I spent hours in the gym working out building muscle. I weighed 95 kilos. Loads of people commented on how big I had become, I cut an impressive figure to some. I was incredibly strong. Yet when I looked in the mirror I saw myself as thin and scrawny. I maybe suspected I suffered from ‘Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD),and here, if any were needed, was the proof that indeed I was.
What is BDD
According to the NHS ‘Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others. People of any age can have BDD, but it’s most common in teenagers and young adults’.
I can certainly relate now to that definition. For me BDD was an offshoot of the anxiety I suffered from for years. Tied up by my rather tricky relationship with food as a teenager. If I am entirely honest it was more than likely that I was suffering from some kind of eating disorder. Though of course I had no idea at the time. But when I look back now it seems quite clear.
BDD is often associated with eating disorders. So its presence may not be all that surprising. The strange thing is, like my potential eating disorder I had no idea that I was suffering with BDD. It was not until all those years later in the gym, and long after really bringing the anxiety under control, that I realised.
I think that is the whole point here. You simply do not realise that you are suffering from it. It will literally change your perception of yourself. It will change what your eyes see in front of them. Trying to explain this to someone who has never suffered from it, is difficult to say the least. It just does not make sense. I mean how can it?
It was always my wrists and my chest in my case. I would look at them or see them in the mirror and be really disappointed, so thin did they seem to me. No one could tell me otherwise, nothing else could convince me differently. To me my eyes, my brain did not lie. Everyone one I saw was bigger than me, even the thinnest person I knew seemed to be a ‘He-man’ in comparison.
Even after seeking help and bringing my anxiety under control, getting my eating habits in order, the BDD stayed. So normalised it had become. I perhaps suspected it but nothing more.
Then finally it became clear to me. After a break up in my late twenties I hit the gym, every night after work . I was lifting lots of weights and eating lots of food, it wasn’t binge or comfort eating, it was eating all the right stuff for an exercise heavy lifestyle.
I was getting bigger but was still struggling to see that. As I was not aware of any discernible change, I worked out all the harder. Still in my eyes nothing changed. I was still this skinner guy. So I kept on going. And going. People were amazed at my commitment.
Yet I didn’t see it as anything special. I did not realise it, but I was working toward the impossible, trying to bring about a change that my brain and my eyes refused to acknowledge. I was changing, changing massively but that just did not matter.
This was a worrying state to be in but again I was not aware of that. Then one day someone showed me a picture from a holiday I had been on. There were two guys sitting with their backs to the camera. The one I recognised as my brother, the other person, at first I didn’t know. He was huge, his back massive. Of course, I was quick to realise, that person was me.
The picture both stunned and saddened me. In it, I saw the lie for the first time. That lie my brain had been telling me for all that time. And it was really hard.
It just clicked
The incredible thing was. When I looked at my wrists and my chest. They still looked thin. But then I knew. That picture, something about it, just stuck, clicked. For after that it was all different. I knew I was big and that somehow my brain and eyes were deceiving me. And this somehow overrode it. With this knowledge things changed.
I reduced the exercise by understanding that an impossible goal was my motivation and that was not good. I was in time able to find a more positive relationship with exercise. In turn I stopped comparing myself to others and started to accept who I was physically a little more.
It took a long time. But I got there. Even now the BDD has not necessarily gone but like the anxiety, I struggled with I have it under control.
Any mental health condition that is able to change our own perception of ourselves can be very scary. Not being able to trust your senses is distressing enough but to have this altered perception so normalised that we do not even see it is yet more so. In this sense it can be just so difficult not only to live with but also to treat.
If you or if you believe someone you know may be suffering from BDD please do not hesitate in contacting the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation: