My battle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder

 

I suffer from severe Body Dysmorphic disorder as a teenager thinking I am the ugliest person in the world and want to have extensive plastic surgery to change my face and body

At the worst point of my Body Dysmorphic Disorder, my first year at Oxford University, I thought that I was the ugliest person in the world, in fact the ugliest person who had ever existed. I thought the Elephant Man was Helen of Troy compared to me. No ships would be setting sail because of my face. They’d stay in port until they rusted away and were scrapped. I also decided the sun was my “enemy” as if I went out in daylight it would show everyone how ugly I was. Consequently I was rarely seen before 6pm. I was very active at 4am in the morning, when no one was around, and would sprint up and down the empty library practising for the Olympics 100m hurdle.

The BDD had started in my early teens because my father started to say I was ugly. The first time I remember him saying I was ugly was when I was 7 or 8. My mother said, of my cousin Miranda my father’s niece, “Miranda is very plain.”  He looked straight at me and said: “well at least she’s only plain.” When I confronted my father about this in family therapy in 2015 he said he had been saying my mother was ugly. But I looked much more like my mother than him, if she was ugly so was I.

Then a disaster happened with my self-esteem when my father left my short black Jamaican mother,  when I was 12, to live with a tall blonde blue eyed Swedish woman who looked like a movie star.  I had been much closer to my father, who had been my main carer, than my mother who had been out of the house 6 days a week and who I had a very difficult relationship with. I had always prayed that I would never be left alone with my mother. But that was exactly what happened and it was worse than I could possibly have imagined.

After his departure my father started to rubbish my academic achievements saying it was “boring” that I had come top of the class at secondary school. He would also sit around with his white girlfriend taking the piss out of Jamaicans and saying it was important to realise that black people were different as they had a “different pelvis shape.” He began to say that I was out of proportion, that my head was too big and my legs too short. I felt totally rejected. When I got into Oxford University at the age of 16 he said “that’s all very well but why don’t you just grow.”   This precipitated a crisis where I became obsessed with having an operation to extend my legs, suitable only for dwarfs, which would have meant I would have been unable to walk for a year and could have had my legs amputated.  This was after my father had carted me round various doctors who could make me grow who all I said I was too old to be prescribed growth hormones. This was lucky as many people who were prescribed growth hormones in the 1980s, which had been taken from the pituitary glands of corpses, went on to develop the horrendous and fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of Mad Cow Disease.

My mother was incredibly abusive to me after my father left home, telling me quite calmly that she was going to put a contract out on him and that I was “just like him” and wasn’t even her daughter. She called me a “selfish bitch” when I was 13 and asked why I didn’t go and live with my father. I asked him if I could go and live with him but he said no.  She kept trying to throw me out of the house, because I was untidy, taking me to a solicitors office to evict me at the age of 15. The solicitor said that I could not be evicted at that age but the threat of being thrown out on the street was ever present.  All this influenced the Body Dysmorphic Disorder as, with such a terrible relationship with her, I probably didn’t want to look anything like her.  I became obsessed with having multiple operations to change my face as well as my body.   Every time I saw my face in the mirror I wanted to scream. I started fantasising about being a different, less ugly person, who could do my dream job working as a television presenter. I began getting lost in a negative fantasy world.

My parents took me to see a psychiatrist at the age of 16 who said it was their fault that I was in that state. Consequently they rarely took me to see him again.

The society I grew up in in the 1980’s also had a profound effect on the Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  The ideal of beauty in the UK in the 1980’s was blonde, 5 foot 10 inch Princess Diana, who looked like my step mother but nothing like me.  The only “black” mainstream beauty icon that I can remember from the 1980’s was Jennifer Beals who starred in Flashdance and looked practically white. If Rihanna had been around in the 1980’s I don’t think I would have felt so ugly.

American actress Jennifer Beals star of hit 1980s film Flashdance
Image by Ingrid Richter http://ow.ly/4mISn1

 

Also I grew up in a very Sloaney upper class/upper middle class society in which all the men had fixed tastes in women. They either liked women who were blonde or women who were tall and brunette. I was neither so none of them fancied me.  My best friend Susanna was blonde, perfect, with waist length hair. All the Sloane men in Chelsea we were hanging out with fancied her, none of them fancied me. My father didn’t help telling me I “would never be as pretty as Susanna.”  When I went inter-railing with Susanna when I was 17 there were hordes of men pursuing her and their only interest in me, with my fluent French, was to work as a free interpreter.

When I was 18 I went abroad to Spain and Bolivia and had a remarkable recovery from the BDD. I travelled around Spain and, unlike in England, a lot of men fancied me and would give me compliments on the street. I felt attractive for the first time. When I asked the psychiatrist whether he thought I would be OK in Bolivia, where I was volunteering to work for Save the Children he said “you’ll be 6,000 miles away from your parents I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine.”  In Bolivia I was ecstatic, as apart from the fact that I was in beautiful natural surroundings, I was also, for the first time in my life, relatively tall.  I was so happy in Bolivia and didn’t want to come back to the UK at all.

The BDD got worse in my first year at Oxford as I was back in Sloanedom where you were only attractive if you were blonde or tall. There were an alarming number of very tall blonde girls at my college in Oxford and my best friend was a 6 foot 1 Dutch Baroness, cousin of the Queen of Holland, whose father had a castle in the Netherlands.  Her life was like a movie, her 18th birthday party in Paris, attended by various Royals and celebrities had been heavily featured in French Vogue. I realised I would have to do something very drastic to compete. So became, in my fantasy, an incredibly talented and beautiful member of the British Royal Family, blonde and very tall, who was married to the King of Spain.  I was locked in this fantasy world not wanting to speak to people for days on end and obviously this made my dissatisfaction with my real appearance even worse.

In my second year at Oxford the Body Dysmorphic Disorder calmed down. I was no longer mixing exclusively with a crowd of Etonians and Upper class people. I had started to do a lot of acting so was with a more creative crowd. They didn’t have the same prejudices and I felt more attractive.  But my confidence was knocked again when I realised I was in love with my old Etonian best friend who said he could not go out with me as my legs were too short. I renewed my efforts to have the operation to extend my legs. But I abandoned the idea after my mother refused to look after me for the year I would have to spend in bed and the doctor said if the operation didn’t work I would have to have my legs amputated.

My mother left the UK for Jamaica when I was  19, leaving me homeless, after writing me curious  letter.  “You have always been selfish,” she said.  “When you were 3 I asked you to bring me a cup of tea and it was cold. You were selfish then and you’ve been selfish ever since, that’s why we don’t get on.” The fact that she’d been out of the house 6 days a week, working or at the hairdresser, didn’t register on her consciousness at all.

A lot of my problems with Body Dysmorphic disorder were because of my mixed ethnicity. I didn’t want to look black, like my mother and was always trying to look more white which I also felt was more acceptable to society. I had dyed my hair red in my late teenage years. My father had had red hair, my mother had black Afro hair this was probably another effort to distance myself from her. I also started saying at Oxford that I was partly Cuban again to distance myself from my black Jamaican roots. I was extremely happy when people would say I “did not look Jamaican” and that I looked Hispanic or Arabic instead.

EXOTIC BABE PICTUREcropped

After my old Etonian best friend said I was too fat in my early 20s I started doing high impact cardio Step Aerobic workouts at the gym. I had another disappointment with a man I fancied who only liked tall girls but was just getting used to my height.  The aerobics made me feel better about my body and I had my first proper boyfriend, one I actually had sex with, when I was almost 24.

As I was then presented with a series of men who fancied me, the body dysmorphic disorder went into some kind of recovery. I was incredibly pleased when I went to New York at the age of 26 and everyone thought I was Hispanic. But a side effect of not looking black was that white people would make racist comments about black people in front of me, unaware of my heritage.

When I started working in television news at the BBC the Body Dysmorphic Disorder flared up again. I was back in an environment where it was important to be tall and a lot of presenters were blonde. All the news presenters were much taller than me but I started doing showbiz reporting instead. My flat mate, an unemployed actress, suddenly got a leading part in top TV soap Eastenders and her face was plastered on the cover of every TV magazine. I thought I had fallen in love with her as she kept mirroring what I did and said and was devastated when she said she couldn’t date me as I was too short.  I started wanting to have all sorts of operations to change my face again. But I settled on a solution I had found at Oxford, I started wearing green contact lenses again and got waist length red hair extensions. This worked. I met now disgraced PR guru Max Clifford and he said “when are we going to see you on TV?”

Sign up for updates on this blog

I continued throughout my late 20s and early thirties with the red hair extensions and green contact lenses, obviously trying to look more white. My step mother helpfully said I looked “like Michael Jackson.” I even had an entire relationship with a Latin American man where I never took out my green contact lenses pretending I had green eyes.

After my cocaine addiction, alcoholism and bulimia spiralled out of control I ended up in residential rehab for a year in 2005. In my second rehab, a hard core outfit on a council estate in South London bristling with ex cons, I developed a very close relationship with the head of the rehab Ama, who was my counsellor. I told her about my battles with BDD and she said I needed to try an experiment to improve it. This was to take out the green contact lenses, ditch my high heels and designer clothes and wear a Ruritanian potato farmer’s shirt and some baggy tracksuit bottoms that belonged to a lesbian. Amazingly, every one who had fancied me when I was dolled up to the nines still fancied me now I looked like a lesbian potato farmer.  The BDD was much improved and I started walking around with a positive skip in my step. Also, when I moved back to another rehab near my house in Notting Hill, I found all the addict men, even the very posh ones, thought I was very attractive. I was even eyed up by Russel Brand at a meeting!  I started to feel much better about myself and after returning to the green contact lenses in Notting Hill ditched them in favour of my real black eyes. But I still had the hair extensions.

I start to recover from my addiction to drugs alcohol and bulimia and my mental health problems after returning to the UK from Jamaica and attending the Priory rehab and St Luke's treatment centre but still need to change my appearance because of the Body Dysmorphia

The fact that I was considered to be very attractive by all the men in Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous considerably helped my Body Dysmorphic disorder. I was also in a serious relationship with a blonde blue eyed cockney who thought my black eyes were perfect. My hair extensions were now reddish brown instead of red but I still didn’t want to look black.

This changed when I had a nervous breakdown at the end of 2013 because of a financial crisis and the fact that my ex-boyfriend, who I was still very close to, was having a baby with someone else. I developed severe OCD checking 10 hours a day so bad it made me want to cut my throat. I abandoned the hairdresser and the gym letting my hair go natural instead and not bothering to do my nails. I just didn’t give a shit about what I looked like. I didn’t have to exercise as I got very thin during the nervous breakdown, down to just over a hundred pounds. This changed when I recovered from the nervous breakdown and I returned to the gym.

My high impact cardio workouts at the gym have been absolutely key to my recovery from body dysmorphic disorder. After I came off the pill in 2012 I lost quite a lot of weight and became very slim. When I see my slim athletic body in the mirror at the gym I love what I see and do not feel that I look either too short or out of proportion. My head does not look big at all it is perfectly in keeping with the rest of my body, although my father still thinks it is too big. Although I would have loved to have been taller as then I think I could have pursued my passion of acting, I do not really want to change my body anymore.

After I started writing my blog in May 2015 and had to post multiple pictures of myself online to promote the blog I started to have a wobble with the Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I had had hair extensions but they had been the same length as my hair, really just there for volume. I suddenly decided I needed longer hair extensions for the photographs and that I wanted to go back to the green contact lenses. I didn’t want to look as white as I had before as I started using fake tan to darken my skin, but I still wasn’t letting my hair go back to its natural state. In fact I don’t wear the green contact lenses in the photographs for the blog as my profile pictures for all my social media sites have me with black eyes. But I do wear the green contact lenses and now waist length extensions all the rest of the time.  Now my appearance is such an important marketing point for my blog I feel like I am back in television and need to enhance my appearance. I have even had twinges of compulsion to change my face. And in fact I do intend to set up a You Tube channel about addiction and mental health later in the year.

I start to recover from the Body Dysmorphic Disorder but still feel I need to enhance my appearance because of the Body Dysmorphia

I have recovered from the extremes of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder but I still don’t think I look OK exactly as I am and think that I need enhancement. This is not ideal but then a lot of women dye their hair which makes them look dramatically different.  I feel OK with my height, skin colour, age and that is a big improvement. Maybe I’m just a little bit vain now, rather than suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Sign up for updates on this blog

Follow me on Twitter            Send me a friend request on Facebook

Next week: My life changing recovery from decades of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder where I thought serial killers who could shrink to the size of a packet of Bird’s Eye peas were going to kill me.

 

 

25 thoughts on “My battle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder

  1. You are such a grear writer!! And I appreciate even more your willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve also had BDD for most of my life. I suppose it lessened when I was high, but in the last couple of decades it has been, well, bearable, I guess. I tended much more toward anorexia than bulimia because it was much easier to just not eat, especially being on the lower end of “lower middle class”.
    When I got clean @ 6 months pregnant, my first recovering challenge was to practice acceptance with my body. The only “diet” that worked for me before was illegal and/or very likely to lead me back to my drugs of choice,so I just wore baggy clothes and focused on my baby and learning how to function clean.
    Today I suspect that I’m really as fat as I ever imagined that I was, but my husband says he loves the way I look (of course I know he CAN’T possibly be telling the truth, but, whatever), and I’m too fond of sweets to stop eating them…so I guess rationalizing is a skill that’s working for me. Ha ha 😉
    Anyway, you are a lovely women, and where I’m from,you would have been thought “exotic”. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah it’s an ongoing battle with the BDD and the eating disorders. Actually the eating disorders have reached the level of recovery that I can contemplate getting pregnant which has never been an option before. If that actually happens I will be interested to see what impact it has on my eating disorder.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for saying that! It was difficult growing up as a mixed race child in the UK in the 1970s and 80s but if my parents had not been so negative I really don’t think I would have developed such severe BDD. It was really bad. Luckily I am largely recovered now.

      Like

  2. Wow, your dad sounds like a dick! Big head indeed. Hahahah! Caroline, you are absolutely gorgeous. I can relate (not on the same level) but insecurity will let you believe bullshit. Like when I was 120lbs and young and hot and my 2nd ex told me I was fat. I’d like to go back in time and punch him in the throat (I might just do it now, he lives down the street– KIDDING! )
    Nowadays I have the opposite of BDD whereby I think I look better than I do. This disorder is shared by ladies in stretch pants often seen at Walmart and also by beer-bellied grandpa’s mowing their lawns in nothing but shorts, black socks, and sandals.
    Anyway!! Love your writing as always (lesbian potato farmer!!) and so happy all this is behind you so you (and I!) can laugh about it now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your comment – I really appreciate it and I am so pleased you enjoy the writing. Yes I can laugh about it now as with all my mental health problems but the BDD took me into a very dark place indeed. It would have been difficult enough as a mixed race child growing up in the society I grew up in but my father really made it so much worse. Your ex who told you you were fat at 120 pounds also sounds like a dick!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thats an amazing story Caroline, your legs seem to be pretty good length wise to me, your as pretty as a picture, so weird really that you ever questioned yourself, but I know women sometimes do, you just took it way further I guess, pity really, but I’m glad your pretty much over that now – growing up is so damn hard, and inconvenient too that we do it during what would otherwise be the best years of our lives – no wonder they say life begins at 40 and all that!

    Thank God you never got to mess with the growth hormone thing, def not worth the risks!

    I think there was a bigger generation gap between ours and our parents than most, things changed so much during their lifetimes it often made assholes of them, they had insecurities which they couldn’t hardly begin to confront, I couldn’t even think of family therapy for mine, it would all be one way anyhow, I don’t even know how mine are able to function, their value system is just so 1930’s! Well, at least they aren’t obnoxious, I suppose in many ways I was lucky – you have my sympathy and admiration for a) being victimised, and b) coming through it all! XXXO

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is brilliant. I’m so glad I read this. I have so much identification with you. I have suffered with BDD since coming into recovery three years ago. And for the first two years it was almost unbearable.
    Six months of CBT therapy helped but like you said cardio workouts in the gym seem to be the most help, and that’s when I get the most relief from it.

    BDD is an incredibly difficult thing to live with, but by understanding it and why it is there and doing the work needed, it can be managed.

    Thank you again for this, it has been a great help to me and I’m sure a great deal of others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much for your comment. I am actually surprised how much interest the piece has generated so obviously BDD is a lot more common than I thought. It is wonderful if my writing is able to help you and others.

      Like

  5. It is so sad that you have gone through all this… particularly the fact that your parents were so rough with you… I wonder, in that sense, if there was a sort of resentment towards you due to things related to their relationship… I am thinking of kids of divorced parents now and how, they could be consider guilty and mistreated in many ways…
    Your personal itinerary makes me think that probably the way you see yourself as much to do with more a hostile environment and perhaps also with a socially discriminatory context… And by the latter I mean, Oxford in a certain moment, the 80´s and maybe the British Society as well…
    You mentioned that many guys feel for you when you were in Spain and that´s probably the more eloquent example of what I said above… Per contrast, of course…
    You are pretty woman as I see you so the body dysmorphic disorder has not a Factual basis…
    Societies have become less restrictive when it comes to Standards of Beauty… The reason is that the are just unattainable for most mortals, I guess…
    During the 90´s all famous models were anorexic… Nowadays, we see healthier woman on the runway… Anorexia and other disorders are also there… but not as much as they were years ago…
    Also the ideals of Beauty are open to cultural diversity… the blonde model is quite gone with the wind… I don´t know if you agree with me in these statements… But I am just talking from a not Anglo-Saxon point of view… I live in Argentina, have italian and spanish roots… and argentine women are included among the top ten most beautiful nationalities … (See this video minute 2.35 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUaFPesQfZk )
    Plus… here in my country most women who can afford it are addicted to cosmetic surgeries… we follow the american example I guess… I have one, for example and got methacrylate in a few little scars I had on my face… I am very exigent with my daily exercices and like lifting heights… Same way, I am very careful with what I eat as I always want to be very slim and toned.
    I had anorexia when I was at High School and back when I was in my early twenties…
    The presures are there, you know… And yet, I feel pretty and attractive… I don´t compete with other women as far as possible… I just focus on myself.
    They say that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… To finish, let me ttach a post on my blog you might like. ►Philosophy: “Beauty, according to Plato” / Mythology: “Some Greek Myths, based on Beauty”⭐ .- https://aquileana.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/%E2%96%BAphilosophy-beauty-according-to-plato-mythology-some-greek-myths-based-on-beauty%E2%AD%90/
    I am looking forwad to reading more here… I was particularly captivated by your post, so thank you…
    All the best to you, Aquileana 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post. Yes there was a lot of toxic fallout from my parents’ divorce but also the cultural environment I grew up in the 1980s. I agree Argentine women are absolutely beautiful and so are Argentine men it is a country with fabulous looking people in it. I will check out your post on beauty it is always interesting to read such things. Thanks for the re-tweets as well! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve noticed the more beautiful women seem more susceptible to body dysmorphia. I’ve often wondered why, maybe because as they are beautiful they have a social pressure and it doesn’t equate with how they feel about themselves because equally the world treats beautiful women badly. You speak truths eloquently that need sharing to stop the stigma.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much for your comment. I don’t think I was beautiful as a teenager when the Body Dysmorphic Disorder was at its height. But I certainly wasn’t ugly I was just made to feel ugly by my father and the society around me. Looking back I see there was nothing wrong with my appearance as a teenager.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re what most women wish they could look like. I admire your honesty and the gift of your writing i hipe you write a whole book on this you are a very compelling writer and your story is so important to share.

        Like

  8. How did you get so much better ? Did you take SSRIs and do cognitive behavioral therapy? I am in my 40s and still struggle very much. I often get to the point of going into a rage when I see photos of myself or look in the mirror. A hideous illness…
    Glad you are doing so much better and you look great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The therapy in rehab where I took off all my designer clothes and heels and slumped around in a sack and people still fancied me helped. Also the fact that the addicts I’ve been surrounded by for my last 11 years of recovery have thought I am much more attractive than the people I grew up with. Also I have hair extensions which make me feel more girly. And I am very keen on the gym and am quite fit so I like the way my body appears now. My father still thinks my head is too big! I am also on medication for OCD which might help. It’s a terrible illness I hope you get some relief.

      Like

  9. Hi Caroline, I came across your blog and I wanted to talk to you about this post in particular. It’s not a sales pitch but the premise behind my site is this. It’s about personality first! http://TextDater.mobi.

    I wonder if you would have an email chat with me as I think it may double up as a tool to help people build some self confidence and meet people on their wavelength and who are not so superficial. Like I said the premise really in personality first. I’m following you on twitter (@textdater)

    Could you drop me an email? tellmemore@textdater.mobi

    Like

  10. Coming late to the party, but i can relate to you in many ways. Mixed race, abusive parents, successful on the outside, criticised for my looks by parents and society from a young age, lifelong depression, ptsd, craving surgery, wanting to look like my white parent, etc. Like you (used to), i can’t bear how i look. I still can’t on some days, and stare in the mirror repeatedly. Sometimes I’ve smashed mirrors when i cant stand looking at my hideous face anymore. Unlike you, I am actually very ugly, and do not look mixed race at all. I look full Asian. Apparently this is a bad thing, as society keeps telling me.

    To me, it’s amazing that someone as beautiful as you, who fits the standard of what is beautiful in society in many ways, who fits the stereotype of the beautiful post-racial face, had so many feelings and internal experiences similar to my own. It really surprised me. Somehow, it’s made me realize that self-perception is crucial. So maybe it doesn’t even matter that i am actually very ugly, unable to meet society’s beauty ideals if we had the same thoughts and feelings and experiences of BDD. Thank you, for inadvertently encouraging me to seek help.

    Like

    • I am so touched by your comment it has really moved me. It’s funny but when I put up that post about BDD I thought it was a very minority mental illness and that no one would read it. But in fact it is one of my most widely read posts suggesting it is a lot more common than people think.
      Good luck with your journey Caroline xx

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s