say they had more ammunition to use against me since I also wet the bed as a child. They were such “inspirational” words and phrases, “hey fatso”, “give it to Mike, he’ll eat anything” “He’s a human garbage disposal”, and the infamous, “I’m going to tell everyone you wet the bed”, how wonderful, right? More deposits right into the bank. So, you can imagine that hearing such endearing words of encouragement would keep me positive and not question my self-worth, detect the sarcasm? I remember times when I would just cry myself to sleep. This is when I truly started hating myself and becoming depressed about how I looked.
Now we fast forward to when I was ten years old, and all of the sadness, depression, anxiety, and self-hate deposits were adding up and accumulating interest. I grew up in a household with constant verbal abuse and all these negative words were starting to bottle up inside of me. I had no idea that this was only the start. While in the 5th grade we were tasked with a writing assignment, titled, “If I Could Change One Thing About Myself”. Here is the actual letter that I wrote at 10 years old.
June 22, 1990 – If I Could Change One Thing About Me
“If I could change one thing about myself I would change my fatness. Because if I am skinny I could do more things. I can run faster and when I grow up people won’t call me names. Right now people in school call me names and I get mad. Even my brother calls me names and so does my sister. But if I became skinny nobody would call me names. So that’s why I want to be skinny.”
“Don’t let people call you names. Just be happy with yourself. I am sure when you grow taller you will become thinner”
I never understood the magnitude of what I was going through at the time. But reading this letter, 30 years later, makes me truly sad for my young self. If I could have only gone back and told myself it was going to be OK and hugged myself. This letter truly confirms that for 30+ years I have been dealing with this pure hatred of myself and my body. I can’t tell you how this makes me feel.
With the letter written and behind me that sentiment would continue through my adolescent years. If I could photocopy that letter and simply adjust the date, 1991, 92, 93, 94, 95, – 2022, those feelings would still ring true. As I continued to grow, so did my BDD. It had now taken on a whole new life. Why? well, I started becoming interested in the opposite sex and the hormones were raging. I was always told that going through puberty would thin me out and that I would start growing taller. Yeah, nope, and nope. I continued to be the big guy to others and the even bigger uglier guy in my mirror.
I am the actor
Now in high school, this is when my BDD starts controlling my life. Here are just a few common thoughts that would cross my mind throughout my day.
- I wish I could just cut my stomach off.
- Am I too young to get liposuction?
- Internet searches: How long can you go without eating? Water fasting? What’s the fastest way to lose weight? Most drastic diets? What clothes make you appear thinner?
- If I can wrap my body in plastic when I sleep I should be able to lose weight.
Trust me, there was plenty more where that came from. I could not even walk into a room without going into the men’s room to make sure I was looking somewhat normal. I even had a small bag inside my backpack, my “rescue me bag” that contained: deodorant, cologne, gum, and face lotion. God forbid that I had something in my teeth or my face was flakey with dry skin. Yes, you may say that this is normal, that I wanted to look good and smell good, but this was not the case. I was scared to death to enter a room without a full-blown self-inspection.
Here is the kicker, with BDD you hate how you look so regardless of what I was trying to accomplish by going into the men’s room, I would still come out in disgust and when I couldn’t look myself over, disgust. I would be going to the men’s room to get the validation that I hated myself. It was always a lose-lose.
As time went on I continued to sharpen my “acting” skills and once I attended university. Well, I was an Emmy Award-nominated BDD actor. Soon I would take home the award. Just don’t take my picture because that is still in the top three things that truly send me over the top. I will take your phone and demand that the picture be erased. I can’t tell you how many times my friends would say, “Are you in the witness relocation programme”? I liked being a tad mysterious. Yet, it does get very old and tiresome to always run from the camera.
We are just getting started
Once I attended university, my balance with the “Bank of Self-Hate” had grown exponentially. I started working in the college gym and began to hit the weights. I remember asking my powerlifting coach, “How can I drop some weight in my stomach?” He replied: “Well if we just make your chest and shoulders bigger then your stomach might appear smaller” Yes, I laughed. I knew he was joking but it sounded good to me at the time. No matter how big I got it wasn’t enough. I figured if I was big and strong that this would fix how I saw myself and I could move on. Yes, you guessed correctly. It didn’t work. I still saw myself as that fat 10-year-old that was wishing to be thin. This trend continued throughout my college years.
After I had moved on from university and moved on from competing in powerlifting competitions, I was left with a banged-up and out-of-shape body. My muscles started to leave me but the fat remained. Since I could not physically lift as I did in college I had to get back in better shape. Do you see the trend yet? A constant mindset of, “I have to get better” and “I hate myself”. The only thing consistent in my life was hating what I saw in the mirror, which never escaped me. I decided to push myself after I saw a picture of me holding my little niece. I had to make a change. Once again I start researching all types of diets. At the time I was working for a local supplement company and under the owner’s guidance and my strong desires I had lost 30lbs in 30 days.
I was truly happy, or so I thought. It was never enough. I now had to get in even better shape. Soon after my significant weight loss, I was at a friend’s house and we had a few drinks. I did get a tad inebriated and we decided to order a pizza. This would be my only “real” meal in the past 30 days. Yes, I didn’t say it was a healthy meal, but I figured I can reward myself. After two slices of Domino’s Philly cheese steak pizza, I became nauseous. I then went to the bathroom and made myself throw up. I thought to myself, “Wow, that was easy, maybe I can eat what I want but then throw up after” I knew it was wrong and I knew it was harmful, but I didn’t care. It was 2007 and on that day it would be the start of my Bulimia, a disease I still suffer from to this day.
The only time I saw any progress from my bulimia and BDD was when I went into the Army. However, soon after my medical discharge, I was right back where I left off.
It’s a wrap
As I stated at the beginning of this article, for someone who suffers from BDD and is now a serious eating disorder, you will never truly understand the effects that it has on your physical, emotional, and especially mental well-being unless you have suffered as well. You then know all too well. I have suffered from BDD since the age of seven and became bulimic in 2007. I am now 42 and it is slowly getting more manageable. I have been in counselling since 2021 and it has helped tremendously. I know I can beat this one day and If you suffer from BDD or an eating disorder then I truly hope and pray you to reach out to someone for help. Again, this article will never do my pain justice. If you suffer from this affliction you know that it is so hard to have others truly understand and grasp what takes place in your mind
This was just a snippet of what my life has been like dealing with BDD and bulimia. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. The book I am working on is extremely detailed and gives a complete and raw look into my personal and extensive battle with mental health.
Remember, there is help out there for you. You’re not alone. You’re never alone.