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Looking in the mirror
By Jas, Age 16, West Vancouver, BC

I've had bad days when I didn't like the way I looked - just like most people. But I rarely lost sleep over it and never thought I would develop a full blown disorder.

That is, until my complexion started getting worse. I went to a dermatologist but nothing seemed to work.

The acne made me really self-conscious. I wouldn't go out in public without putting on make-up and I worried what people thought about my appearance. I didn't go swimming because I didn't want my face exposed without make-up. And when I talked to people, I would turn my face certain ways to avoid being seen fully.

My friends always told me that my complexion wasn't that bad, but I thought it was. What's worse, I began to obsess over my weight as well. Even though I was actually underweight, I thought I was fat and gaining weight.

Every time I ate something, I'd feel guilty and worry about the fat and calories in the food. I'd get angry with myself for eating. And I was constantly asking others if they thought I looked fat.

I tried throwing up, but it never worked for me. All I did was gag. I even tried fasting but I'd always give up because I'd get extremely bad headaches from the lack of nutrition.

An avid reader of teen magazines, I believed if I'd didn't have that smooth beautiful face, or had the perfect body, no one would like me, certainly not boys. I kept it hidden from my mom for months. It was easy.

But after four months I knew something was wrong with me but I didn't know what and I was too stubborn to get help. I finally opened up to my best friend who encouraged me to talk with the school nurse if I wasn't going to tell my mom. The nurse talked with me at length about my health and insisted I talk with my doctor and mother. So she set up an appointment with my mom and me. A week later I saw my doctor who talked with me about Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). After talking with my doctor I did some research on my own about BDD. As it turns out, BDD usually begins in adolescence, when the body is undergoing so many changes.

"Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental disorder defined as a preoccupation with a perceived defect(s) in one's appearance," writes British psychiatrist Dr. David Veale. I also went to a counselor. At first I was scared to open up to her, but I soon discovered she was easy to talk to.

She gave me advice about how to retrain my mind to think differently. For example, when I'd start worrying about eating or obsessing about my supposed "defects," she suggested I imagine a stop sign and visualize a really peaceful place.

In addition, I took medication. (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are often used in treating BDD). Both the counseling and the drugs had a huge impact on me.

Today I don't worry about my complexion as much and my weight anxieties are disappearing. Now I have fairly good eating habits and as a result I have more energy to do the things I want to do. When I didn't eat, I would feel sick and get awful headaches.

I still have times when I worry about how I look, but it's not nearly as bad as before. In short, I've realized that there is no one better to be than myself. It seems that the hardest battle to win is the one in which you battle against yourself. I'm happy to say I won mine.

If you think you have BDD, get help. It's the best thing you can do for yourself. I know from experience.


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