When I was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) a couple of years ago, I kind of ignored it. Just...slid it to the side. I was already struggling with depression and anxiety, and who needs another diagnosis?
While I previously managed my mental health symptoms with medication, for a few years now I have coped via my strong support network and simply keeping busy. So busy in fact, that I aim not to have time to dwell too much on my mental health. Following the swell of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown, everyone’s lives ground to a halt. Suddenly I was bricked in, with nothing to distract me from the negative self-talk that is usually quietened by to-do lists, commutes across the city, a party – anything to stop me looking inward.
Within a couple of weeks, I’d lost the self-confidence I’d slowly started to build. Like a house of cards, it collapsed and I slipped into bad habits, including constant body-checking and wondering, if I could break my nose - would they reset it nicely?
The body-focused narrative in the media didn’t help. Remember that virtual model of what ‘we will all look like’ in 25 years if we carry on working from home? While the health advice of the ‘fitness experts’ and psychologists behind the model may carry some weight, the visual representation of the model did nothing but panic me, making my anxieties worse.
Additionally, I’m sure we’ve all noticed the fat-phobic narrative that has been a common thread throughout the pandemic: The Corona Stone, The Quarantine Fifteen. It’s not surprising then, that as soon as my gym shut down I began working out obsessively at home, checking my weight multiple times per day. Ironically, I haven’t put on any weight since the beginning of lockdown, but my perception of my body is at an all-time low. That’s what happens when you have BDD, it warps things. I do not see what you see.
In what appears to be a contradiction, it could be considered that those who suffer with BDD would consider lockdown and isolation to be a positive thing; a way to relax and avoid the worry of being under the gaze of others seeing their perceived flaws. However, BDD involves persistent and recurrent obsession-like thoughts that are distressing and often uncontrollable - and I found that having the ‘gift’ of time was a breeding ground for obsession.
At the time of writing, approximately 0.5-0.7% of the UK population have BDD, which equates to around 5 out of every 1000 people. My research led me to speak with Dr Galyna Selezneva, trained Psychiatrist and specialist in non-invasive aesthetic procedures. "We’re all staying home and out of sight of other people, and yet for many, BDD and body dissatisfaction are more intense than ever.”
Dr Selezneva admits that people with predisposed BDD are likely to struggle more due to overall raised anxiety during this period. Continuing to have virtual consultations with her patients during lockdown, Dr Selezneva says she is “staggered” to see the effect isolation has on the perception of people’s bodies. “Having more time on our hands, boredom and social isolation doesn’t help the matter,” she says.
It was after a particularly difficult day of isolation - weighing myself, constant mirror-checking and poking at ‘blemishes’ on my face until they bled - that I realised that this was the worst and lowest I had ever felt about myself and I needed to do something about it. I was sick of being sick. No longer wanting to put myself under the strain of dealing with myself, and my poor fiancé under the burden of my constant need for validation, I called the out-of-hours doctor, who arranged a call-back from a BDD specialist.
I am now undertaking specialised, trauma-based treatment to manage my symptoms and to gain the tools I need to live in my own skin. I wish I’d asked for help sooner, as lockdown showed me that I cannot ignore my BDD. I know the journey is going to be long and difficult but I owe it to past, present and future me to try my best.
If isolation and lockdown is affecting the way you are feeling about yourself, please contact your GP, or the BDD Foundation for support.
Written by Ella Delancey