There’s a condition that’s quite similar (and maybe even related) to hypochondria and it’s one that I and few others I know suffer from. It’s called Body Dysmorphia, or as doctors would refer to it, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
In short, BDD is a mental illness involving an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. The flaw(s) may be minor or imagined by the person dealing with this condition and they may spend multiple hours a day trying to fix it. Some may even resort to cosmetic procedures or exercise to excess to deal with it. And lastly, a few other common traits for individuals with this disorder is to frequently examine their appearance in a mirror, constantly comparing their own looks to that of another, and a tendency to avoid social situations or having their picture taken.
Currently it’s estimated that 1 out of every 50 people have this condition where treatment for them is generally through therapy and the use of medication like anti-depressants. While I’m currently using multiple visits a week to a therapist to handle this condition, I have continued to avoid the use of any medications due to the over-sensitivity I have to most drugs, i.e. terrible side effects. Instead, I have been utilizing holistic modalities to treat it. Unfortunately, that decision does have a consequence in that I have many-a-days where this disorder has gotten the best of me.
Here are a just some of the ways of what that looks like (when this condition may get the best of me):
- Seeing myself as overweight, especially in the love handle and belly button regions, even though I’m 6’5” and currently weight in around 172 pounds.
- Seeing pimples, aging spots, sun spots, and any type of skin blemish in general as grossly exaggerated, where I find myself doing whatever I can to remove them, often causing myself small wounds in the process.
- Nose appearing hugely out of proportion to the rest of my face, especially when I look at my side profile.
- Regularly heading into bathrooms wherever I am, solely to stare in the mirror, where I often find myself critiquing the way I look.
- Pushing myself to overexertion at times solely to keep an image up.
- Freaking out when anyone touches my face or neck usually because my brain thinks it will cause me to break out.
- Becoming overly anxious when an accident causes a wound to my face or neck.
- Seeing things on my skin that no one else sees and picking at them as a result.
- Asking people if they see certain things on me when it comes to my image.
- Frequently thinking and worrying throughout much of the day about what other people may be thinking of the things I don’t like in my appearance.
While many might think that the majority of these are the same as being self-obsessed, it’s really not. Individuals like me who deal with BDD usually feel more ashamed about our appearance, rather than loving and glorifying in it. In other words, it’s not a vanity thing, it’s a mental illness and honestly, it sucks for any of us who have to deal with it because it regularly robs us of ever being fully present wherever we are.
In light of that, I have been wondering a lot lately if this condition may have gotten passed on to me by my parents who too demonstrated some of its negative behaviors. I also remember my mother constantly putting pressure on me when it came to looks, like being forced to place medicated cremes and ointments on my face any time a pimple showed up on it. And now, living in a world where looks seem to be more important than anything, especially in the gay culture, makes my obsessiveness with this condition all the worse.
Nevertheless, BDD has been besting me more than not lately and caused me plenty of shame. I have been picking at my skin more than ever, some of which is also out of sheer frustration with where my life is at given all the health conditions I’ve been going through in recent years. Sometimes I think that if I was totally blemish free that my other health issues wouldn’t matter as much, but I know that’s just an illusion and part of what this condition wants me to believe.
A close friend of mine who also deals with this condition would probably agree with all the points I’ve raised so far when it comes to BDD. The only difference between them and I is that they finally opted to get on one of the medications used to treat this condition just recently. And while it has helped them curb much of those obsessive behaviors that come from this disorder, they’ve told me it’s also stunted much of their ability to feel, be compassionate, and creative, all of which I personally discovered myself any time I ever attempted to use them in the past to curb my own obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
So, instead, I do my best to pray every day, meditate, and seek more holistic ways to help with this disorder, but still struggle to be present more than not because the obsessive thinking and compulsive actions that often play themselves out throughout my days.
Do I believe that this will always be this way though? No. And I say that because I am working on some things in life that I feel have brought this condition to the surface more than ever before. You see, my identity as a human being, my worth, and my purpose are all a big question mark right now in life, given I am not able to work or bring in any type of income at the present time. Nor am I able to be the all-around athlete I once was in my free time. And with my sole worth for most of my life being based upon status, position, income, and personal abilities, I look at myself now and think the only thing that I may have left of worth is my looks, which is why I believe this condition has arisen so much in the past three years.
Regardless, I have faith in God that I am working through this and will find total healing from it, but I must continue to remember that disorders like BDD take time and patience to work through, require surrounding myself with unconditional loving support, and keeping myself busy in activities that don’t involve staring at myself in the mirror and critiquing all that I see…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson