Sunday, 4 January 2009

A Head Full of Beauty Prelude - Part One - Admitting Mental Illness -

In early 2008, I discoverd that I have Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Before I read up on it, I never knew it existed, and certainly never understood what it meant.
Most of my friends were familiar with my insecurities and bad times over the years, and it had been such an established part of my life that I didn’t really question it or see it as a problem. I hated the way I looked and I was obsessed with losing weight - that was just the way it was. I didn’t see it as a problem; it was just the way I lived my life.
Even when I was as young as 6 and 8 I remember specific instances when I broke down publicly because I felt so hideous and beat myself up for being fat. Those were the happiest times of my life, and I was super skinny then!! I should probably have picked up on my problems long before I reached 20.

Of course High School was the ultimate horror for me. I would not get on the bus because I couldn’t bear people looking at me. I would cry in front of the mirror and claw at myself for half an hour before I could step outside the front door. I would get dressed in the dark so I didn’t have to see myself.
But honestly, for me, that is just how I was and I never considered that there was anything wrong with me. I hated myself, and in my opinion at the time, I hated myself with just cause. I certainly could never admit the true extent of what I was experiencing because it just sounds so stupid and superficial. I would always have my mirror out, and people would always laugh about me, calling me vain. But that mirror was held up to my face because I was so paranoid about the way I looked and hated it so much. It’s so hard to face up to mental heath problems when the world has such a stigma about them, and more so when you yourself had a stigma about them. I really believed that people with mental health problems were just weak, pathetic and attention-seeking, and I considered myself to be no exception.

In Autumn 2007 I was probably the healthiest I had been mentally since I was 13. I was still obsessed with food, but obsessed with eating a healthy balanced diet rather than not eating. I was still terrified about my appearance, but was pulling off incredible confidence stunts and at times feeling really good about myself. Everything was better - not solved - but much better. But then in the middle of my second year at university everything with Jon (my beautiful boarding school boy) just tore me down. I was completly and utterly crazy about him. I thought he was perfect. I thought he felt it too; but he didn’t. For me, the answer to why a boy doesn’t like me is simple: I am too ugly and I am too fat. I really still can’t see a reason beyond that. Because of my lonely position and tough living situation I lost the plot... Yes, I have had massive breakdowns before, spectacular and messed up, but I picked myself up by….well, by finding another guy… The disaster with Jon came at a time when I had all my assessments in and everything was just crumbling in front of my eyes. I just fell away from uni and society, and no one was there to stop me or notice it happening.

I have been through periods of starving myself before and my weight has gone up and down like a yo-yo since I was 15 when I was at my worst. At that time my periods stopped for 6 months and I scared myself with the knowledge that I would become infertile, and I reversed and ate loads and loads. That has been the general cycle, but I have never been as bad as when I was 15. During Christmas 2007, however I lost control of my eating and within a few weeks had developed severe bulimia. It started off making myself sick once or twice a week. I would often try more times than I would succeed, but I got the knack for it quickly, and it became so easy. I would eat knowing that I could throw up it all up 5 minutes later. It became routine, every day, sometimes twice a day. It got to the stage where I was even doing it in public toilets, I didn’t care anymore. Soon I was cutting myself. I had never, never harmed myself before (I used to hit myself a lot, but never cutting) and I honestly never understood how or why people did it, but it just became another habit, one which I dreadfully regret because my scars have still not faded. For the early part of 2008, I couldn’t step outside the door without having panic attacks because I felt so hideous. I stayed in bed so that I didn’t have to face the world or face myself.

In February 2008 I went to the doctor with depression. As far as I was concerned the panic attacks and the eating was just a side problem – the result of being ugly and nothing more. I believed (and still believe) that when I am pretty these problems will go away). Obviously as the doctor questioned me, the eating and anxiety issue arose and he started to build up a picture of my problems. I was sent to the eating disorders nurse and I was absolutely horrified. Yes, I had a problem with eating, but it wasn’t actually a PROBLEM. I felt embarrassed at being sent there because I wasn’t skinny enough to have an eating disorder. It was like going in for an x-ray when you hadn’t broken your leg. Even the first comment that the nurse made was, ‘You look so healthy!’ I think because no one ever worried about my health I saw no need to either. I really didn’t think I had a problem. I was just a little depressed and needed a few anti-depressants.

What I have learnt since then is that people with eating disorders cannot be categorised. When I went to my first self-help group I was terrified of going because I was certain that I would be the fattest person there. In fact almost everyone was my size or bigger, and in addition, I was the youngest person there! I had no idea how many people understood what I was going though. I thought it was just me. I thought I was just a paranoid fool. But actually I have textbook BDD and bulimia and in a way it makes me feel comforted because I know what’s wrong with me, and I know I’m not on my own, and I know that there is a way to get better, and I know that I can get better. I’m starting to understand what is going on in my head and how to overcome it.
There is so much help and support out there, and I never knew about it! I never knew BDD even existed! I still haven’t got much better, but am on the right path and going in the right direction. I cannot spend the rest of my life like this and I will not spend the rest of my life like this. When I have come out of it all, I will be so much more.

I know I should stop getting involved with boys because they just bring out my insecurities in hives and having wild nights out (because they made me cry and binge eat a lot). The problem is that I developed a brilliant performance at being happy and confident, especially at university, and with boys and particularly on nights out, my mask was at its heaviest. When things fell through and when I came back home, it was so hard to deal with who I really was and what I was really feeling, and it really made things worse, because I felt like a failure because I couldn’t be who I wanted to be and just couldn’t be happy. It was very hard.

Sometimes you have to admit that you’re weak to know that you’re strong. I could never admit how weak I was before, and it almost destroyed me. I am still very ashamed of my problems, but I know that if I do not face them I will not beat them. I still feel like an idiot when I tell people, but I will be an idiot who has the last laugh.

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