Updated: Mar 17
It seems the norm for most women (and even men) to have body issues. We're bombarded from the media about ideas of what beauty is and what's it's supposed to look like. Beauty is for the young, not the old. It's for the slender, not the curvy. It's for the light skinned, never the dark. It's for the tall, never the short .... and so on. On top of the media, we have our very own peers and family, who suffer from their own body issues and insecurities and project that on to us. (and to be fair, have we done that ourselves to others around us?)
As a follow up to our blog about one client's journey with body dysmorphic disorder, we asked Chrissie if she'd be willing to answer some questions, so others can read, in her words, what her journey has been like, what are things she wanted to hear along the way, and what she wants others to hear who may be dealing with similar issues.
1. We all grow up, particularly young girls, feeling self conscious of our looks and bodies. At what age did something trigger BDD? And do you know what that was?
I didn't know there was a term for what I felt. The title came much later. I remember, as a kid around 8, I would get called names. By peers. By family members. I started becoming very self conscious of how I looked. I would obsess in the mirror about all of the things I wanted to change. Those "flaws" began to become amplified as I got older.
2. Is BDD purely physical or is it also a result of emotional trauma?
I believe it to be completely caused by mental and emotional trauma. It actually has nothing to do with the physical reality at all. Only how the person perceives it.
3. What is the worst thing someone could say to someone who has BDD?
"Oh stop. You look fine." It's not a mental state where hearing this helps. It only sounds as though the person is blowing off a very real, very serious issue.
4. How can friends / family help someone with BDD?
Speak the them. Try to be understanding and not frustrated. Never invalidate their thoughts, but don't play into them either. Suggesting therapy is always a good idea. I've never met a single person that could not benefit from speaking to a completely neutral party who will help the person learn about themselves.
5. You mentioned having a procedure done due to the erosion of your esophogus that resulted in your weight loss. What was this procedure?
October 30, 2017 I had Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass. That surgery completely detaches the stomach and creates a pouch where ingested food goes prior to mixing with stomach acid. I had horrific reflux. Almost every night, even when sleeping on a wedge, I would wake up with acid pouring out of my nose and mouth. It was found after a 24 hour monitor that, without meds, my stomach never went about a 1.4 acidity (bad). Due to years of this I began developing a weakened esophagus to the point it was so eroded it eventually would collapse. My vocal chords, my teeth both had damage too. I was overweight, at 238lbs, so the surgery was sort of a "fix-all".
6. What has been the reaction by others to your significant weight loss? How did their reaction affect you?
I get congratulated a lot. I used to think why when I didn't do anything except have a surgery. It's so much more. It's a complete lifestyle change. Now, I thank them. The work HAS been difficult, just as any other diet change is.
7. How did you initially feel about your weight loss? What is psychologically difficult?
I'm proud that I was able to stick to the regimen I was given. I never was able to before. Psychologically I do still feel that it's unfathomable to weigh what I do. I know it's me, and I love me, but I'm still getting used to looking and feeling different.
8. What was the hardest thing about living with BDD?
Not allowing myself to go places. There are times that I would get ready to go to a store, get there and not be able to get out of the car. So I'd just go back home. This happened a lot. Sometimes I wouldn't make it out of the house. Mirror dodging was hard too. I avoided them since I was a kid. One small view of my reflection would cause me to not leave the house for, sometimes, days.
9. What sort of mental tortures did you put yourself through while dealing with BDD?
Judgment. Constant judgment. I felt like it was just part of my life I'd just always have to deal with. I worked around it, not vice versa. I'd obsess over being seen by others. Anyone. I felt like a monster that should never be seen. This was every single day.
10. How did BDD affect your family?
Mostly they blew it off. They really never learned too much about it. I got eyerolls. I got frustrated. I got the "oh you're fine". What I didn't get was support. Maybe it made them uncomfortable. Lack of knowledge about anything will do that. They chose not to learn. The person it affected most was my son. He was too young to understand why I canceled taking him places because I (mentally) couldn't leave the house.
11. What is a normal day like for someone suffering from BDD?
A "normal" day is filled with constant guilt. Guilt that I'm a burden on others. Guilt that I hated myself. Getting ready was difficult. I was only able to look at half of myself in a mirror. I'd move over only fair enough to see my right side, close my eyes and slide over to see the left. I did that for decades. I never looked straight into one.
12. How did BDD affect your daily life?
Leaving the house, most days, was a struggle. I would try to get ready to go, I'd stop and say "I'm not going". The thought that no one should have to see the monster I felt like caused me to constantly be late to things or cancel. I was late to work a lot because of this.
13. What is the one thing you really wanted to hear while living with BDD? Or is there even anything that would've made a difference?
Honestly, anything I was told I would not have believed at that time. I would only believe the negative as it reaffirmed what I already thought about myself. Unfortunately nothing that I can think of could've been said that would have helped. Not even "I understand. I have it too." In my mind I would've assumed they were lying to make me feel better which, in turn, only made me feel worse.
14. What is the one thing we've not covered that you want people to know about those who suffer from BDD?
It IS beatable. It is not something that you have to live with for your entire life. While thoughts may creep back in periodically, after learning ways to cope with those thoughts stop them in their tracks. Without therapy and learning how to spin the negative into positives I would never be able to stifle that inner voice. It's a long, difficult process, but BDD isn't a life sentence.
15. What do you want to tell others who may be reading this that also suffer from BDD?
Please know that you CAN overcome this. Cognitive therapy is absolutely essential. It won't happen overnight. It will be an uphill battle for a significant amount of time, BUT it IS doable. I've done it. You're not as weak minded as you may feel. YOU own your mind. BDD is an unwanted intruder. Stay strong and tell it to fuck off!
16. What do you want to tell people who think your procedure was the "easy way out"?
I can assure you it isn't. Besides having to completely change your lifestyle to accommodate your new physical changes, mentally it's difficult to alter habits to fit this lifestyle. Even without surgery, diets, the way they're normally talked about, don't exist. It's all a lifestyle change. Unfortunately with the surgery there comes long term complications. For me it's being malnourished. My "stomach" doesn't absorb nutrients like it should so I have to get infusions, take supplements, I lose hair. I tend to be susceptible to ulcers now. I get horrible cysts in the extra skin so, medically, I have to have it removed in sections which are 3 more surgeries. The decision to get the surgery was not an easy one. I knew the side effects but decided, long term, it was the best choice for my issues.
Added note from Chrissie: I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has read my story. This is my life and I'm glad I was able to share it with you. Whether you gain something from it or not it is a way for me to open up to the world; fully, honestly and with complete transparency. So again, thank you.
In close, please be kind to others. We appreciate when kindness is extended to us, others appreciate the same. Every human alive has private sufferings, little things that gnaw at them, some small, some big, but they still affect us. Kindess from others goes a long, long way. Just be kind. So simple, yet so seemingly difficult for so many to do and to be.