For as long as I can remember, I wasn't comfortable in my own skin. I was born a twin in a family of four kids, and consequently I fought to find what made me special or unique. I was the runt of the litter (literally, not figuratively). My twin and I were born last out of the four and I was without a doubt the smallest of the family.
I hated being tiny. My uncle would joke about my small size and say, "You're just cute as a button, aren't you?" I loathed it. From the earliest age I can remember, I wanted to be called beautiful, not cute. What a disgrace to be considered small and cute.
I remember hitting puberty and my breasts grew three sizes in one summer. It was mortifying and for the next four years of high school, it felt like all anyone talked about was how big my boobs were. I felt hyper-focused and embarrassed about their size, and I began to associate it with being fat. My boobs were so big and when I looked in the mirror that's all I saw. B-I-G. Soon I began to affirm in my head that that's all anyone saw. Friends, family, people walking by on the street, B-I-G. I recall introducing my first boyfriend ever at a family event once. Before any words were spoken my aunt shouted for everyone to here, "Geez, when did your boobs get so big!" I was certain then that my thoughts were true. B-I-G was all they saw.
I've often wondered when the idea of me being fat began. Did it start when my breasts grew during puberty and I wasn't "small" anymore? Perhaps.
The point is, these thoughts laid dormant in me, like a virus that feeds on it's host. These thoughts have grown through the years like a cancer and infected me with poisonous self-doubt, hate and obsession. For years (and to this day) I struggled with the image in the mirror telling me, "Man, you're just not pretty enough, but you can keep trying. Your chin is too pointy, your eyebrows make you look like a cancer victim, your stomach is protruding, you're fat, etc, etc, etc."
I began to realize how my negative thoughts worsened with anxiety or depression and the more I fixated on my hatred of my self-image, the more anxious and depressed I became. I was ruminating on these thoughts I had about myself.
I had heard the term Body Dysmorphia before, and I began to research it. I thought, "No, your case isn't severe enough. You're not extreme enough to be considered." In order to be diagnosed the behavior must exhibit compulsion-like behavior such as checking your reflection in the mirror excessively, changing outfits excessively or even skin picking (popping invisible zits, picking scabs, etc). I thought, "you don't do those things, you're fine."
The following days I started to notice that in fact I do exhibit such behaviors. I noticed one day that I checked my reflection before leaving the house in the living room mirror four times and the bathroom mirror three times. I then checked it in the car window once before getting in the car and also once getting out of the car. I realized that I was indeed picking at my skin (not my face) but that it had become such a normal almost ritualistic thing that I did before taking a shower that I hadn't noticed it was abnormal.
I was worried to talk about it out loud. I never spoke of how much I hated the way I looked for fear of being perceived as an attention seeker. That voice came back and said, "You're not severe enough of a case. You won't be taken seriously. No one will believe you."
I didn't think anyone would believe or understand how severe the thoughts had penetrated my mind. Almost every hour of everyday I'm worried about what I look like. I'm so terrified that I'm going to get married someday and won't be able to stand to see a single picture of myself on what is supposed to be the happiest day of my life, all because I'm repulsed by the sight of myself. I'm afraid that one day I'll have children that won't know what I looked like in my twenties because I can't stand to have photos taken of me. I can't even sit down without usin something cover my stomach like a pillow or my purse because I'm terrified everyone will be staring at my stomach rolls.
I was sick of feeling controlled by thoughts. I wanted help whether I thought I deserved it or not.
The known number of people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is severely distorted due to the low rates of people seeking care. This disorder is a monster that instills shame, guilt and uncertainty. I was and am one of the many that struggled to seek help to better understand my self hatred, but I realized that no matter what my idea or anyone else's idea of a severe or qualifying case, it doesn't discount my need to be heard. And the same is true for anyone.
I want to share my story of navigating my own body-image issues and talk about the journey toward seeking help WITH OR WITHOUT a diagnosis. Because the world isn't full of diagnoses, it's full of people, of us. And if we're in pain, we deserve to be heard, loved, accepted and encouraged by others, but first and foremost by ourselves.