My Struggle With Body Dysmorphic Disorder
It started when I was 17. I had been rejected by a boy who meant a lot to me. He and I became very close, but when I told him how I felt about him (a very vulnerable feeling, I can assure you) he told me he was in love with one of my friends. Why would he reject me? Why would he choose her over me? I was a nice person. I loved the Lord and we shared that in common. Our personalities seemed to click in every way. So, the only answer I could come up with was that I wasn't pretty enough or I wasn't good enough. That's the lie the enemy chose, and it stuck. This lie of "I'm not pretty enough" is incredibly common in today's culture of airbrushed faces and photoshopped bodies. No girl feels pretty against the the media's standard of "beautiful." This is a growing epidemic and it needs to stop. I could rant about this for days but I shall spare you and return to my story.
I let the thought that "I'm not pretty enough" sink into my mind; I turned it over and over again, leaving it to ferment. The words grew uglier, turning into "I'm fat," "No one wants you when you look like that," "You will never find someone to love you unless you lose weight," and finally "I hate you." I used to stand in front of my mirror and stare at the image before me and speak to my body as though it were a separate entity. Cursing it and berating it until I couldn't help but feel like garbage. Every time I looked at at my reflection, I saw something different from the moment before, and though my family reassured me it was all in my mind, I didn't believe them.
Before we go on, I want to share the basic definition of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). It is often an off shoot of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (something I also struggled with in my early teens), it often involves:
- Obsessive and ritualistic behaviors
- Excessive and unrealistic concern with a specific facial feature or body part
- Abnormal behavior around mirrors or other reflecting surfaces. A majority of patients diagnosed with BDD frequently check their appearance in mirrors or spend long periods of time doing so
- Frequent requests for reassurance from others about their appearance
- Frequently comparing one's appearance to others
- Avoiding activities outside the home, including school and social events
You might be thinking, "Oh that's pretty normal behavior for any teenage girl who is feeling a little insecure." It's not. The thing that makes this different from your typical insecurities is the obsessiveness of it. It is on your mind 24/7. It never stops. I would find myself comparing my body to every other girl's body around me. "Oh her waist is half the size of mine." "I wish I had her arms, they are so much skinnier!" "I bet she never has to exercise or diet, she's lucky she's born naturally thin." It consumed me. There were days I didn't want to leave the house or go to school because I didn't want people to see me looking "fat" or "ugly."
My mom would come into my room and often find me curled up in a ball on my floor in front of my mirror sobbing because I couldn't bear what I saw in the reflection. I would run around my house looking in every mirror hoping that each one would somehow provide a miraculously thinner and different me. I hid it from my friends and those close to me because I was ashamed and I figured they would either coddle or belittle me. Even if they reassured me, I would probably think they were lying anyway. I felt no one could understand; I didn't even understand it myself.
One day I heard about BDD and was amazed that my behavior matched almost every symptom. It is often under diagnosed because it can be confused for anorexia or bulimia, however, most people with BDD do not starve themselves for long periods (anorexia) or make themselves vomit (bulimia). Although I attempted both of these, I was never able to follow through. I wrote to a clinic specializing in the disorder and after some time, they confirmed what I already knew: I was a victim of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. They suggested I come to their clinic for treatment, but I knew that I have a great Healer.
I began to call my obsession by it's name: a trick of the enemy, meant to beat me down and tear me apart. This disorder was the fruit of an even deeper root of rejection in my life, and I didn't want to be stuck in it anymore. I threw off the “victim” label and slowly began to fight back. On the days I wanted to hide, I forced myself to face my fears and walk out the door as I read Bible verses over myself of God's love for me. They were precious words that reminded me I was beautifully, and “fearfully and wonderfully made" in His image. How dare I critique what God had so carefully and loving crafted?
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. -Jeremiah 1:5
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you. -Psalm 139: 13-18:
These words are truth and in that dry season were like water to my parched soul. How amazing it is that God speaks love and affirmation to us directly from His Word!
If you find yourself struggling with something similar, here is what helped me get through the worst of days:
Get into the Word.
Scripture is powerful! It is God’s word to us and it brings freedom and truth. As you get into reading the Word every day, and really reading it OVER yourself, you will see a shift in your mentality about yourself (if you need accountability, join our study group on Facebook!). By writing His word on your heart, you won’t be only receiving your own or someone else’s negative opinions, but now those words and thoughts will go through a filter of God’s true opinion of you. Believe me, His opinion is much more powerful and will ultimately lead you to freedom. The truth will set you free, and God’s Word is truth. I want to challenge you to commit 20 minutes every day to spend time with Jesus and see how your perspective changes (if you're unsure how to spend those 20 minutes, check out our 21-day devotional study on living a set apart life which comes with a workbook and Bible study tips!).
I went through around 5000 sticky notes during this time of my life (it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea). I plastered my walls with Scripture and inspirational quotes. I put them up by my bed so that I would always have Scripture to surround and encourage me when I woke up, went to bed at night, or just collapsed on my bed in tears. Invest in sticky notes, the more colorful the better, and start writing out your favorite verses. Writing out the Scripture God gives you will help it sink in even more to your spirit!
When I was struggling, I struggled alone. I chose to bury the pain I was feeling so that I could avoid judgment. I was also ashamed. I shut down and did what I thought I needed to do to protect myself from more pain. Instead, I put myself in solitary confinement. Now, I’m not saying go around and tell everyone about what you are struggling with; but ask the Lord who you can trust to speak to that will hold your confidence while also taking what you tell them to the Lord and praying for you in sincerity.
Get out of bed.
There were so many days where just making myself walk out of the door in the morning to go to school was torture. I just wanted to lie in bed or on the floor and block out the world. The idea of going to school or out with friends was almost inconceivable. But my biggest breakthroughs came when I, sometimes tearfully, asked God to help me walk out the door. He would, and even though I struggled the entire time once I left, I had made that step and taken back ground from the enemy, which, ultimately, was part of the journey towards freedom.
Don’t turn to other loves.
Many times I turned to music, movies, or food to help me block out the pain I was feeling. This is a trap, so don’t do it no matter how tempting it is! Otherwise, you will build walls between you and the only true comfort, the unfailing love of your Heavenly Father. Fight the urge to “escape” through worthless things that only bring you temporary satisfaction and relief. Instead turn to the One who promises to “satisfy the longing soul” (Ps. 107:9).
Now, I’m not saying this is the ultimate fix-all list, I can only share from my own experience. However, the Lord is the ultimate fixer, and He can fix you and your hurting heart if you give Him permission to do so. He will never force Himself upon you, but will wait for the white flag of your surrender and request for His aid.
God has healed me for over a year and a half from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. He has redeemed me. Though there are days when I am not perfect, and the lies still creep in. But rather than being destroyed by them, I use them as an excuse to run to the loving arms of my Father and find the only affirmation I will ever need. I share this story to bring awareness to a little known area in mental health, and to the fact we should never "cope" with a mental disease or just "learn to live with it," but rather know that we can find full and complete healing in the gracious and merciful arms of our Father.