Thomas spent years afflicted by BDD. He was eventually able to emerge from the disorder and now wants to help others overcome it.
An Imperfect World
No one's perfect. This is a good thing. To say that 'no one's perfect' is to imply that 'everyone's different'.
This difference, to my mind, is part of what makes life so exciting.
We leave the house and are exposed to individuals like us: people who speak different languages, like different food, think different thoughts, dream different dreams.
Some have brown hair and blue eyes, some have blue hair and brown eyes, some have bigger heads, some have smaller heads, bigger noses, smaller noses, darker skin, paler skin.
The differences are plain to see, but most people don't give them a second thought. The natural structure of your face or the shape of your head is almost impossible to change beyond infancy (except by surgical procedure).
Most men my age spend only a minimal time in front of the mirror when they get up in the morning. What they see reflected back is what they're used to seeing and, although they may not like it, they accept their appearance as part of who they are and continue with their day.
For many people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, this simple morning routine presents a real challenge.
What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), also known as Body Dysmorphia, is a mental disorder where one feels a deep dissatisfaction with a perceived 'flaw' in one's own appearance. Someone with BDD can obsess over this flaw to the extent that it dramatically and adversely affects other aspects of their everyday life.
Despite this behaviour, it can never be said that people who suffer from BDD are 'vain' in any way.
The cruellest part of the illness is that the affected person is often unable to accept the assurances of friends and family that they look completely fine.
The disorder can become so severe that individuals can persuade themselves to look into surgery as a solution that will 'correct' their 'imperfect' body feature.
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While incurring considerable and unnecessary expense, and causing significant distress for loved-ones, the results of such procedures often do nothing to alleviate the person's dissatisfaction with their bodies, and may only intensify it.
My Experience With BDD
My own experience with Body Dysmorphic Disorder began about a year after starting university.
I began to believe that the back of my head noticeably protruded and was completely out of proportion with my neck. This sounds ridiculous to me now as I write it, but, in the moment, I regarded my 'problem' with all seriousness.
There were times I didn't even want to leave my room in the halls of residence.
When I went back to my parents' for the holidays, I was anxiously looking forward to them confirming what I feared so much: that I was a 'freak', and that something had gone horribly wrong during my birth which had given me this strange appearance.
To my frustration, they were very supportive and loving. They assured me that there was nothing strange about my head. They thought I would believe them, but I didn't want my fears to be denied: I wanted them confirmed so I would have an excuse to do something about it.
I continued telling anyone who would listen: "The shape of my head is unnatural, isn't it." It wasn't a question. It was a statement of fact that I was just waiting for them to agree with.
I sought the opinion of my parents, my brother and sister, my friends, strangers on internet forums, craniofacial surgeons... Any denial of what, to me, was so obvious I ignored. Any confirmation of how I thought I looked was bittersweet.
At the lowest point of my obsession with my head, I seriously considered having surgery to alter the shape of my skull so it looked more 'normal'.
I was inconsolable. I was convinced that I was right and the world was wrong. Deep down, though, I recognised my urgent need for professional assistance.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Once my family had finally persuaded me to look for help, I began a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT helps you change negative thought patterns by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts.
The greatest challenge for me was to accept that what I saw in the mirror wasn't what other people saw. How could that be possible? It's true that the mirror never lies, but what we see staring back is filtered through our own feelings of self-esteem and self-worth.
My CBT therapist helped me to 'come to my senses' and finally see myself as other people did: just an ordinary guy. At the most, I am loved by my family and friends despite my imperfections. At the least, I am a perfect stranger that someone who sees me on the street will probably never meet again.
The public are too busy with their own lives to pay any close attention to what you look like.
My Life After BDD
Negative thoughts can invade your headspace at any moment. Your reflection follows you wherever you go.
I still have not learnt to like the shape of my head, but I've learnt to live with it. Vestiges of the disorder still linger in my mind, but I am now able to function every day without constantly comparing myself with other people. Recovery from this illness, in my experience, takes time.
Having Body Dysmorphic Disorder taught me that so much of one's self-confidence and happiness is not derived from how we look, but from the positive life attitude we adopt in spite of the personal challenges we face.
My recovery from BDD has taught me to do my best to look for the positives in everyone I meet. It really is such an affirming thing to be appreciated for the way you are on the inside instead of how you look on the outside.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Thomas Roeder