by Scott M. Granet, LCSW
Disgusting, ugly, deformed, monster, freak, alien, defective. How many of these words have you used to describe how you feel about yourself and your appearance?
No psychiatric disorder is good to have, but I don’t know any other that so often results in people feeling so awful about themselves. It should come as no surprise then that so many people with BDD also suffer from depression and attempt suicide at a rate that is alarmingly high. We can add to this the extreme disruption in daily functioning and the impact BDD typically has on relationships, school, and work. Simply put, the disorder just takes over. Anyone living with BDD knows that just about everything else in life becomes secondary to the desperate need to look better. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I was 19 and in college when I first developed a fear associated with losing my hair. It didn’t matter that I looked like a 70’s rock star. I was certain that I was going bald and that it was happening quickly. It also didn’t matter that I received a lot of reassurance from family and friends. I was convinced and couldn’t be talked out of it. I developed numerous compulsive behaviors and got by each day by rigidly adhering to them. This was my life — hours each day spent mirror checking and grooming until I felt calm enough to take care of the many other important areas of my life which were often neglected. I just wanted to feel better and the only way I knew how was through my hair.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough for me came when I received a newsletter from a little-known organization — the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation — which had formed just a few years earlier. I’d always found the articles to be interesting reading, though none really seemed to resonate with me. That all changed with this particular newsletter, which had an article about body dysmorphic disorder, a psychiatric illness I had never heard of before. I was already a therapist, yet I never knew there was a name for this tormenting problem I had been living with for years. I showed the article to my family and my psychiatrist, and everyone said the same: “this is you!” It was such a relief to know that this was a real problem and, more importantly, that there was treatment for it. Both medication and therapy specifically tailored for BDD have helped me tremendously to not simply get better, but to flourish.
A lot has changed for me since then, and that little-known organization with the newsletter is now the International OCD Foundation. I have become very active with the IOCDF over the years and consider my long relationship with the organization to have been critical in my recovery. I have given numerous speeches at their annual Conferences, but one stands out above all others. This was many years ago when I was yet again suffering through a bad BDD episode. Although I thought about canceling, I went anyway. I actually did OK, but what I remember most from that day is the reaction of the audience. I thanked them for listening and put my head down for just a second. When I looked up, I saw something completely unexpected: a standing ovation! It was at that moment that I realized that I had come to the right place. Finally, someone understood the pain I was experiencing.
One of the most painful aspects of living with BDD is living in isolation with it, feeling that no one else could possibly understand what it feels like. By visiting this site, reading the BDD articles and watching the videos, you have in fact come to a place where you can feel understood. Whether you’re a frequent visitor to this site or seeing it for the first time, I’m confident that you will discover many helpful resources. We are also constantly updating content, so please do check back frequently.
I wish you all the best throughout your journey to recovery.
Scott M. Granet, LCSW
Author, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Mine and Yours: A Personal and Clinical Perspective