My experience with mental illness officially started in September 2012 when I was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder characterized by an obsession with my facial skin. I spent the majority of my diagnosis numbed by medication but I remember looking in the mirror and seeing severe acne and acne scarring that no one else could see and feeling so frustrated and alone in my experience. During my diagnosis I spent hours in front of the mirror picking at acne that did not exist, unable to pull myself away from the mirror. When I did pull myself away, I spent the rest of my time curled up beneath a blanket researching plastic surgery options that would correct the scars I believed I had.
After realizing no one could see what I saw and that I could no longer trust my own brain, I felt painfully alone and fell into a deep depression. During this time, I did everything I could to keep my skin hidden from others and purposely avoided sunlight to avoid emphasizing my perceived scarring. This isolation caused me to lose a lot of weight, end my long-term relationship, drop out of my third year of university, stop engaging with friends and miss out on so many special occasions and family celebrations.
I can only describe the pain of this time as numbness to the world. There were many moments where I prayed to die because I wasn’t able to enjoy the things that made life worth living for. I couldn’t go out in public without fear someone would be uncomfortable with my appearance, I couldn’t maintain friendships, stomach food or focus on school. I couldn’t even watch television without obsessing over the actor’s clear skin. I stopped living. I barely even existed.
I decided to write this article to first remind people that body image disorders reach far beyond eating disorders and second to share what helped me to crawl out of the darkness.
One day in counseling my psychologist asked me who my best friend was and then asked me to write the top five things I loved about my best friend. Of course this was easy, my best friend was kind, outgoing, funny, passionate, hardworking, adventurous, loving, family oriented, supportive and confident. After listing the things I loved about my best friend the counselor had me read them again, and again and again. After the third time reading through the list, my counselor said: “do you realize you just wrote ten things you love about your best friend, and not once did you mention the way she looked?”