It’s unexpectedly become an important part of my life.
I’d been thinking about trying it for years, I’d just never plucked up the courage to attend a class – but in June, along with a friend, I finally braved the gym and had a go. I’m so glad I did.
And – although I’m only still very much a beginner and am in no way qualified to tell people how to look after their bodies – there’s still a part of me that wants to shout from the rooftops about how good I’ve found yoga to be and why I would recommend it to anyone right from the bottom of my heart.
This here blog is my rooftop.
And this here post is my shout out from the bottom of my heart.
So, in no particular order, these are some of the reasons why I’ve come to love yoga:
aaand relax. Yoga is ridiculously relaxing considering it’s a form of exercise. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me – and I’m sure that’s something that is true for a lot of other people too (why would you relax when you can obsessively worry about illogical things instead?). So for me to be on the verge of sleep in a room full of strangers at the end of every yoga session (in savasana) is a. big. deal. I don’t know what magic is at work, but it is magic.
feel the burn. Okay, so yoga is relaxing. But it’s also not relaxing. It’s hard work. It takes a lot of effort to hold poses that look effortless (ahem, poses that other people make look effortless). I wibble and wobble and wince and grimace and overbalance embarrassingly often, but I can feel my muscles getting stronger with every session. No healthy pain, no gain.
in sync with your body. I’m very self-conscious about my body but not very conscious of my body, if that makes any sense. Yoga helps me feel more aware and accepting of my movements/my posture/my muscles/my fat/my bones/myself and that awareness feels peaceful rather than critical and judgemental (like it used to be).
looking after yourself. This ties in a lot with the point above. In the past, I’ve had what can only be called a hate/hate relationship with my body. I wrote about it back in the summer (not very well *grimaces* but I tried my best) so I won’t bore you with the backstory of this subject again. Basically – and I know this probably sounds like the most obvious thing in the history of the universe to most people – looking after your body feels nicer than doing things that damage it and saying things to degrade it. I mean, who even knew? Who. Even. Knew. *laughs, but mostly cries* Punishing your body, hurting your body, and deriding your body is weirdly and dangerously addictive, but it’s a habit that – slowly and steadily – can be kicked. Every body deserves to be looked after. ❤
focus pocus. Yoga forces you to focus on every breath you take and every move you make *don’t sing, don’t sing, don’t sing* and I’ve found that sense of focus helps me to sideline the worries (and songs) that normally flood my brain, not only during classes but outside in the actual real day-to-day world too. That focus is incredibly freeing. And weird. But good weird.
for everyone. Don’t be fooled by instagram. You don’t have to be young, skinny, perfectly tanned, and positioned in front a setting/rising sun to practise yoga. You can be any age, any shape, and (pretty much) anywhere.
excuse for a lie down. Any form of exercise that includes a lie down at the end – savasana, a.k.a. corpse pose (lovely name) – gets the thumbs up from me.
agency. I think this is true of any exercise, but is particularly noticeable in yoga because of the slower pace and focus on precise movements. There’s something powerful about feeling in control and feeling able to affect positive change. I know the times when I’ve felt most stressed, anxious, and/or depressed are the times when I’ve felt incapable of changing anything happening around me, or felt like my voice didn’t matter/had been taken away from me, or felt like my body was worthless and useless. That’s not to say you should blunder about being a control freak and acting like you’re the most amazing human being that’s ever lived, but giving yourself a sense of agency and dignity is (in my opinion, anyway) important for mental wellbeing. Yoga has helped me with that.
And, if nothing else, yoga helps me feel like I’m counteracting the bad posture I’ve developed from spending so much time with my shoulders hunched up while I’m reading and writing.
♦ Have you tried yoga? ♦ If you have, what did you think of it? ♦ What’s your favourite exercise? ♦
‘The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things – all manner of beasts and birds are found there.’ said J.R.R Tolkien in his essay On Fairy Stories.
And recently, one of the beasts to be found there has been me.
I’ve been venturing forth into those wide and deep and high realms on a quest for story treasures – armed with a notebook and pen to document my findings (when I remembered to be organised), and an embarrassing amount of tea to keep me going (which I always remembered because tea is life).
‘I think of her hair as black as coal – her lips, redder than blood – her skin, snow-white.’
This book was dark, gruesome, macabre, explicit, and disturbing. And I loved it.
It’s an unsettling reimagining of the Snow White fairytale by Neil Gaiman, in graphic – sometimes very graphic *blushes* – novel form. First published in the nineties, it was rereleased earlier this year with illustrations by Colleen Doran.
The story itself is a wonderfully twisted take on the more traditional version of the tale, but it’s the illustrations that really make this book. They are stunning.
‘He is the fear in the dark, the monster under the bed. He is a thing out of stories, and he is here in my house…’
Anna is our heroine here – an eleven-year-old Greek refugee living with her emotionally distant father in 1920s Oxford. The pair are the only members of their family to have survived an attack on their home city, and not only is Anna still grieving for the friends and family she lost in the attack, she’s also struggling to fit into her new life in England. She’s incredibly lonely, cast adrift. But she’s also adventurous, wanting to follow in the footsteps of all the great characters of Greek mythology, and that spirit of adventure draws her into a world full of supernatural dangers.
This was an unusual gem/rough diamond of a book. It’s a hard one to define. There are a few things that aren’t quite right with it – it sits uneasily across genres and target audiences, the narrative voice seems to wander about at times, the pacing feels slightly off, plus there are awkward cameos from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And, technically, all of those things put together should have made for a bad reading experience… but *throws hands up in the air* I actually really liked it.
What can I say?
It’s by no means perfect but it’s by a lot of means enchanting.
‘In an ancient inn on the Thames the regulars are entertaining thenmselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps and injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.
Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle? Is it magic?
And who does the little girl belong to?’
This was an interesting book. I liked it a lot, especially its magical, folkloric elements.
I loved the ever-present spectre of Quietly the ferryman. ‘He appeared when you were in trouble on the water… He spoke never a word, but guided you safely to the bank so you would live another day. But if you were out of luck… it was another shore altogether he took you to…’
Ferrymen who guide souls to the otherworld are a favourite mythological figure of mine. *taps pen against nose secretively*
And all the living characters are richly drawn too. Their individual stories intertwine and twist and turn beautifully. But the plot is quite a slow-burner, a meanderer like the Thames itself, which felt a little disappointing.
Although it was certainly an enjoyable world to meander through.
♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you make of them if you have? ♦ What fairy-story realms would you recommend to a bookish explorer? ♦ The Tolkien quote at the start of the post is one of my favourite quotes on fairytales… what’s yours? ♦
The last few weeks, I’ve been going stir, stir, stir crazy – stuck between going down with a cold that hijacked my entire body and being busy at work and being busy with random life stuff and the weather being unbelievably rubbish. But on Monday – finally *cries melodramatically* – I was able to get out and enjoy some autumn sunshine in the grounds of a local National Trust property.
In one of the outbuildings of the property, there was a pretty display with the question: what does autumn mean to you? and little paper leaves for people to write their answers on.
I stood in front of the display for a good couple of minutes – tapping a mini pencil agaisnt my chin, rolling a paper leaf backwards and forwards between my fingers – and thought very seriously (seriously over thought) what does autumn mean to me?
A million and one clichés came to my mind, but, dammit, I wanted something original to write, so I waited a little longer.
Tapping, rolling. Tapping, rolling.
Apple crumble soaked in cream and sitting in front of the woodburner and too much night and not enough day and Bailey’s hot chocolate and oh my goodness golly gosh Christmas is coming and oh my goodness golly gosh my car’s MOT and ah god holy crap will it actually pass its MOT and ah god holy crap how much will it end up costing and wait you’re supposed to be thinking about autumn. *takes a deep breath* Chestnuts roasted on an open fire (ahem, in a microwave) and gold, grey, sepia and I LOVE SCARVES and baking yummy food and eating too much food and I REALLY LOVE SCARVES and making plans for the New Year and fighting off the blues.
I panicked about how embarrassingly uncool and serious I was being and then double panicked because there were about to be people to witness my uncool seriousness, so I gave up trying to be original and clever and smug and just scribbled something about walking and crunchy, golden leaves, and tied it up to the display. I took a quick look at some of the others as I did. They all made me smile, but one in particular caught my eye.
Colourful and moon lit.
(I’m guessing it was written by a child, so I’m more than happy to ignore the spelling/grammar issues.)
Colourful and moon lit, I mused all philosophically as I shuffled back out into the sunshine, trying to look cool and unserious and like I hadn’t just spent five whole minutes thinking about what autumn meant to me as I passed the other walkers, that is exactly what autumn is.
It is full of colour. Whether it’s the glittering golds and sulky silvers of nature, or the garish, flashing rainbows of mankind, there is colour everywhere at this time of year. Sometimes you have to look a little harder, sometimes it’s literally fifty shades of grey (clouds, clouds everywhere), but there’s always colour lurking somewhere. And although autumn is also full of darkness, that darkness is made a little lighter, a little more bearable, by the moon. Sometimes that moonlight is brighter than bright, sometimes it’s fainter than faint – but it is always there.
Four words turned three weeks of stir crazy on its head.
I hope all your autumns are full of colour and moonlight.
‘True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in heaven and earth. I heard many things in hell.’
‘He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.’
An unidentified, unstable, and wholly unreliable, narrator details their rationale behind the murdering of an elderly gentleman, their method of killing him, and how their plan ultimately falls apart.
‘I admit the deed! – Tear up the planks! here! here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!’
It’s atmospheric, gruesome, claustrophobic, unnerving, and strange – gothic literature at its spooky best. It will keep you on the lookout for slithers of lantern light at your bedroom door for days (or nights, I guess).
You can read the story online here, although, if you’re like me and prefer physical copies of books, I can definitely recommend the Penguin Little Black Classic edition, which also includes The Fall of the House of Usher and The Cask of Amontillado for only £1 – helpfully modelled here by Poppy the cat…
The month of not knowing how many layers to wear. Of feeling boiling hot then freezing cold then Goldilocks warm, and back again. Of crunchy leaves under raggedy boots. Of apples, apples everywhere. The month of silver clouds, torrential rain, and sometimes-golden sun. Of wood-smoky fires. Of nights drawing in and of Halloween creeping its way closer and closer on a pair of spider-webbed tippy toes.
So in honour of all things Halloween, I’ve turned my reading focus to the dark side.
And where better to start than a graveyard?
Neil Gaiman and Halloween are a match made in heaven.
Well. Maybe more like a match made in hell.
The Graveyard Book is everything you would hope for and expect from a YA story set in a cemetery by Neil Gaiman (with illustrations by Chris Riddell). There are ghosts and ghouls and witches, angels of death, vampires and werewolves, a sprinkling of cut-throat baddies, plus a goodhearted but sometimes misguided hero.
Nobody “Bod” Owens is the sole member of his family to survive a hit by a supernatural assassin known simply as ‘the man Jack’. Only a helpless toddler at the time of the murders, Bod is taken in by the ghosts of a nearby graveyard and is raised as one of their own. But as he grows up and ventures more into the world beyond the graveyard’s gates, the threat from ‘the man Jack’ – still on the hunt for his missed kill – becomes ever more dangerous.
I loved this book. It’s simple but fun; a gloriously ghoulish adventure.
And although it’s most definitely aimed at the children’s/YA market, its themes are ageless, timeless, and oh so wise. I was constantly scrabbling around for a notebook and pen as I read, trying to keep track of all its life lessons.
“If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.” page 217.
“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything.” page 165.
“Things bloom in their time. They bud and bloom, blossom and fade. Everything in its time.” page 136.
*raises hands in reverie towards book heaven/hell*
The Graveyard Book is a seamless blend of light and deathly dark.
It feels like a long, long time since I’ve set foot in a bookshop that didn’t have copies of Normal People by Sally Rooney on prominent, in-yer-face, no chance you’ll miss it display.
I have never seen so many sardine cans, so frequently in my life.
And in all that long, long time of in-yer-face displays, I was curious, if sceptical, about Normal People. I lost count of the number of times I picked it up, put it down, picked it back up, placed it back down again, added to cart, deleted from cart – unsure if a book that hyped could live up to its impressive reputation.
And you know what? I actually think it can.
‘Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying -something life-changing begins. Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.’
Most of the commentary around the book seems polarised. You either get it or you don’t. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a seering insight into millenial relationships or over-hyped millenial angst stretched to nearly 300 pages. Marmite.
In all honesty? I didn’t love it. But I certainly didn’t hate it.
I liked it a lot. I enjoyed its emotional roller-coaster and was kinda hypnotized by Connell and Marianne’s angsty ways.
Sally Rooney delicately captures the push and pull, the fascinations and repulsions, desire, love, confusion, pride, shame, misunderstandings, and vulnerabilities that plague their relationship. They’re strangely spellbound by one another, but they’re also never quite on the same page and never quite singing from the same hymn sheet. They’re riddled with misgivings and shame, constantly conveying/perceiving the wrong message, always sure of their unsureness.
It’s painful to read, as well as weirdly comforting.
The book does feel like it misses the mark at times, though. Marianne’s character arc is ultimately unsatisfying; a let down, almost. There are things that jar and things that don’t sit quite right. The ending, also, is frustrating – even if it has a degree of inevitability.
But I liked it. Really liked it.
So, if you see that infamous sardine can and find yourself wondering: should I?
Days, weeks, and months feel like they’re blurring into one right now. I probably (definitely) say that all the time, but it feels especially true at the moment.
Books, too, seem to be blurring into one big mushy whirlpool of letters, pages, and covers. Not that I’ve been reading a superhuman number of them – far from it! – but I have definitely been struggling to capture my thoughts and feelings on most of them.
Book thoughts and feelings can be slippery, slimy, and hard to keep hold of creatures.
C’est la vie.
Although it would kind of be helpful if it wasn’t la vie.
So, over the last few days, I’ve been on the hunt – decked out in full book safari gear – for a few thoughts and feelings creatures.
Luckily, I managed to track a few down.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: this book, people. This book. *clutches copy to chest* It’s utterly, utterly, utterly incredible. It’s mindbendingly weird and spellbindingly surreal. It’s magnificent and enchanting and effervescent; bitingly funny and shockingly horrific. It’s completely mesmerising.
It is, quite simply, all. the. feels.
All. The. Feels.
And seeing as I’ve run out of interesting adjectives and melodramatic uses for full stops, all I have left to recommend it is the blurb:
‘The devil comes to Moscow wearing a fancy suit. With his disorderly band of accomplices – including a demonic, gun-toting tomcat – he immediately begins to create havoc. Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos. Making a bargain with the devil, she decides to try a little black magic of her own to save the man she loves…’
If you like weird and wild and anarchic, you NEED to read The Master and Margarita.
Tuesdays With Morrieby Mitch Albom: it’s typical, isn’t it? As soon as I write a blog post about being a slow reader, I start and finish a book in a day. I read this on a blazing hot June afternoon*, curled up on a blanket** in the garden, surrounded by buzzing bees and bumbling butterflies. It was a really, really relaxing afternoon, made even better by this endearing book. Originally published in the nineties, it’s a real-life tale following journalist Mitch Albom as he catches up with his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is slowly dying from ALS. The book flows seamlessly; it has a punchy, hook-filled, journalistic style, but somehow pulls it off in a relaxed, easy-going way. And its core message is head-over-heels heartwarming.
*June afternoon is weirdly fun to say. Or is that just me?
**which I had to adjust every fifteen minutes to keep up with the shadows cast by towels drying on the washing line because I was too lazy to go back inside and get some suncream.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: this book left me crying like an absolute baby, and “left me crying like an absolute baby” is probably one of the highest forms of recommendation I can give a book. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who, in May 2013, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died in March 2015. He wrote When Breath Becomes Air during the last twenty-two months of his life, as he grappled with the illness and the prospect of his imminent death. The book will break your heart. But it will also put it back together again.
‘What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.’ from the book’s epilogue, by Lucy Kalanithi.
Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen: I’m on a quest to learn more about the weird and wonderful world of minds at the moment, and learning a little more about empathy seemed like a good place to start. Zero Degrees of Empathy provides a fascinating and easy to digest insight into the evidence and ideas surrounding empathy; how it works, its origins, its usefulness, and the problems that arise when it malfunctions within individuals and societies. I particularly enjoyed chapter two – learning about psychopaths and narcissists was fun and worrying all at the same time.
And where better to end a blog post than on the subject of psychopaths and narcissists?
I certainly can’t think of anywhere.
♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you think of them, if you have? ♦ How do you keep track of your book thoughts and feelings? ♦ Are you chaotic like me or organised like a sensible person? ♦
But, yesterday, I finally finished my story turtle quest to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
It’s been an adventure.
I feel like I have a hangover from it.
I’ve been drinking a lot of intoxicating words over the last five weeks.
Book hangovers make processing thoughts and writing reviews tricky. Which, considering this is a book review, is perhaps awkward.
But the black-out blinds are down, there’s a plate full of carbs by my side, plenty of book drugs to numb the pain, and copious cups of tea to keep me going. Plus, I have my trusty old bullet points to fall back on.
I’m definitely going to fall back on them.
There’s no other way with this level of hangover.
Overall, I loved it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s an extraordinary story and an incredible piece of writing. There were things I really liked about the book and, inevitably, some things that I liked a lot less. These are the things that I can currently remember…
The footnotes. Each one was a teeny tiny magical story within a humungous magical story, and they were so cleverly done.
The fantasticalness. Ugh, man. This book is beyond magical and fantastical and wonderful. It’s everything you could ask for in an alternative-history fantasy book. Everything and more.
The writing. It’s whimsical and witty and charming and it just made my reader’s heart all warm and happy. Susanna Clarke has skillz. (That’s the only way I can think to describe it – probably because of my lack of aforementioned* skillz.)
The characters. There are pantomime villains; blundering but good hearted heroes; loyal friends; secretive masters; chattering servants; a missing, ancient faerie king; magical vagabonds; plus many, many more besides. They’re all richly drawn and brim with life.
Regency. Regency England made magical is as good as it sounds. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to read Pride and Prejudice again without being disppointed there’s no witchcraft going on.
The footnotes. I know, I know. How can I like them and dislike them at the same time? I just can, that’s why. *sticks out tongue* Mostly, they were brilliant. One or two, though, felt overbearing and unnecessary and made me do eye-rolls worthy of a teenager.
Mr Norrell. Eeek. I’m certain Susanna Clarke didn’t intend for him to be a likeable character, which is fair enough and normally doesn’t bother me, but my lack-of-like for Mr Norrell stretches to pretty intense levels. He’s proud, arrogant, pernicious, dismissive, selfish, and one of his (many) ill-judged actions – I think bibliophiles everywhere will know which one – pushed him over into becoming an unforgivable character for me.
Move to Italy – the section set in Italy just felt heavy to read. Most of the novel kind of bounces along happily/unhappily from one thing to the next, but this part felt more like it was dragging its feet.
Length. Okay, I know. This is totally unfair and completely irrelevant. A story takes as many pages as it takes to tell it. I knoooow. My dislike is just a personal bias against longer books because I’m a slow reader. Aaaand it’s also because I’m pretty sure my wrists have developed arthritis from trying to figure out a comfortable way to hold it.
All those dislikes, though, are more than outweighed by the book’s general brilliance. It’s like a force of nature. You just have to give in to it and let yourself be swept away in all the pages, footnotes, and storylines.
It’s worth it.
Right. I think it’s time for that plate of carbs.
*aforementioned is my new favourite word even though it makes me sound like I’m 100 years old. What can I say?
… because it sounds super fun and fabulous, doesn’t it?
But I promise (blindly hope) it will be interesting.
Bear with me. Because it’s a long, long post.
Ah, this subject. *winces*
It’s a sore one.
Writing this post – and admitting this is an issue I struggle daily with – feels a lot like rubbing rock salt all over a wound, rinsing that salt off with neat bleach, and then bandaging it all up in a plaster made of velcro, thistles, wasps, and those big, bitey ants that live in the rainforest.
Sometimes talking about things that hurt makes them better in long run.
Hopefully it makes them better in the long run.
cute little ol’ passive-aggressive note
Before I ramble on, I’d like to note that I am very very very painfully painfully painfully aware of how messed up and broken the thinking behind BDD is, how contradictory and illogical it is, and its essential futility. And I’m aware, also, of how ungrateful it is. (For example: I think my legs are super weird and lumpy and enormous and gross and sometimes feel like they’re getting wider every second. But at least I have legs and at least they work. I would miss them if they were gone or I couldn’t use them. I should just love my legs! It’s so simple! *cries*)
If you feel the need to remind me of the lack of logic/the futility/the ungratefulness, please please please don’t.
BDD is complex and I can’t just switch it off.
It’s an ingrained thought process that has to be painstakingly unlearned.
And it’s a twisted personal belief system* that’s basically tattooed to every inch of my soul, and lasering all that shitty BDD religious text off of it has been, is, and will continue to be excrutiatingly difficult.
Let’s do this.
*head of church: my brain. Congregation size: one (meeeeee *waves enthusiastically from front pew*). Service times: any second/minute/hour the BDD spirit moves me to worship (which is a lot – I’m devout). Holy BDD days: every day *gets out tinsel and fairy lights and bad knitwear*.
what bdd feels like
We all have hang-ups about elements of our appearance.
Hang-ups are annoying but they’re mostly fleeting. They have very little impact on behaviours and only flare up every now and then – maybe in a fitting room, at the beach, or whilst having a photo taken.
BDD thoughts are relentless, time consuming, distracting, and impact behaviours signifcantly.
I’m guessing you’ve experienced that disappointed-at-what-you-see-in-the-mirror feeling? Your stomach sinks. Pieces of your self-esteem crumble away. Maybe, on a bad day, that reflection will make you want to cry. I’m guessing you’ve felt the embarrassment of seeing yourself in a badly angled/timed/lit photograph? You kind of recoil from it and you definitely don’t want other people to see you in it. You untag yourself or hide it at the back of the album. I’m guessing you’ve had the stab of jealousy on seeing a picture of a beautiful, airbrushed model in a magazine? Your chances of ever living up to that standard of perfection seem pretty hopeless. You hate yourself for not looking like they do and also hate yourself for caring. And I’m guessing, too, you’ve had days where you just feel a bit shit for reasons you can’t quite put a finger on and want to hide away? Of course you have. We all have.
We’re all human and all have vulnerable, squishy, softer-on-the-inside human emotions.
BDD feels like all those squishy emotions, all the time. Wave after wave after wave. Every couple of minutes, you suddenly remember how hideous you are and how disgusted you must make other people feel when they look at you. It’s like a rush of adrenaline coursing through your veins; or the buzz from a double espresso shot at 3am; or the burn of a downed whiskey on an empty stomach. It hits you – sledgehammer to chest – over and over.
And sledgehammers to the chest inevitably wear you down.
Sledgehammers to the chest make day-to-day life difficult.
They inform every decision you make.
They put you constantly on edge.
And they make you spend all your time – all your precious life – simply trying to mitigate the next hit.
That’s a rubbish way to live.
vanity & self esteem
When a lot of people’s ears hear “body dysmorphia” their brains hear “vanity”.
It’s understandable – it is an obsession focussing on appearance, after all.
The vanity element is one of the main reasons I’ve always shied away from talking about BDD. I already hate myself – the last thing I want to do is make other people hate me too by making them think I’m vain and superficial. Especially as I already assume they think I’m hideous on the outside. The inside is all I’ve got. I don’t want people to think I’m hideous there too.
But BDD isn’t vanity. It certainly has habits and compulsions associated with it (frequent mirror-checking, continually asking for feedback on appearance, etc.), but these unhelpful habits stem from a total lack of self-esteem, extreme insecurities, and feelings of worthlessness rather than high self-regard.
Vanity is mostly defined as:
‘excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own abilities, appearance or achievements’ – Wiktionary
‘inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance’ – Merriam-Webster
There is no pride in BDD.
There’s just shame.
The problem with dismissing BDD as vanity is that not only does it triviliase a complicated mental condition that happens to manifest itself as obsessive thoughts and compulsions relating to perceived physical defects, but it also heightens the shame and guilt already felt by people experiencing it – which makes them less likely to seek help for, and therefore recover from, what is a treatable mental illness. BDD attempted suicide and actual suicide rates are remarkably high. I’m sure (although I’m obviously not a doctor or scientist – this is just my opinion) part of this is down to people’s reluctance to talk about their obsessions with perceived appearance issues out of fear of being labelled as shallow and vain.
‘While the aim in many eating disorders is most commonly to reduce the weight of the body or to enhance the musculature and the aim in BDD is to ‘fix’ a perceived defect or defects, the underlying agony is ultimately the same: the belief that one’s physical appearance is something to be ashamed of, the notion that one is not good enough as one is, and the conviction that by somehow changing the physical body, one can become more ‘beautiful’, more accepted as human being, and more worthy of love.’ – page 33, Reflections, by Nicole Schnackenberg.
BDD thinking is messed up. But it’s not messed up to want to be accepted and loved.
That’s just human.
I love food. I hate food.
It makes me happy and it makes me sad. I wish I could just play it cool around it (I think I have actually got a lot better at playing it cool over the years) but the first thing food reminds me of is my body and how it might change my body for the (even) worse. And as you’ve probably gathered, being reminded of my body makes me all squirmy and uncomfortable.
I used to binge eat as a teenager and hated leaving the house (because I thought I was too ugly to go outside). Binge eating and rarely leaving the house, unsurprisingly, made me gain a lot of weight. Since my heaviest, I’ve lost 4 1/2 stone (63 pounds, 28.5 kilos).*
I still carry that weight around with me mentally, though.
When I eat in front of people, I worry about a lot of things. I worry about how disgusting I look while I’m eating and worry that my disgustingness will make people feel ill. I worry that people will think I’m greedy. I worry that maybe I won’t be able to control myself and will just eat everything in sight. My main worry is that someone will come over and call me fat.
When I buy clothes, I struggle to understand what size I should get and struggle to trust I’m seeing the right numbers. The label might say UK size 8 or 10 or 12 (it would really help if brands chose the same measurements for sizing) but hell no am I going to believe that. And hell no am I going to believe they actually, really, truly fit. I have to fight back against the idea – pretty much every minute – that all the fat in my body is bursting out of my clothes, breaking the seams of stitches, and oozing through the fabric.
Big baggy jumpers are my favourite item of clothing for a reason.
*although, obviously it shouldn’t matter what weight I am. Health and happiness are what’s important.
Coming to terms with the idea that you have a mental health problem, rather than a physical one, is one of the hardest parts of BDD and has taken me a good couple of years to grapple with.
This is my simplistic (but incredibly long winded, sorry *pulls awkward face*) way of describing it:
Imagine that you think you’re right-handed and you’ve been confidently, if clumsily, using your right-hand as your dominant hand for your whole life. It seems to be hurting you in weird ways that you can’t quite understand, and affecting a ridiculous number of your decisions, but it’s familiar. It’s uncomfortable but habitual. Newsflash: it turns out that you’re actually left-handed and your life would, in the long run, be so much better – and all those weird hurts would be significantly reduced – if you started using your left-hand dominantly. Imagine how weird that would initially feel. Imagine the leap of faith it would require to actually believe that you’re left-handed (look normal), not right-handed (hideously, disgustingly, irredeemably ugly). Imagine how many times you would have to stop yourself halfway through writing sentences (thinking obsessive, dysmorphic thoughts) to put the pen in your left-hand – where you’re told it should be but where it doesn’t seem to fit. Imagine how frustrating it would be and how much you’d inevitably relapse. Imagine the jumble of left-hand written and right-hand written sentences on a page, side by side in odd proportions, and how confusing they would look together (feel in your head). Imagine how much longer all those left-hand sentences would take to write. Imagine how wobbly all their letters would be. Imagine how much time it would take to get the left-hand’s writing up to the right-hand’s standard and how long it would be before you’re consistently reeling off pages of neat left-handed sentences (consistently thinking logical, realistic thoughts).
And then imagine how annoying, unhelpful, and humiliating it would be if, throughout the entire process, you had people telling you from the sidelines how they’ve never had a problem with being left-handed, and how they think you should just pull yourself together RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND and write them an entire manuscript in beautiful handwriting – complete with detailed illustrations – only using your left-hand.
Imagine how much you’d want to take the pen – in either hand – and write TWAT all over their smug face.*
*obvs you should never actually do that, but you can definitely think about doing it.
I have been lucky in my experience of BDD.
Although it has crippled my confidence and has impacted some aspects of my life severely, it hasn’t taken complete hold of it. I still leave the house. I still socialise. I can still hold down a job. I still try new things. I still have hope that things will get better if I continue to put the effort in and have the right support.
The BDD thoughts follow me wherever I go, but I still (mostly) go.
I think that is down to my weird and wonderful circle of family and friends.
At thirteen, I left school and studied for my GCSEs at home. One of the main reasons I left was that I couldn’t face crowded places anymore. I couldn’t bear being seen with (what I believed to be) my huge, strange body and disgusting face. I wanted to hide away. But I come from a big family and lived in a busy household that was always filled with people coming and going, doing interesting things, and living interesting lives. I was never going to be able to shut myself away in a little cocoon where no-one would ever see me. It was certainly stressful at the time (for everyone), but I guess it worked as a messy form of exposure therapy.
Plus, I get bored easily. Not leaving my room got very boring, very quickly. The fear of boredom overtook the fear of my ugliness and fatness.
So isolation never took root.
I also feel lucky that my early teenage years came just before the explosion of social media. I’m not sure how I would have coped with Instagram at thirteen – especially in the early days of Instagram.
On those fronts, I think I was really lucky.
But BDD does affect some aspects of my life massively and in ways that I have only talked – and will only talk – about with my nearest and dearest, my doctor, and at therapy. *taps nose secretively*
The last year has been a big one on the mental health front for me. I finally sought help for my anxiety and panic attacks, and was referred for cognitive behavioural therapy. My therapist quickly picked up on the dysmorphia, which I had been nervous to talk about in depth with my GP (because I was anxious she would think I was vain – and also because I was crying so much throughout the entire appointment I don’t think she could actually hear any of the words coming out of my mouth between sobs). Most of my homework activities were based on challenging my thoughts and behaviours relating to my perceived ugliness and fatness. Using the techniques learnt in CBT drastically reduced both my general anxieties and my dysmorphic anxieties.
I finished CBT in February of this year and was beginning to feel like I was a properly functioning, kinda normal(ish) human being who could start to make big decisions – decisions which I have spent a long time trying to avoid because I felt so useless and incapable.
Something happened recently, though, which caused a massive spike in my dysmorphic thoughts.
The CBT techniques have helped me from spiralling into anxiety-wonderland. Talking about it openly with people, rather than internalising it, has helped too. I’ve started yoga and restarted (for the gazillionth time) running – trying to take control of and use my body rather than negatively obsess about it.
But still the BDD thoughts have kept creeping in and setting up camp in my head.
Okay, now we’re back to a subject that makes me feel comfortable and confident and happy.
Is it weird that I had never considered reading about body dysmorphia?
I spend a lot of time reading. I spend a lot of time worrying about my body. And it never ocurred to me that it might be a good idea to pick up a book on the subject and learn more about it.
I think I avoided BDD books because reading is a form of escapism.
And why would I want to escape to a subject which simmers away in my brain every day?
But I was missing an important point. Knowledge is power. Problems shared are problems halved. Realising that loads of other people have been through similar experiences to you, seeing the thoughts that have swamped your mind every day for twenty years written down by someone else who has had them too, gives you a sense of perspective that is invaluable.
If you’re still with me *scans the horizon* then thank you for battling through. You deserve a medal. If I had one to hand, I would give it to you.
I’ve been writing this post for so long now (please send help! And biscuits. And alcohol.), I don’t really know if it makes sense anymore (or how many typos there might be hiding in it). I’ve probably not described some things very well and I’ve probably forgotten to describe some things at all.
But I’m going full Pontius Pilate and washing my hands of this draft now.
It is what it is.
I’ll continue to dip into books about body dysmorphia, continue to read articles, continue to watch programmes, continue to learn and to listen to other people’s experiences of it – and would encourage others to do the same. As with everything in life, it is so helpful to gain perspective. It lessens the severity, and therefore the impact, of dysmorphic thoughts.
But I’m definitely going to be doing those things in smaller doses than the doses I’ve been having in the last few days. *rocks backwards and forwards in a corner*
I don’t want to dwell and ruminate on it anymore – I’ve spent a lifetime doing that.
Slow and steady, little by little, I’m moving on.
And for now, all I want to think about are rainbows, unicorns, sunshine, kittens, and puppies.
Some links that might help explain BDD more clearly and succinctly than this post (I should probably have put them at the start and saved you from all my waffling, woops):