Whilst most mental illnesses don't necessarily have obvious outward symptoms, there are some that receive less attention than others. My last article about M.E touched on the profound impact it can have on your relationships, social life and work life, the aspect that makes it harder is the fact that even the people close to you can't fully understand.
This time I want to talk about Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a diagnosed mental illness which affects your perception of the way you look, and how you think others perceive you. It makes sufferers excessively self conscious perceiving their appearance to be in some way flawed compared to others.
Although I do not suffer with BDD myself, a very close friend of mine does and I have seen first-hand the impact that it has on her everyday life. For that reason I decided to interview her in hope of understanding better how the condition affects her. These are the six most important things she told me:
1) It affects you every day
"BDD is not just something that comes and goes like when you're having a fat day or a bad hair day. It is worse some days than others, but it is always there, a nagging little voice telling you that you look awful no matter how much effort you put in. Some days I could sit in front of the mirror for hours crying, redoing my hair and make-up time and time again never happy with it and thinking about what people will think about me."
2) People think I'm rude
"When I am feeling paranoid about the way I look, especially in a social situation, people can think I am being rude or dismissive towards them because my attention is focused on the fact that I think everyone is looking at me. I even start to think that strangers are talking about my hair or my outfit. I have been late or cancelled countless plans with friends because of it. Once it got so bad I stayed in my room for almost a week just crying. People don't understand this, they just think its selfishness or being lazy."
3) It takes a toll on relationships
"My partner finds it hard to understand. He tells me I look nice and doesn't know why I won't believe him. He feels like I should just be able to deal with it but he doesn't understand how the condition works. It has an impact on him because when it gets really bad I will be several hours late to leave the house and sometimes will refuse to go out at all believing that I look too awful to face the world."
4) It's hardest on special occasions
"The times that I find the most difficult are special occasions like birthdays and weddings where there is an expectation on you to look good. On those kind of days I worry about what to wear for a week before hand, and then spend four hours getting ready because I look in the mirror and I hate what I see."
5) I don't believe the compliments
"I know that my BDD stems from being told I wasn't good enough and ugly at a very young age. I try and convince myself every day that it isn't true. I think that people see me and think I'm disgusting. That is genuinely what my brain believes and although I try to challenge it, whenever someone gives me a compliment I don't want to hear it. This can be hard for other people as they see it as me not believing them."
6) It does get easier
"As I get older I find I am starting to feel a little happier with myself. I have had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helped to a point. It started to make me think about challenging the thoughts I thought people were having about me, and realising that they are not necessarily true. I don't know if it will ever fully leave but being more aware of it helps me to see and avoid the triggers that make it worse."
For more information on BDD please visit BDD Foundation