Meet My Darkness - Body Dysmorphia
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
We all have our own darkness; demons that perch on our shoulder and speak into existence a new complex for us to excessively brood over. For some people it’s a feeling of worthlessness, for others it’s an overwhelming amount of anxiety when placed in social situations, and some people have a cloud of mixed ideations and impulsive feelings scattering obstacles that feel impossible to overcome.
There is not one trauma that outweighs another, no matter how it presents in a person’s life, and no matter how much or how little effort and energy it takes to overcome or live with. One person’s darkness is not superior to another’s. When somebody expresses that they’ve been through more than somebody else has, or that one person’s challenges with depression aren’t as severe or as debilitating as another’s, that is the ego crying out to be acknowledged. The darkness does not compete, it merely consumes; it consumes happiness, energy, hopes, dreams, cognitive function, self-love and then some. It consumes what it can from the mind, body and soul.
One aspect of my own darkness is living with Body Dysmorphia. From my own experience, Body Dysmorphia (also known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder) is an intense anxiety that propels you to fixate on one or more aspect of your physical appearance. It brings on feelings of shame, embarrassment, worthlessness and dread. When you fixate on certain aspects of your appearance, they likely appear so petite to other people, and some people might not even notice them – but you do.
I’m compelled to say that I was eleven when I first started to fixate on my appearance. I recall sitting in front of the television as a child, totally engrossed in whatever was on at the time – more than likely Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Charmed, since I was obsessed with those shows. The comment that I feel started this journey – or at least accelerated it – was when my sister said, “move your big head”. Those four words echoed through my mind, and I remember holding onto them and mulling over them. When I looked in the mirror to style my hair, I imagined my head as this huge centrepiece of my body. As if it was this visibly unnecessary annoyance. It became an everyday ritual for me to fixate on the size of my head when I was styling my hair and to see what I could do to make it look smaller – but there it was; a strong feeling of anxiety that I started to carry with me.
When I was a teenager I developed acne, as a lot of people do during their teenage years, but it was another fixation of mine that I couldn’t rid myself of. What made it worse was that I was already a target for bullying at my high school, and my journey with acne became ammo to make me a greater target. I was likened to having a “pizza face” and compared to other boys at school who also had acne. I remember trying to disguise my blemishes with my mother’s make up, but it only made my skin more irritated, and it made me even more of a target at my school. I saw a dermatologist about my skin and was prescribed medication and cream for my acne, but a side effect of the medication was dry skin – and my face snowed.
When I reached the age of twenty-something, my skin started to get better, but I had already started to fixate on something else that I still excessively worry over to this day - my weight. The only “why” as to why I started to fixate on my weight, was because when I looked in the mirror, I saw a disproportioned and oddly overweight person. I don’t recall a trigger for my journey with my weight, but do you need a trigger with Body Dysmorphia? I used to beat myself up when I observed that I didn’t fall into the stereotypical overweight bracket. I was invalidating my own experience, and I was also feeding into toxic stereotypes. It didn’t stop me from being consumed by my anxiety about the way that I looked, it just made me feel like a bad person.
"Broken Up Memories" by Helena Wierzbicki.
(I was looking for an illustration to add to this post, and I came across this beautiful statement of art called "Broken Up Memories" by Helena Wierzbicki. Writing this, I feel vulnerable and exposed, and as I admire this artwork, that's exactly how I feel receptively.)
The only way I can describe what I saw staring back at me in the mirror, is that it was like looking into a distorted mirror that you see at carnivals. My face, chin, stomach and legs all looked out of shape and huge compared to the rest of my body. The longer I looked, the uglier I became. The more I monitored my weight, the more monstrous I started to feel. When I expressed my feelings to people, I was met with comments about my peers being larger than me so how could I be overweight? I wasn’t trying to steal the spotlight from their experiences. I wanted to hide from it and hide from the world in general. I didn’t want to stand out at all, but I did want people to confide in.
As my feelings regarding my weight grew more intense, so did my relationship with food. I switched from eating smaller portions of food to completely skipping meals. I would buy myself chocolate, biscuits or cake bars as a treat and then throw them in the bin when I wanted to eat them. Yet there were times when all I wanted to do was eat, and that’s exactly what I did. I would eat whatever I wanted, and would I feel guilty while I ate? Absolutely. I recall one day in particular when, with each mouthful of pasta I consumed, the word “fat” spiralled through my head. So, once I’d pigged out, I'd start skipping meals again or having smaller portions of food. I decided that I didn’t need lunch, as breakfast was enough. I wouldn’t eat at night, because my metabolism would slow down, and I’d only put on more weight. The cycle I was caught in was ruthless.
This journey that I was absorbed in became the fuel of the fire that burned the bridge between myself and my ex-partner some years ago. I became a toxic person, because I was so sure that people only spent time with me out of pity because of how ugly I was, and that anybody romantically involved with me was also staying with me out of pity. I just couldn’t comprehend how anybody could find me remotely attractive, or even “average”. When that bridge had burned, I knew that there was something inside of me that I had to work on.
I then spent three years without being involved with anybody romantically, and for most of those three years, I stayed in the four walls of my home and devoted a lot of my time to spiritual education. I’m not referring to religion in any way, whatsoever. What I am referring to is going within myself and facing my shadow; sitting in my darkness and beginning to understand that it was okay to feel the way that I did, and the way that I still do. I learned about turning darkness into light and letting my emotions flow through me and allowing them to guide me to a greater understanding of what I was experiencing. Something that I became aware of within myself was that my time on this planet would greatly reflect on self-love, on embracing my darkness and turning pain into power. I understood that it would be part of my journey to help other people facing similar challenges.
I still have so many days where I look in the mirror and I see a monster; days where I will refer to myself as a thing, and not a person. I forgive myself for that. I’ll continue to forgive myself for that for as long as I feel that way. I’m still unlearning every lie that the media told me and a large portion of what the society that we live in has projected into my mind, and I’m learning to be my own kind of beautiful.
Note: I sought treatment for Body Dysmorphia and didn’t meet the age bracket for one well known mental wellbeing organisation. They referred me to another organisation who, after an initial assessment, expressed that they didn’t feel their support was necessary as I was already aware of what I was experiencing and that their help wouldn’t be needed. They reminded me that I hadn’t expressed suicidal ideation, thoughts of self-harm or other impulsive urges. That fell under their reasoning for not supporting me.
If me acknowledging my own darkness and communicating what I can comprehend of it – and sometimes what I can’t comprehend - and putting it out there to reach out to and relate to others is what’s going to push me to shine my light, then I will sit in my darkness and face the aspects of myself that are the hardest to accept.
There’s no expiry date for challenges of the mind. It’s an ongoing journey, and every feeling that we express is valid. Whether we’re in peril, or we’re doing better, everything that we feel and that we experience matters.