In my hand I’m holding a photograph. I’m about five years old, blonde hair, cheeky grin, innocent. I’m gazing at the camera smiling back. I had no idea then that this would be one of the last times I could have my image captured and it not cripple me with despair.
I have no shame nowadays about having a mental illness. I used to fear other peoples reactions or judgements but this does not scare me anymore. Having an answer to my suffering felt like I was being set free, that I had a chance at making real changes within.
I have been diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Social Anxiety. Well, I don’t do things by halve!
My Mirror, Friend or Foe
BDD is my main battle. The mirror to me is both my best friend and worst enemy. I liken what I see in it to looking at a Picasso picture, all distorted and not quite making sense.
I was inflicted with these feelings from a very young age although by the time I was fifteen my negative thoughts and behaviours had soaked into every aspect of my life and eroded any sense of self I may of once had.
My core belief has always been that I’m not good enough. This means that in every waking moment I have to disguise the monster I fear I am or face being found out and abandoned. I am lucky to have learnt to trust that my judgement is not always correct, to have found some strength to know that it is Ok to be just Emma.
It took a while to realize that who I really am is inside this body. I was born with this body in order to live my life and yet I have been trapped inside it because I couldn’t see beyond it! After years of denying my own identity, it feels incredible to actually start embracing it. I have learnt that this is where real confidence comes from.
Small Signs of Hope
It hasn’t been easy. I have hit rock bottom a few times, it is so painful, yet amongst all the chaos, life shows you signs that beg you to keep holding your head up high.
I will give you a quick example of something that happened today. I was feeling quite low as I walked amongst throngs of people in my village. Sometimes, especially when the inner demons are taunting me, I feel so disconnected from everything and everyone.
As I am walking I hear a male voice shouting but I do not understand what is being said so I spin round.
The next thing a gorgeous little cheeky chappy of a puppy comes hurtling towards me and the road where the traffic is moving steadily. My instinct is to get to my knees and stop it in its tracks. It practically jumps into my arms and licks away at my sad face bringing out a massive smile.
I hand the puppy back to the concerned owner who thanks me, and we both go on our way. We all have a purpose everyday, even if it means being in the right place at the right time and just doing the right thing.
Even in The Darkest Moments
This last year for me has been traumatic. I lost my husband to cancer. When my husband passed away I feared so badly that I would go to bed and never wake up, depression hit me like a tonne of bricks. However somewhere in me came a strength which I liken to stubbornness, of which I am, very! See how even our supposed weaknesses can be our actual strengths?
Why should I give up on my life when here was someone who had life cruelly ripped from him. Often now, when I feel a black cloud over my head, I remember the brave people I have met along the way. We are all equally facing challenges and I discovered how humour and just a little kindness to self can take away the strain of even the toughest moments.
In these last few months its been difficult to keep my old negative thoughts and behaviours in check.
I very stupidly decided that I would take myself off my prescribed SSRI medication without consulting my doctor first. Aside from the terrible light headiness and sweats, there came the unbearable signs that I was going backwards. Maybe subconsciously I was in self destruct mode.
Facing My Fears
I now have to walk away from the mirror before I feel that flip in my stomach. I answer that knock on my front door, be it reluctantly to let in a face who cares, who listens. I set my alarm clock and push my drained self off the bed before my eyes can flip shut and I fling the duvet back over my head.
Still, I know within that every day I am getting stronger and more resilient. I often win the daily battles my illnesses throw at me. I love the euphoria of achieving something how ever slight when that little voice on my shoulder tells me I couldn’t. I love the fact that nowadays I have more knowledge and faith and the will to keep moving forward, kick butt attitude in tow. A far cry from the girl who couldn’t leave her bedroom for a year because she felt too ugly to be seen.
While we are living we are learning. And yes life will often not seem fair and will inevitably keep throwing curve balls. However all that is happening is life is providing us with opportunities for growth and self development. So whoever you are or whatever you are going through, you and I deserve to hold our heads up high. The question I get asked mostly is, What do you see in the mirror now? I say, just Emma, and I smile.
Photo credit: Emma Collier
Emma Collier is the author of the website www.bddhelp.co.uk created to spread awareness about Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Its mission is to provide visitors correct information and support, enabling them a way forward. Her aim is to show people that they are not suffering alone and that having any kind of illness is not something to feel ashamed about.