Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Body Dysmorphea

I’m 47 and I have body dysmorphea.  There, I’ve said it.  I’ve said what so many fear to admit.  I have had an ongoing battle with my body since I was a pre-teen.  My journey and struggles are probably pretty similar to many women out there – I’m sure my story is not special or unique. And I believe that it is how we choose to deal with those struggles that define who we are. 

What exactly is body dysmphea?  According to the Mayo Clinic website: Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a type of chronic mental illness in which you can't stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don't want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called "imagined ugliness."

It goes on to say that "When you have body dysmorphic disorder, you intensely obsess over your appearance and body image, often for many hours a day. You may seek out numerous cosmetic procedures to try to "fix" your perceived flaws, but never will be satisfied. Body dysmorphic disorder is also known as dysmorphophobia, the fear of having a deformity."  I can assure you that I haven't had any cosmetic procedures but I do tend to be obsessed with body image - and when you have OCD and BDD, it becomes almost debilitating on some days.  

As I began to pull pictures for this post, I realized with great sadness, that I had done a really good job of erasing me from my past.  There were absolutely no pictures of me during college (my heavy years), very few pictures of me and my children together, and with the exception of wedding pictures (a skinny year), one could question my existence altogether!  Imagine, no pictures of me with the family on vacations, or even disney world.  Sad.  

My struggles started young – when the other girls were growing taller, slender and curvy.  I was remaining short, rail thin and well…not curvy.  I remained awkward and gawky.  I was made the president of the itty bitty committee by my peers which unbeknownst to them, would be the beginning of years of self-deprication, self-loathing and self doubt. 

I managed to survive those awkward, punishing puberty laden years and come out on the other side.  But I was shy and still awkward – around my peers and boys.  I could barely make eye contact with others and I had a speech impediment that although I had spent years in speech therapy still made some of my speech inaudible.  The shyness and speech issues helped contribute even more to my over abundance of self-doubt. 

age 13

The High School years were varied.  Because of years of introversion, I was still very socially awkward.  I had few friends and really didn’t yearn for many but just acceptance from one or two would have been enough.    And while boys were finally paying attention to me, it was not the kind of attention I was seeking.  It seemed that either I was bad at picking the right guy or that all guys in High School are simply looking to put another notch to put on their belt.  And I was definitely not ready for that kind of relationship.  It helped  when I began attending an all girls boarding school – no boys there – no facing the stress of a relationship.  But instead, I choose to surround myself with girls.

From the frying pan…into the Fire –

Let’s face it.  Girls are a judgemental lot.  Something many never grow out of.  And if they are not judging each other, then they are judging themselves based on what they perceive other women are dictating to be the norm.  We are a twisted lot.  We scream that we should empower on another, edify each other and then turn around and spew negative vomit about each other.  Very twisted lot, indeed. 

I graduated High School weight a whooping 90 lbs.  I was still short, still rail thin, but I had a curve or two so I wasn’t all “boy looking” as I had been deemed my junior year.  I went to college bregrudgingly.  It was an unspoken expectation placed upon me.  Not much discussion went into where I would go – I was told where I’d go and so off I went.  Striving to be the obedient child (I had been “relieved” of two boarding schools due to stupid, juvenile infractions), I asked no questions and expressed no disagreement.  But I knew that college was not for me.  I was bored in high school, and I assumed college would be the same. 
High school graduation

I returned home from my first semester weighing 175 lbs.  Hard to believe, right?  How does one gain such awesome weight?  Late night Pizza and beer.  Often eating myself into numbness so that I would not have to face the challenges of relationships, classes, and whatever else I was avoiding.   I was the fun girl of the sorority and was even asked to be a Little Sister of a fraternity. I think it was because every frat & sorority needs the token “fat girl” to fill their “diversity quota”.

At a time when I should have been having fun, and soaking in all that life had to offer, I was secretly hoarding food in my room – never eating publicly.  The only public consumption of calories was all the alcohol that helped me balloon into my “elephant” phase of life.  I returned home at Christmas break to see the huge disappointment on my mom’s face.  The break was infused with multiple fights (she wasn’t pleased at my weight gain and I could bet she was embarrassed at having such a fat daughter).  I think it was then, that I realized that I just felt like I would never be good enough – for anyone. 

Over the following years, I struggled with massive weight gains and losses.  My mom dragged me to doctors checking my thyroid (obviously, that explained my weight).  I binged.  I purged.  I abused diet pills. I taught 3 – 4 classes of aerobics a day.  I quit eating for days at a time.  I’d eat more then the men in my life.  It was the worst, out of control feeling I had. 

Fast forward to  2 years of single parenting, and growing through 19 years of a great, God focused marriage to present day.  I still battled the BDD - at days when I'd weight 105, I felt I looked the same as when I weighed 175.  And when I'd hit that magic number of 150 on the scale, I'd just want to die and would begin the insane diet yo-yo.  

The summer of realization
Then, 5 years ago, I grew tired of the weight battle.  I still struggled with self loathing, low self esteem and still just wanted to be “perfect enough” to please those around me.  All self induced feelings that I heaped upon myself without help from anyone. All feelings associated with BBD.  My husband has loved me through it all – the fat years, the lean years, the self loathing years.  For 19 years I doubted his love for me because I couldn’t love myself.  I never understood how someone could love someone such as me.  And all this because of my body dysmorphea. 
the last family photo I took before the realization

After all, I’m not an evil person.  I am your normal wife and mom, working hard to do what it takes to keep the family on task, working in ministry, trying to be a good wife.  It wasn’t as if I was satan.  I just had some self worth & body issues that seemed to infect every bit of psyche I had.  Until 5 years ago, when I heard the still small voice tell me that He created me perfect in His image.  And that if He created me, then how could I hate His creation?  I knew that I could either began to embrace myself the way I was or I needed to “shut my pie hole” and change myself. 

You can only complain if you voted…

My dad used to say if you didn’t vote, you couldn’t complain about the presidency.  He also said, “you made your bed and now you have to lie in it”.  I get them both.  Finally.  Shutting my pie hole (both literally and figuratively) and gaining control over my weight issues were more about myself then I’d ever realize.  I had always thought it was to please those around me.  But I’ve realized in this past year that I’m gonna be judged by someone who wants to be a hater at some point some time.  I can’t control what they say, do or react but I can certain control what I put in my mouth and what I put into the world.  I can certainly choose to eat the donut or the greek yogurt.  One will have better consequence then the other.

I’ve documented the journey from that moment on before so I won’t revisit it.  But what I haven’t shared (at least not in detail) is the struggle of my Body Dysmorphea.  I realize I will probably struggle with it all of my life.  If you haven’t experienced it yourself, it’s hard to comprehend and the only comparison I can think of is how you hear yourself.   You sound completely different when you hear it coming back over the recorder then when you speak it.  It is that same way with Body Dysmorphea – while you may see a slim, flat tummy, I see a huge roll of fat and an extra tire.  While you see muscles in my calves, I see them as too skinny.  Where you see toned triceps, I see “flapping in the wind” flabby skin.  My image of myself when I look in the mirror is often one found in a carnival mirror.
Running helps me handle the BBD noises

I don’t expect this insanity of body dysmorphea to go away.  But I do try to learn how to live with it, work around it, quieten it, and disarm it.  I know that it is not something I can fix with new glasses but a new thought process.  Many times, when I look in the mirror, I have to remind myself that the image I see is not the image I really am.  Often times, it is as if the lens in my eyes add 10 pounds to the image reflected back, much like a TV.  But what I can control is what I do to my body in the name of body dysmorphea.  I no longer have to hate my body – I control what I eat, the energy that it puts forth, my view on food.  I no longer binge, purge, hide & hoard food, or abuse diet pills.  I choose what I eat, when I eat it and I usually choose it for the fueling potential instead of the comfort aid. 
being active helps me deal

I have discovered that I am unlike others, I really do not have a “full” button that signals the brain to stop eating and so I have to exercise portion control and will power.  I literally, don’t get the “unbutton your pants because you ate too much” feeling like most people do (recently I learned that this actually affects a great number of people). So I am learning that in spite of the absurdity I see in the mirror, that I have some control over my food, weight gain and self-value.  I have learned to embrace the creation He made and have learned to challenge it to go as hard and as far as it can.  I embrace the sweat it pours out in training.  I embrace the aches of the knees from training runs, and the soreness of muscles from adding weights to my routine.  I embrace the special treats I choose to indulge in and truly taste them to their fullest potential. 

I have changed how I look at other women around me, and I am constantly working on not judging them based on their appearance.  Instead, I want to know who they are and why – not what they look like.  However, I am always up for a good “where’d you buy that” conversation.  I have finally accepted that my husband loves me through thick and thin,  (however, I’m hoping the thick years are gone forever) and no longer question him about it.  This has been the biggest reward for both of us.  I feel free to share with him when I feel inadequate and I am able to accept his help more freely as well.  I finally enjoy dressing up and going out and am on the verge of becoming “high maintenance” in the beauty department.
I not only enjoy time on vacation now, I enjoy family pics!
Body Dysmorphea can be crippling, if you allow it.  However, like with so many other obstacles in our lives, it is how we choose to deal with it that defines us.  We can become our own best friends and advocates, warriors in a quiet, rarely spoken fight or we can make our beds and lay in them.  I don’t know what you’ll choose to do, but I am a warrior.  Finally.

I’m 47 and I have body dysmorphea.  But more importantly, I am child of God, a wife, a mom and a Warrior. 

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