Author: Casey L.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder: a mental illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. While this little-known mental illness may sound like a minor problem for someone also dealing with depression and anxiety (a different story for a different day), that was unfortunately not the case for me. This illness managed to compound the effects of every other mental illness that I was dealing with at the time. Essentially, it managed to make everything so much more worse than it already was.
Stemming from issues of low self-esteem, body dysmorphic disorder quickly took over my thoughts. Everyone would tell me that I had an athletic body, and I had always been the first to agree with that statement, but suddenly I had begun to look at myself in a different light. I could only see a body that did not live up to the expectations that I had set for it. Soon, these thoughts began to affect me more and more, especially during the summer months. I became only focused on how I looked when I was out. I was no longer enjoying life but instead worrying about the size of my stomach. When I looked in the mirror, only one word came to mind: fat.
I thought about everything I ate, carefully considering every meal and snack. Would those calories really be worth it? Sometimes, I didn’t want to eat if I knew or hypothesized I would be swimming later. I couldn’t possibly take my shirt off if I had a “food baby” stomach, right? Unfortunately, this lack of food killed my energy to workout or run, and it ended up having much worse effects on my body than any stupid and irrelevant cheeseburger would.
For the first time in my life, I felt constantly uncomfortable with my own body. It was a drastic change from a year before when I had no problem taking off my shirt to play football in the heat. I still often did end up without a shirt during the summer, but I could never really feel comfortable. I would spend this time constantly checking to see if my stomach was bloated or trying to suck my stomach in a little bit more if I could. I had to hesitate and think before I could take off my shirt to go swimming. Would people notice I wasn’t in the best shape today? Would my stomach be bulging from that food I ate earlier? Would they be taking pictures today? If we do, I really hope I don’t look too fat in them. All these thoughts and more would run through my mind before I could do something as simple as go swimming at a friend’s house.
Mental illness is not always a lifetime sentence, though. It can be beaten with the right mindset and support. I learned to stop caring what other people thought about me and instead think about what I wanted and needed. I started focusing on the brighter side of things rather than on all the negatives. Who cares if I’m not perfect? Who cares if I’m not looking my best today? The only person that ever expected constant perfection was myself. Now, I can feel comfortable in my body again. I can eat or take off my shirt or swim without the stress of caring what people think. I truly learned how to love myself again.