I’ve spent the last two months desperately trying to ignore it – eyes closed, hands over my ears, singing a la-la-la song to myself – in a pathetic attempt to make it all go away.
Funnily enough, that hasn’t worked.
All of our lives and so many industries have been touched by this, in so many different ways – I wanted to share my little corner of the experience so far and get some things off my chest.
I never, ever talk about work here – for lots of reasons, but mainly because it has nothing to do with books or writing. And I don’t know whether I could technically get in trouble with someone from some department I’ve never heard of for writing about what it’s been like to accidentally, and bizarrely, find myself and my colleagues on the frontline of a pandemic, but I’m pretty sure I’m not sharing anything sensitive or secret. Everyone has already seen the photos/videos of what’s been going on in the paper, on the news, or on social media.
I work in a supermarket.
The last three weeks have been the most ridiculous, unbelievable, and insane of my working life.
Personally, this is a little bit of what it’s been like…
It’s been shift after shift after shift of hundreds of agitated people swarming all around, filled with a panic, panic, panic that has become harder and harder to shake off at the end of each day. It’s been empty shelves and angry, snide, horrible comments from actual grown-up human adults who should know how to behave better. It’s been people crowding around for pasta and rice and tins and bottles and paracetemol and soap and toilet roll, with no regard for mine or my colleagues’ personal space and, consequently, no regard for our health (and, consequently, the health of the people we live with/care for). It’s been witnessing selfishness and rudeness on a depressing scale. It’s been telling elderly customer after elderly customer that there’s no bread left, no eggs left, no flour, no pasta, no potatoes; it’s been watching them walk off down the aisle with an empty basket and wondering what they’ll eat for the rest of the week; it’s been wanting to cry, knowing that they’ve risked their health to get their shopping but have nothing to show for it because the shelves were stripped of the basics by people who, most likely, were younger and healthier and less at risk than them. It’s been looking at all the queues, people squished together closely, and thinking: “this is exactly what people are supposed to be avoiding right now.” It’s been moments of staring at the ever-growing gaps on the shop floor and wondering: “what if the deliveries actually do stop coming?” (fyi: they won’t.) In particularly dark and melodramatic and pessimistic corners of my mind, it’s been looking at myself and my colleagues thinking: “what if this is worse than they say it is? We’re basically going to be the first people to die. And all so people could fight over toilet roll they probably don’t really need.” It’s been saying goodbye to older/at risk colleagues and presuming/hoping I’ll see them fit and well in 3 months’ time. It’s been itchy, cracking hands from a mix of cardboard, paper cuts, and hand-sanitizer. It’s been a sore back, painful knees, throbbing feet. It’s been getting home and feeling dirty and contaminated – a risk to my family (particularly my mum, who went through chemo last year, and my dad, who has high-blood pressure – plus they’re both over 60). It’s been trying to figure out if I’ll ever see my 94-year-old grandma in person again. It’s been trying to adjust to the side effects of the anti-depressants I was put back on less than two weeks ago – headaches, dizziness, a constant nausea – and then trying to work out if any of the new things I’m feeling are symptoms of Covid-19 or “just” symptoms of being an anxious person. It’s been desperately wanting to catch up with my friends – see their faces, give them the biggest hugs, cry on their shoulders – but knowing that is absolutely the last thing I can do. It’s been thinking “my job is safe for now – but what happens when the economic impacts of this start digging deeper?” And, completely selfishly, it’s been freaking out that I’ll be single for ever and ever and ever more; despairing that my destiny as a crazy cat lady (and now a crazy jig-saw puzzle lady) is pretty much sealed.
It’s been all that and more, but I think that paragraph is big enough as it is.
Basically – but then, this is true for everyone right now – it’s all been a bit shit.
Times all that stress and emotion by a million, and I can only assume that that must be kind of what it feels like to work in healthcare at the moment.
I have no idea what the future holds. Stuff has got super weird, super quickly.
Somehow, unbelievably, kind of hilariously, I’ve found myself classified as a key-worker in a pandemic. I would never ever in a million years have predicted that, but here we are. I’ll keep turning up, keep taking all the precautions I can to keep me and my family healthy, keep trying to help people have access to the things they need.
At the end of the day, though, we’re all key players in this – whether we’ve been classified by the government as such or not. We all help to make the world a better, happier, safer, nicer, more interesting place.
We have to, have to, have to look after each other.
My blog turned four on Valentine’s day, and even though that was quite a while ago now I still wanted to (belatedly) mark the occasion. So, in honour of four happy blogging years I thought it would be nice to focus on four – pretty random – things that I’ve been loving and that have been making me happy this February…
engagement pancakes. One of my brothers recently got engaged. I got the date for pancake day wrong by two whole weeks. Those two things combined meant our celebratory family meal ended up being fajitas, with pancakes and ice cream for pudding (plus lots of prosecco). My mum has decided that engagement pancakes are now, officially, a family tradition. And I’m very much okay with that.
netflix. A heady mix of Storm Ciara, rain, more rain, Storm Dennis, feeling unwell, the trailer for The Witcher, a holiday week from work to use up, and a reading slump *shock, horror* meant I finally gave in and signed even more of my life and money away up for Netflix. So far, I have no regrets and a massive crush on Henry Cavill.
taking leaps. I’ve just put a deposit on a new (to me) car and, for someone whose blood is basically made up of neat cortisol, this has obviously involved unrelenting stomach butterflies, heart-juddering waves of panic, and hours of lying awake listing all the things that could go wrong. Things definitely could go wrong – cars will be cars will be cars – but they could also not (hopefully, please and thank you universe). Leaps of faith – in whatever form – are how we grow. They make life interesting. They go wrong and they go right. You just have to jump and see what happens. *tries to look wise and zen*
My brother and his girlfriend are down from London over the holidays with their seven month old miniature dachshund, Remi.
Remi is ADORABLE. He’s cuteness and mischief and cuddles and fabulousness on four tiny legs; with a heart of gold, the smooshiest little face, the floppiest and fluffiest ears you ever did see, and a nose that’s perfect for booping.
On Sunday, we took him to Studland beach for his first trip to the seaside.
He loved it. And it was the loveliest thing to see him discovering a whole new world; see him sallying forth into a great unknown; see his first steps on the sand; see his nose covered in it too; see him meet the sea, smell the water, paddle along the bubbly edges of it and look out at the horizon. Probably the biggest and widest horizon he’s seen so far. Poole, Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, Old Harry Rocks, the silky silver English Channel, cloud after cloud after cloud. He took it all in his perfect, wibbly wobbly stride.
The beach was busy – but Remi’s a city dog, a seasoned pro in busyness, so he wasn’t fazed. He made lots of new furry friends and won himself lots of human admirers too.
And watching him got me feeling all philosophical.
(What can I say? I just like overthinking.)
To be fair, the end of a year and the dawn of new one always makes me reflective. What did I learn? What did I do with my life? Did I make the most of the last twelve months? What do I want to learn and do in, and how do I make the most of, the next twelve? I don’t really know how to answer those questions properly. They probably aren’t truly answerable.
All I do know is I want to be a bit like Remi meeting the sea over the next twelve months – constantly curious, open to the unknown, finding joy in the little things, and quietly confident I’ll be up to the challenge of what’s in store.
I probably won’t look quite as cute as him though.
The weather outside this December has been frightful.
And as much as the fire has been delightful, sometimes keeping warm and cosy and happy in winter means more than just a temperature change.
I find these winter months difficult. I don’t like short days. I don’t like unrelentingly grey skies. I don’t like my skin turning a weird purple, red, blue colour when I misjudge how many layers I need to wear. I don’t like how easily the dreary darkness of outside creeps inside my mind. And I don’t like de-icing my car. (I really, really don’t like forgetting that I’m going to need to de-ice my car and the five minutes of panic that follows as I desperately try and make it so I can see out of the windscreen and actually get to work on time.)
So, yeah. Not a massive winter fan.
But winter is happening here in the Northern hemisphere whether I’m a fan of it or not (rude, right?) so I figured this year I’d at least try to be a bit more enthusiastic about it.
Here are some of my winter warmers:
cuppas. Cups of tea are an integral part of my life all year round, but cold weather definitely ups the cuppa stakes. Plus, winter is the perfect excuse for a cheeky hot chocolate (maybe with a splash of Bailey’s thrown in too).
people. Spending time with the people that make your heart happy is pretty much the answer to all of life’s problems, always.
stories. In whatever format – whether it’s a TV series, a film, or a book – being swept off to galaxies far, far away; parallel worlds; seventies California, etc. puts a rainy English winter in its little old place. At the moment, I’m watching and loving the adaptation of His Dark Materials on the BBC, reading and loving Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and I’m so so looking forward to the new Star Wars film.
twinkle, twinkle. Sparkly lights, sparkly tops, sparkly eye-shadow, sparkly hairspray, sparkly hopes and dreams, sparkly and wonderful people – sparkling, shimmering, shining, glittering stuff keeps the cold, grey darkness of December days at bay. Sparkle up your life. Jingle all the way. Let it glow let it glow let it glow.
jack frost. Frosty mornings are pretty to look at, even if they do mean I have to de-ice my car. *supresses eye twitch* I don’t know why a little layer of ice makes the world seem magical and fairytale-esque, but it somehow does. And anything that makes the world seem more magical is worth celebrating.
furry friends. Cuddling a cat (or any pet) is one of the best medicines for curing the winter blues.
knitwear. Cocooning myself in layers of knitwear, snug as a bug in a rug, is one of my favourite things about winter and is pretty much the only thing I miss about it when it’s summer time. It’s one of life’s top comforts for me, physically and mentally. I feel safe (100% aware of how silly that sounds) as well as cosy when I’m swamped in an XXL men’s jumper.
eat, drink, be merry. Life is too short to worry about the calorie content of mince pies and mulled wine. Way, way too short. This year, I’m all in.
planning ahead/adventures. Having things to look forward to and adventures to go on – whether they’re big or teeny-tiny small – are nice distractions from the symptoms of cabin fever that can creep in at this time of year. They’re like stepping stones of hope leading all the way to spring.
starry, starry night. Winter offers some of the best night skies of the year and staring at the stars is always a good idea.
creating. Write an epic poem. Sew a shopper bag. Knit a Dr Who length scarf. Make a Christmas decoration. Bake a massive cake. Concoct a new cocktail. Build a bookshelf. Play an instrument. Invent a new board game. Paint a picture. Paint a wall. Being stuck inside is one of the best excuses to make something/catch up with projects we would all be too busy skipping dreamily through sun-drenched meadows of buttercups and daisies to get around to otherwise.
something new. Trying new things is always good for the soul, even if it’s simply testing out a new cookie recipe or reading a different genre of book – getting those little grey cells going helps keep those big grey clouds from taking over.
*stops and stares morosely at the darkness outside*
I think it’s definitely time for that mince pie and glass of mulled wine.
♦ What’s your favourite time of year? ♦ What are your favourite things about winter? ♦ Have you got any book/film/TV recommendations to distract from the cold weather? ♦
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 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 against 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.
… 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):
Ok, so I’m not actually old. But I am actually confused.
What exactly keeps happening to time?
I don’t understand.
Anyway, I wanted to mark the occasion (late, as always) with some bullet points and some of the things that make me happy in life. Twenty-seven bullet points and happy things, to be precise. Plus four photos.
So here they all are, in no particular order:
one: family. Dammit those weirdos mean the absolute world to me.
two: friends. See above explanation.
three: chocolate. Although it also makes me feel sad because it has a scary number of calories in it #emotionalminefield. Mostly, though, the yumminess is worth the calories.
four: colourful hair. My hair was untouched by bleach/hair dye up until two years ago so I’m making up for lost hair dyeing time now. And I absolutely love seeing other people’s colourful hair – I don’t want to think about how much time I’ve wasted on Pinterest and Instagram looking at prettily coloured hair.
five: reading (surprise, surprise). I can’t overstate how important reading is to me. Whether it’s books (obvs my fave), newspaper articles, blogs, or even just the back of a shampoo bottle, I am OBSESSED with it.
six: running in the rain. I can’t quite believe I’m putting actual physical exercise on a list of things that make me happy, but running – somehow (I think it has something to do with magical endorphin science things?) – does make me happy. And rain is my favourite going-for-a-run weather for a couple of reasons. Firstly, not only is the sound of rain therapeutic and calming, it also conveniently helps to drown out my desperate gasps for air. And secondly, all that sky water makes me look a bit less sweaty and disgusting.
seven: high-waisted jeans. The day I discovered high-waisted jeans was a revolutionary day in my life (I don’t even care how sad that makes me sound). Low-rise and mid-rise can burn in fiery jean hell. I have actual hips with actual flesh on them. Over time, I’ve learnt to hate me and my fleshy hips less and – you know what? – I really don’t appreciate my hips being cut in half by badly tailored denim.
eight: cats. Cats are just fabulous and they do the funniest things.
nine: sassiness and sarcasm. Being sassy and sarcastic is fun. But sassy sarcasticness is all about the goldilocks balance. Too much and in the wrong context, it’s rude – and rude isn’t fun, rude is just rude. You don’t want to overdo the sass. You need to know when sassy one-liners are inappropriate and you need to know when you’re speaking to a gentle soul who needs to be eased into your sassy ways. But don’t be afraid to get sassy every now and again. Sometimes, sassiness and sarcasm are the only answers to life’s problems.
ten: lists (see entire post). They make me feel organised which makes me feel happy. In reality, lists just make me a disorganised person hopelessly brandishing a piece of paper decorated with words that somehow made sense when I initially wrote them down (again, see entire post).
eleven: stationery. Stationery is life. Life I tell you. *waves hands in reverie towards the heavens*
twelve: pudding/dessert (whichever word’s your preference). To be honest, I could quite easily go for a three course meal made up entirely of pudding courses. Which probably means I have a sugar-related pudding problem, but, after twenty-seven years on this here earth, I’m finally at peace with who I am as a pudding loving person.
thirteen: looking triumphantly around a room I’ve just tidied. Obviously the process of tidying can be horrific, infuriating, and distressing, but the smug feeling afterwards is priceless.
fourteen: fresh bedding. It’s just so snuggly and cosy and perfect.
fifteen: the phrase “fuck it”. They’re the two most liberating words in the English language. You always know something good, or at least something interesting with mixed results, is about to happen when you hear/say those words.
sixteen: (and on that note) swearing in general. I just really bloody love it, right from the bottom of my feckin heart. Sorry mum.
seventeen: flowers. They make the world a better, prettier, more colourful, more bumblebee-full, and more butterfly-full place. What’s not to like?
eighteen: writing. Although, like chocolate, it also makes me sad. It makes me sad because I get frustrated that I’m not better at it. It makes me happy because it’s the ultimate outlet for my weird little brain and all its weird little ideas.
nineteen: the seaside. There’s no place I’d rather be; whatever the time of year, whatever the weather.
twenty: unexpected book conversations. Obviously all book conversations make me happy, but there’s something extra special about an out of the blue book chat. It’s a magical, warm the cockles of your heart moment.
twenty-one: Christmas (when I’m not at work). It’s just a wonderful time of year (when I’m not at work). Eating, drinking, and being merry (when I’m not at work) are all things that I’m good at doing anyway, so the fact that it becomes socially acceptable to do all these things in excess at Christmas time works out really well for me.
twenty-two: cognitive behavioural therapy. I was referred for CBT in July last year, started it in September, and in February this year was released back into the therapy-free wilds. This is a whole other blog post and that post will be super long and emotionally messy when I get round to it (not pitching it well, am I?). Basically, although CBT is hard work (why oh why oh why can’t therapists just flick a brain switch and magically fix minds?) the results are worth it and make for a much happier life in the long run.
twenty-three: baking. In general, I’m not a confident person and spend a lot of time thinking I’m doing things wrong. But baking is one thing that I am confident at. And I can eat the end result (mostly). Perfect.
twenty-four: cups of tea. I ❤ tea always.
twenty-five: charity shopping. I know some people get a bit grossed out about secondhand clothes – an attitude to which I have two words: washing machine – but I unashamedly love thrifting. You never know what you’re going to find, it’s much more environmentally friendly, and it costs a lot less than buying new.
twenty-six: baths so hot they make my skin a radioactive lobster shade of red. I’m old now and my body hurts – baths the temperature of lava make my body hurt less. That makes me happy.
twenty-seven: finishing things I’ve started. Sometimes (ahem, a lot of the time) I get distracted halfway through projects/housework/books/talking/writing blog posts, so actually finishing things makes me all happy-smug inside.
*basks in happy-smug glow*
So there you have it. Twenty-seven happy things. I’m looking forward to another year full of them.
Here’s to being a little bit older and a little bit wiser.
The last few weeks have rushed passed in a blur and they’ve involved a lot less reading than I would have liked, but I’ve been making my way through a few slowly, slowly.
I’ve been trying to keep track of little snippets from each one – too often I read books without stopping to make a note of the pearls of wisdom in them, pearls that I know I’ll want to refer back to but always, inexplicably, think I’ll be able to remember. (The only reason I think I’ll be able to remember them is because I forget that I have a terrible, terrible memory.)
But I actually managed to take notes this month. And I didn’t even lose the notes.
Miracles can happen.
I narrowed the quotes down to these fabulous, and kind of random, four. They just spoke to my messy old soul for some reason. I hope you like them too.
‘I remain a curious cosmonaut through my own tiny mind.’ – page 229, Pure by Rose Cartwright. I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough. It made me cry, made me laugh proper belly laughs, and made me marvel at just how much unnecessary pain our brains are able to put us through. We should all stay curious cosmonauts – through our minds and through every day of our lives.
‘Never leave a void where something may be written.’ – page 289, The Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell. This sentence stopped me in my tracks. It sparked something in my brain and felt like a call to arms. A call to create.
‘More than half the skill of writing lies in tricking the book out of your own head.’ – page 42, A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett. Ah, Sir Terry. He just knew how to sum things up perfectly, because that is exactly what writing feels like – whether it’s writing a book or, although maybe this is just me, a blog post. There is some super weird magic/curse stuff going on and I’m not sure I will ever understand it. I just wish I could trick words out of my head more often.
And randomly, on the subject of stretch marks, from How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – ‘Puberty is like a lion that has raked me with its claws as I try to outrun it.’ I’m pretty sure most women will remember the moment they noticed their first stretch marks as a teenager. Personally, I was horrified. It absolutely felt like being attacked by the claws of a horrible life/time lion, and I was totally, 100%, definitely not okay with it. Random jaggedy red lines appearing all of a sudden across my hips and the tops of my thighs? No thank you, life. But apparently – and annoyingly – the lion of life doesn’t take into consideration what you want or don’t want. Which I still don’t really think is fair, but oh well. *sighs*
Hopefully I’ll keep on keeping track of quotes and keep on keeping track of where the notebook for them is, so I have some wisdom-pearls to share for April too.
It’s only a few more days until winter is officially over here, and I am so, so ready to say goodbye to it. Readier than I have ever been. I’ve tried to embrace the last few months, tried to get on board with the constant tingle of cold gnawing at my bones. I’ve tried to appreciate sludgy snow, biting winds, silver grey skies, short sharp days, and spattering rain; tried to embrace my inner ice queen. I have so, so tried. Really and truly.
But my heart wants spring now, right this very minute, more than it has ever wanted spring before.
I want blooming flowers and zesty bright greens. I want long, long days and I want evenings spent laughing in slowly, gently, softly dying light. I want to lounge in warm, golden sunshine with a book, blossom tumbling from the trees, bees humming through the air. I want strawberries that are fresh and juicy and sweet. I want floaty dresses and flip flops. I even want SPF 50 sunscreen.
There’s just the matter of those tricksy few more days to get through.
I’ll be spending them how I’ve tried to spend the rest of winter: walking off the cold, walking off the grey, walking off the cabin fever.
And, of course, there’ll be the odd bit of reading thrown in too.