It’s difficult to imagine fully recovering, but my CBT therapist, who specialises in BDD, has a very high recovery rate. I know that, one day at a time, I will get there.
Looking back, I think I have had BDD all my life. There has always been something to worry about. I remember a year of obsessively looking at my fringe in shop mirrors, thinking I was going bald, and an obsession about brown marks on my teeth for a whole summer. My obsessions moved around my body until, four years ago, they took over my life. I noticed I had facial hair that was quite long, and got very upset. I was travelling at the time, and started to check it in different mirrors, from different angles, at regular intervals during the day. When I returned from travelling I tried different treatments to remove the hair. I felt very self-conscious sitting in certain lights. This carried on even though my Mum said she couldn’t see it. The treatments only worked temporarily, and I became convinced they were making the hair worse and worse and worse until one day I decided I wouldn’t look any more and would only think positive thoughts about my facial hair whenever it came up in my mind.
Amazingly I managed to avoid looking at my facial hair for about two years, and if I ever did see it I would look away. I felt like I was lying to myself, but it meant I could get on with my life. This seemed to work until my Mum bought me a magnetising mirror, and I noticed that the skin on my cheeks had got looser and more wrinkly, and felt very upset that one of the treatments might have ‘damaged my skin’. I remember sitting in a meeting at work for two hours with my jumper pulled up around my face!
“I became more and more upset about it until I started looking for a treatment to fix it”
I became more and more upset about it until I started looking for a treatment to fix it and discovered microdermabrasion. This magic treatment promised to smooth out my skin and get rid of wrinkles and the first treatment did seem to make my skin look smoother. But each treatment after that seemed to make it worse, even though I followed the instructions on how often to do it and how to look after my skin. I became more and more worried that I had now damaged my skin more, and this is when my BDD got really bad.
I visited a dermatologist who said my skin was fine and completely undamaged by the microdermabrasion and previous hair removal treatment. He even said my skin was quite good for my age and another dermatologist has since said the same – and that I should see a psychiatrist! But although I felt better for a few hours I found his words of reassurance very hard to believe. Subsequent reassurance from family and my boyfriend did nothing to make me feel any better, as there was no way my skin looked okay to me. I thought they must have low standards, or that they were being nice or just not looking close enough. The more I looked at my skin the worse it looked, and I became transfixed and increasingly horrified by how bad it was and how it was getting worse and worse.
“Out of work I had too much time to look in the mirror”
I started piling on expensive anti-aging creams, and when I saw some new lines by my eyes I started to worry that the positions I was sleeping in was making it worse. I tried lots of different pillows and positions – some of them very uncomfortable! It got to the point I would look in the mirror over and over again, sometimes for hours on end, and not be able to go out because I was so self-conscious and panicked. Instead I would hide under a pillow and cry. It became difficult to see friends who had ‘good skin’. I looked at numerous magazines to see if I could find anyone with skin like mine. Sometimes I could, but I would only feel better for a short times. Nothing could make me feel better for more than a few minutes. It felt like being in a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Sleep was my best escape, although I would often dream about it. My poor parents caught the brunt of it, as I would phone them regularly, completely distraught and inconsolable. Out of work I had too much time to look in the mirror, but when I did eventually go back to work part-time it was stressful and I found it very difficult to concentrate whilst sitting under a strip light. My output was pretty low!
This went on for quite a few months. Every day it took a huge effort just to get up and out of the house with people looking at me. Tubes were a nightmare and the mirrors in plane toilets caused massive upsets. I spent hours upset or worrying about or looking at my skin, to the point where it became what I thought about most of the time. I found it very difficult to think how I would live with looking so bad, and with it getting worse the older I got. Although I was in a relationship, that in some ways made it harder, as someone was looking at me close up and seeing how awful my skin was.
I started CBT at the end of last year and have had 5 sessions. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done, as I am having to give up habits that seem impossible to resist. I have done better at some than others, and sometimes I have to start all over again when I slip into my old habits. But overall I am better able to concentrate on other things. It’s difficult to imagine fully recovering, but my CBT therapist, who specialises in BDD, has a very high recovery rate. I know that, one day at a time, I will get there.