Saturday 26 November 2011


Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

It's very rare for me to publish a post that isn't designed to amuse in someway.

Yesterday I talked a little about how I was feeling right now.

It's not great.

I had some lovely supportive comments (thank you all :) and rather than just crawl away and hide which was my first instinct I decided to face things.  To work through them and to carry on blogging.

As I said yesterday.  There is a temptation to spill my guts on here but the situation I'm in at the moment  isn't an appropriate one to share.

It's ugly.  It involves people that I want to protect so exposing the guilty is not an option however tempting it may be.

It has brought back a post that's been at the back of my mind for quite a while.  Something I've almost shared on more than one occasion.

But it's so far removed from the person I'd like to be perceived as.

So far from the person that I really  AM that I've never written it before.

The truth is, it is a part of me too. It's not what defines me.  It hasn't always been part of me and I'd like to think it wont always be.

But for now it is.

You may or may not have heard of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

It's not particularly widely known.  It's often misdiagnosed or it's kept a secret.

It has many different forms and each person who lives with it experiences it in different ways.

It often becomes apparent in early teens or young adulthood.  It can be triggered by abuse, neglect or life experiences.

It can strike at any age. It can happen for no apparent reason.

As I said, It can have many different forms but I am only going to talk about one of them here.  I don't pretend to be an authority on it and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss any of the other forms it takes.

BDD can manifest itself as a somatoform disorder.

A mental disorder characterized by physical symptoms that suggest physical illness or injury - symptoms that cannot be fully explained by a general medical condition.

This is in no way connected with or should be confused with Munchausen Syndrome wherein those affected feign illness to draw attention to themselves.  This is very real.

So, why am I talking about it?

Well, in the summer of 2009 my marriage ran into difficulties.  It was a hugely stressful time during which I became physically ill.

I suffered a series of kidney infections which were very debilitating.

I also suffered from  arrhythmia (an uneven heartbeat).  At times my heart rate would reach 124 beats per minute and stay like that for several hours, it was exhausting.

My blood pressure was very erratic.  Through 3 pregnancies it had always been stable so this was a cause for concern.

The main concern being that my blood pressure dropped dramatically when I went from sitting to standing.  (the opposite should happen in a healthy person) although it was raised the rest of the time.

I also lost a considerable amount of weight in a very short space of time approx 35lb in just over 2 months.

Over a period of months I underwent many, many tests all proving inconclusive.

I was tested for Addisons disease which can be notoriously hard to diagnose and is still something that can't be completely ruled out.

There was a fear at one point that I had a tumour on my kidney.

I was put onto beta blockers to regulate my heartbeat.

My heart was regularly monitored as the increase in my blood pressure had cause a heart mummer (only previously apparent during pregnancy) to reappear (this has since disappeared again).

I spent several months in a constant state of fear despite having a fantastic GP who did all he could to reassure me and hospital consultants who spent many hours doing everything they possibly could to find out what was going on with my body.

During this time the situation at home deteriorated and I struggled to deal with it all.

Ok, maybe I wasn't dealing with it!

My doctor was keen that I should try anti depressants but I didn't feel they were for me.  I think that was my ignorance showing.  I didn't want to be labeled as depressed.  That wasn't what I was about.  I felt my problems were medical and if we could solve them then I would be able to deal with the stress.

I still resist them although having spoken to many people I sometimes wonder if my own stupid built in prejudices are preventing me from the benefits I have seen other gain.

I can happily discuss the benefits and encourage other to give them a go.

I KNOW they help.  I've seen it with my own eyes.

My doctor then suggested CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as an alternative.  Again, I wasn't keen.  My problems were circumstantial, they weren't a result of an inherent or underlying mental health issue.

I was unhappy because my life was shit basically.

However.  I had to admit that I had a problem when I had an increasing reluctance to have contact with my own body.

The circumstances of my marriage breakup were not nice.  I'd been left feeling physically contaminated.  Unclean.  I had a feeling of self disgust and self loathing.

None of it was my fault but it didn't make any difference.

CBT turned out to be the breakthrough I needed.

After several sessions I felt able to talk about this feeling which was the first time BDD was mentioned and the connection between the physical and emotional symptoms was made.

I'd like to say that having had this recognised  (I hesitate to say diagnosed as it really isn't that simple) that  there was an easy answer to this but that wouldn't be true.

For about year I really struggled with this.

Although apart from a tendency to drop weight very quickly my physical symptoms are all but gone now there has been a lingering psychological affect.

During that time I did form a relationship but it was pretty much doomed due to the BDD.  The physical withdrawal led to a kind of emotional detachment (I'm not explaining that very well).

Anyway, I must have been a complete nightmare.

I feel pretty bad about that.  I think I knew right from the start how it would end.

Funnily enough, earlier this year, I did go on to have a relationship where BDD just didn't signify at all.

I have no idea why but it was never an issue.

It was like it had never existed and so I never mentioned it.

I guess I thought it was somehow miraculously cured and anyway it wasn't something I wanted to talk about. It was all way too weird for me.

I just wanted to be 'normal' again.

The relationship didn't last for other reasons which I was pretty gutted about. But shit happens, I'm dealing with it.

It did however gave me the false hope that BDD had been banished completely from my life.

It hasn't.

Given this 'diagnosis' some people may find it hard to understand how I could have published photos of myself as part of the I heart my body campaign.

To be honest, it wasn't easy. But then I'm not sure that makes me any different to anyone else.

For me it was important part of trying to try to regain the confidence I once had in my body and I found it very empowering to talk about the things I loved about it.

I also found that I could look at the photos quite dispassionately and see that it was an attractive body.  I can SEE it is, I just sometimes struggle to feel it.

BDD doesn't have the hold over me that it did at one time but it hasn't completely gone.

It has stopped me from fully entering into a relationship since then.

I date men.  I LIKE men.  I'm attracted to them.

I flirt, I have fun I can even be physically affectionate but only when I feel safe, only when there is no chance of it progressing any further. Any suggestion of anything more has me running for the hills.

I don't want to hurt anyone else and I'm scared I will.  I'm actually scared I already have ...

Yet at the same time I still feel the emotional detachment.

That doesn't sit well with me.

I CARE about people and so, for now, I've decided that there are other things in my life that should take priority.

I don't know what the answer is.  Maybe one day I'll find someone else where it isn't an issue.

Maybe I won't and I'll have to accept that it's something I live with from now on.

It doesn't affect my day to day life.

But it's not the way I want to be forever.

I'd like a happy ever after someday.

I miss intimacy. I miss sharing. I miss being held.


helloitsgemma said...

Im not sure I can say anything that doesn't sound completely trite.
Personally, I think to have a perspective on your issues is the first huge step - you have that. It's a starting point. There is so so much of this post that shines out as positive.
Somethings take time but most things are fixable.
I really hope things more in the direction you want, in a way that makes you feel secure and safe and happy

Unknown said...

I think it is important for you to talk about these things. Even if you are just getting them off your chest or trying to make sense of it by writing it down. This is a great place to do that, as WE have no place to make suggestions or criticise how you handle things.

Sarah said...

I've often felt the same after reading a post Gemma so thank you, I know it can be a struggle to find words.
You are right though. This isn't all a tale of doom and gloom. This is a part of my life that is mostly over.

The positives are that physically I'm doing ok.

I know why and what the problem is which is a step to solving it.

I did managed to overcome it at one point so it's possible I can again.

If I can't, well, I don't know...
There are other things in my life.

Thanks Melissa Jane - I have to say, this is the FIRST time I've talked about it at all so it may come as a bit of a surprise to anyone that actually knows me who reads this.

I actually removed the post about half an hour after posting it and then reinstated it. For a long time (well, until now) it's kind of been my secret.

It's pretty personal but I think people can often be unaware of the physical impact that emotional trauma can have.

The events of my marriage breakup are no different to thousands of others and I have no idea why it should have had this particular kind of impact on me.

Obviously I'm relived in some ways that the physical symptoms were caused largely by stress rather than the alternatives.

Once I knew that was the case there started to be an almost immediate improvement.

AGuidingLife said...

I'm not entirelly sure what to say except: I here, I read and I'm with you XXXX

pam said...

Once again Sarah, without going into details here, it seems we lead parallel lives and I think you are doing marvellously. Spend some time getting to know yourself and to like yourself without worrying about keeping someone new happy for a while. I hope I'm not overstepping the mark to say that your breakup was relatively recent and it sounds like it was incredibly traumatic and trauma takes a while to recover from.
Find ways to be good to yourself. Try this http://tornadofiles.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-to-cope-with-depression.html
It really helps x

A.K. Knight said...

You are incredibly brave, Sarah M.

I'm sending you a big squishy hug across the ocean.


Sarah said...

Thank you K :) xxx

Thanks Lesley - I knew the first relationship was too soon.

The second - well, I thought it had a good chance.

I know that right now isn't the right time for me however much I would like to be settled and to be able to see the future, however much I sometimes feel like I'm running out of time.

But those aren't good reasons.

Both the person and the timing have to be right and that will be when (or if) it will be.

It surprises me just how long these things take. I kept saying (Del Boy style:) - this time next year Rodders.

Well, here I am 2 years on ... Thanks for the link, I shall pop along :) x

Thanks FC - mostly I'm not brave at all to be honest but I can put on a good front when I need to :) Hug gratefully received (as are they all :) x

Germ Freak Laura said...

As you now know, I grew up in an abusive family. I was always a very sickly child & I still get sick easily which is why I'm such a germ freak! LOL! I wonder if I could have something similar to your condition? I don't know - I just thought I had a crappy immune system! But I've always, always suffered from most severe depressions. Oh well.
Your symptoms sound very much like what my girlfriend suffers from. I was dumbfounded when she recently told me that she's never thought herself attractive. She also hates being touched. This girl is unbelievably GORGEOUS! I'm used to men always gaping at me & I take it for granted that I'm attractive - but when I'm with her, no one notices me - she's THAT beautiful! And she has NO CLUE!!! Wow! Her dad is schizophrenic & wasn't good to her. Not violent like my dad was, but more emotional/psycholgical abuse (which is along the lines of what I got from my mother).
Anyway, thanks for opening up & sharing. It's nice to know there's a "safe" place to go & "talk." It's a cardinal sin in my family to talk about this sort of thing!

Sarah said...

Everyone is different Laura so it's hard to know really.

My problem is fairly recent and specifically related to an episode in my life that had a huge impact on me.

I don't see myself as unattractive it's more about the way I feel.

It's a very complicated issue. Many people have body issues but don't suffer from BDD. Equally, it's possible some people do but it hasn't been recognised.

In my case there was a very significant link between my emotional well being and my physical health. Once that had been identified then my physical health started to improve.

Talking about things is something I've always struggled with. I don't know if it helps me.

There are times it leave me feeling very vulnerable and exposed but at the same time keeping things to yourself can be very lonely.

BDD doesn't define my life and it is something I believe I can overcome in time and with the right person should they come along.

Meanwhile I try to concentrate on the many good things in my life because I know, that in so many ways, I am very lucky.

Unknown said...

Similar to some of the others I don't really know what to say other than I read and think that you are brave to post. My relationship is shaky to say the least at the moment and I'm not sure what would happen if it all ended but like you I temd not to blog about such things - maybe one day. I'm glad to hear you seem to be on the up now and hope that it continues that way x

Sarah said...

Thank you RCM - I am on the up.

To be honest (and everyone is different) I think it's possible that things wouldn't have been quite so bad for me had I been brave enough to end it long before I did.

I surprise myself sometimes with the things I've shared. It's not something that comes naturally to me and I hesitate a lot over it and worry that it's the wrong thing to do.

I'm still undecided to be honest.

I worry how peoples perception of me may change when they know that underneath the slightly scatty, anything can (and usually does) happen exterior there's a little bit of me that's fragile, just a little bit broken ...

Maxabella said...

I think you are wonderful for sharing this. I have learned so much that I have never before encountered from reading blogs and especially a lot about the human spirit. Sharing seems so therapeutic for some. Do you find that writing for others means that you learn more about things yourself? I have found that. I hope writing this post led you to some discoveries about your BDD and its hold on you. You deserve to be happy and live the way you want to. I hope you get there, Sarah. x

Sarah said...

Thanks Maxabella.

I've learned a lot reading other peoples stories too.

Maybe that's what prompted me to share mine.

Is it therapeutic for me?

Yes and no.

Writing it down is but the sharing, I'm not so sure.

This story more than any I've had doubts about.

Does anyone else need to know?

Do I WANT anyone else to know?

If it helps anyone else then yes, of course it's worth it but I don't honestly know if it helps me.

I wish I felt more positive about the sharing experience. After all, it was my choice.

But I still have this urge to say 'this isn't me'!

I'm lots of things. BDD is a small part of me that I will overcome.

I would hate for anyone to look at me and see just that and forget everything else that I am.

Anonymous said...


I have only just seen this post, so please don't think that I had read it and chosen not to comment.

It is difficult to know what to say, but I am of the strong opinion that you and I are so very alike, although we have different issues going on that may make us appear dis-similar in many ways.

All I can say is that although 6,000 miles away, I am here for you. Maybe I can't do much, but I am told I am a good listener and at the very least I can do that for you. I like to think of myself as your friend even though we have never met - and friends are around through good times and bad, no matter what.
You are a truly wonderful person and I value our friendship greatly, so please if you need my help, I am here.

Love you
Lou xxx

Sarah said...

Damn Lou, you have me in tears when I didn't think there were any left!

It's ok though, they aren't the bad kind :)

I value our friendship so very much too and I'm amazed that you have had anytime at all to do any reading given how hectic your life is right now!

Thank you for .. well, for everything xxx