Written by IOCDF Advocate, Krista Reed, LSCSW. Learn more about our advocate program.
For more information about Body Dysmorphic Disorder and treatment, please visit the International OCD Foundation's Body Dysmorphic Disorder website.
Welcome to my unfinished journey towards recovery. I am calling this new chapter, “What?!? ANOTHER Diagnosis?!?” Granted, I have known about this one for years, yet denial is just such a prettier picture than adding a diagnosis to my already full resume of medical challenges. What is the new one you might ask? Let’s slow down with this one a bit before I disclose this too early. I must draw suspense for the audience after all!
I remember it like it was yesterday. A photo of me when I was 17 years old at a summer program to help me learn about government. I was dancing with the other girls on the dorm room floor with my shirt tied up showing off my 17-year-old abs. Never did I think much about that area until that moment. “You are so skinny!” “You are in great shape!” “Wow, what a perfect stomach you have!” That was it. It was like I was injected with a strong drug for the first time and there was no turning back. From that moment on, a new obsession arose. My stomach had to be muscular and have the perfect obliques.
From diet pills to laxatives, and catchy “get fit quick” schemes, I had done it all. Sometimes it would take me 20-30 minutes to find an outfit that best “fit” me and did not show off my “flawed” area. Other times, I would find myself canceling plans, or even calling in “sick” because I did not, and truly felt, like I could not, be seen in public with such a “disgusting” stomach. I must admit, I had gotten good at covering my tracks and not allowing anyone, including my husband, to know about these thoughts or behaviors—or so I thought. The shame of having this obsession combined with my actions of avoiding and truly dealing with the obsession was bleeding into my marriage causing complications. I eventually had to share my thoughts with my husband of 13 years and uncover the truth about my struggles.
Well, now I am 38 (turning 39 next week), and yet I still found myself having those same thoughts—checking my stomach 200+ times a day in a mirror, while knowing deep down that the checking was not going to go away on its own. I had avoided going to a therapist for this specific issue for a while. I know what the work is and how this diagnosis is treated, and quite frankly, I did not want to do it, but I know I need to. I have done hard things already and am in recovery with other mental and physical challenges in my world; however, this one area seems particularly tricky. This one just feels more real than any other intrusive thoughts I have felt.
Self-compassion is an area that I feel very passionate about in my own practice as a Mental Health Clinician. Having this new diagnosis is a reminder of the space that is held in my office with my clients and a reminder for the additional need to check in with myself and ask, "How am I today?" My needs are not to be swept under the rug simply because I am treating those with a similar condition. I am not above anyone, and it is ok for me, a trained therapist, to not be ok. Even the famous physiologist, Carl Jung, believed that the healer can be effective upon being wounded.
So, what does relearning mean in this new chapter in my life? I am relearning what it is like to be a client and to start all over again. Vulnerability is both my friend and enemy. (Is the term “frenemy” relevant here?). I am relearning that it is healthy to receive the space from others that I give to my own clients. I am relearning that I am not alone. More and more people are diagnosed daily and processing in a similar fashion as I am, no matter their age, gender, race, or education. I am, furthermore, relearning, that I will continue to learn and relearn. This is only the beginning of this new chapter; it is not the end of my story.
Although this journey into Body Dysmorphic Disorder (give yourself a pat on the back if you guessed this one correctly!) is a tough one, I am willing to learn, grow, and heal. There is so much more to me than my disorders. I am a therapist. I am a daughter. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a friend. I am human.
If you are in a crisis, or you are ever feeling suicidal or unsafe, please go to your local emergency room, or call 911 or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing “988” (you can also access online at www.988lifeline.org.)