Body Dysmorphic Disorder
The British love summer. As spring (sort of) comes along, everyone's mood seems to become determined by the weather. Now I'm not denying that London looks damn fine in the summer (though I'm not keen on the mugginess), but for many years now, waking up to the sunshine doesn't fill me with positive energy. It fills me, reluctantly so, with fear. My mood is just as susceptible to the weather as everyone else, but perhaps in opposite ways due to (mild in comparison to my past experiences) body dysmorphic disorder.
Some of you may have read in the past that I recovered from an 11 year eating disorder a couple of years back. Like many with eating disorders, mine came with cripplingly low self-esteem and elements of body dysmorphic disorder. Since a child I have had different obsessions with various areas of my body and would go to extreme lengths, especially when I was young, to change these (think tying a dressing gown cord around your head to pin your ears back or using duct tape to clear out pores). These days, I like to think of myself as 'recovered' and really, I think I am, at least when it comes to my relationship with food. But as many therapists and books have told me, my eating disorder will be something that I may have challenges with on and off throughout my life. And in fact, I think it's something that challenges me on and off through the seasons.
Generally, most of the year, on our cloudy island, I can feel comfortable and safe, hidden behind my oversized t-shirts, without my pale flesh on display and without going to events that require me to dress up or be on 'display'. Without noticing (okay, maybe with a little noticing) I have designed a social life that allows me to eat normally and not worry about the colour of my skin or the shape of my body, by avoiding social situations that would make me feel uncomfortable with those things, like a party, for example. I don't think about it too much, but it's a sad fact that if I get a spontaneous invite to a party, a spa weekend or a last minute holiday, I'll decline because I haven't had several weeks to prepare.
When the sun comes out, weddings, christenings, out door events, hot weather and less clothes happen. Whilst everyone is excited and looking forward to socialising in the sun, I'm panicking about the fact that I'm so pale my skin reflects the sunlight and am wondering how quickly I can lose weight.
The ironic thing is, I'm the kind of person, I guess because of my own experiences, who has no problem with different body shapes, skin tones, etc, etc. Yet tomorrow, I have my brother's wedding and it has forced me to once again look in the mirror and ask - am I really okay? And also ask a question that I'm not sure I have the answer to yet... when does self-care and pampering become controlling, obsessive and harmful?
When I go to a wedding, I don't analyse the size of people's arms from various angles, or their skin tone in the sun, or their pore size, or how many wrinkles they have on their right eye. They're a person - a whole person, and when they're in front of me I just accept them as that person and I don't see all these individual pieces that I see so acutely and judge so harshly on myself.
Today I am off work - yes to catch up on blogging before I go away, but mainly so I can fit in a big enough work out on my arms to hopefully reduce the way they round outwards when you look at me head on, also so I can wear three different face masks - an AHA deep cleanse, an AHA face peel for skin pigmentation, a radiance glow mask, followed by fake tan. Prior to the masks, I exfoliated and used a pore nose strip, dyed my eyebrows, my lashes, shaved and treated my hair. I'll fake tan again later on tonight, will do my nails, sleep with treatments on and wake up extra early to spend three hours getting ready.
In addition, I applied those three above masks to my chest - which is my current obsession. Since last autumn, I've been suffering with some mild chest and back acne, which I think is hormonal related as I had it as a teen and it seems to follow my cycle. I've been trying everything to get rid of this damn acne, and it would look a whole heap better and would probably disappear quicker if I just stopped picking, but of course, being the obsessive person that I am, I just can't leave even the tiniest pimple alone. So a couple under the skin spots on my chest become a couple big scabs, which take weeks to disappear and then leave pigmentation marks on my chest, and so I've spent the past 6 - 8 months hiding under high neck clothing, as new spots appear and new picking ensues.
My panic zone now is that my dress for the wedding is low cut and strappy and my chest is on display, and my arms are out and I'm freaking about what everyone will think about these pigmentation dots on my chest and whether they'll think I look like I could do with cutting some of that arm fat off. If, for some reason, you see some photos (which I doubt because I hate photos) I think you'll probably ask "What the hell is she talking about?" because really, I know I'm lucky. I know the acne is mild and I know that the scars are faint and I know I am slim and that other people struggle with weight issues much more than I do. But my god, the mental anguish around these issues are real, even if the reality of them is not.
Whilst I think pampering is lovely, and important, and is about feeling good about yourself, and whilst I think it's normal to want to reduce some acne scars and I'm sure many people have hang ups about their arms too, I don't think the degree to which I panic, and worry is okay. If I was doing this prep work all from a place of self-love, as self-care and pampering, it would be different. It's natural to want to feel good about ourselves. But I know deep down, this isn't really about self-care and self-love. This goes back to my age-old obsession with perfection, this desire to be perfect for everyone - for everyone to see me and approve of how I look. And it's bloody hard to change.
This isn't necessarily a piece that's going to provide answers, like my post on living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it's more confessional. I don't want this blog to look at endometriosis as this one dimensional condition that only affects our periods - it's all so interlinked and we're all so complicated. The hormonal acne and strange skin flare ups I get around my period, trigger my self-esteem and obsessive behaviours. And on the flip side, how is my attitude to myself and my appearance, affecting my approach to self-care and self-love when it comes to endometriosis? We are complex creatures, and I am in particular, a very complex human with many layers to my mental and physical health, so my life with endometriosis isn't just about navigating life with endometriosis alone.
I'm talking about this today because it's on my mind - but I want to reassure you that I'm okay and I'll continue to recover. Years ago, these behaviours were debilitating, left me under weight, hungry and suicidal. Now they're obsessions that get me from time to time, but I have strategies that are helping me to deal with them.
This is a long - sometimes painful, sometimes challenging - road to finding love and acceptance inside of myself, but I'm walking my way down it. Chest acne, pale skin, endometriosis and all.
I'll be writing a Part 2 to this entry post-wedding, to talk about the ways in which I've managed these thoughts and behaviours, but I thought maybe that would be too much for one post!