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Reflective Journeys: Confronting Body Dysmorphia

Imagine looking into a mirror and instead of seeing your familiar self, you see a chaotic symphony of twists and ripples. What you see is not a true representation but rather a whimsical caricature, a funhouse mirror’s trickery brought to life. In this distorted reflection, your flaws are magnified to monstrous proportions, imperfections stretched beyond recognition, exaggerated and self-esteem left in tatters shattered. Each glance becomes a confrontation with a version of yourself that feels alien, unrecognisable - a constant reminder of the relentless battle against your own perception.

This disconcerting experience isn’t just a fleeting moment of confusion; it’s a glimpse into the daily struggles faced by individuals grappling with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Yet, amidst the chaos of this internal turmoil, their silent anguish struggle often goes unnoticed, overshadowed by society’s relentless pursuit of an unattainable ideal perfection.

Today, we invite you to step into the poignant journey of Le Yong – a journey fraught with the complexities of BDD. It all began from a seemingly innocuous comment from a stranger in a coffee shop, a passing remark on his facial features. While such remarks may be shrugged off by many, for Le Yong, they became a catalyst for an unhealthy obsession with his appearance. 

What started as a fleeting observation soon morphed into an all consuming fixation – a relentless loop of self- critique and scrutiny that gripped him daily. This fixation didn’t merely reside in the recesses of his mind; it manifested as tangible physical sensations, an ever-present reminder of the turmoil within. 

“People were staring at my big nose. I could not make friends with anyone.”

Along with many others who struggle with BDD, Le Yong shared that maintaining friendships during his battle with BDD was an arduous task. Even seemingly simple tasks like stepping outside could trigger overwhelming anxiety - due to a fear of judgement and misunderstanding. Consequently, Le Yong concealed his inner turmoil, and sought solace in the unlikely companionship of drinking, smoking and self-harm.

Fighting Stigmas and Stereotypes

The words of The Raveness, Night Tide Musings, “This beast dwells within whom many confuse with vanity”, captures the essence of a pervasive misconception. It’s a misconception that blankets all those grappling with BDD, reducing their struggles to mere vanity or narcissism. 

This stigma casts a long shadow over the experiences of those living with BDD, and can hinder their willingness to open up about their struggles and seek the support they want and need. 

Reflecting on his own journey, Le Yong dispels the myth that BDD is merely a manifestation of vanity, describing it instead as “an unhealthy phase of thinking”. He urges others to educate themselves on BDD, to delve beneath the surface and grasp complexities that underpin this disorder. 

It is more than a body image issue”, 

                                                           -   Le Yong emphasises.

BDD is often found in comorbidity with other disorders such as eating disorders, anxiety or depression. He implores individuals to take pride in their journey, to embrace self-discovery as a path to healing. It’s a call for personal strength and self-awareness to confront BDD. 

The Recovery Journey

The journey for individuals with BDD becomes additionally daunting in the face of limited accessibility and inadequate provision of treatment. As a result, when confronted with the overwhelming weight of their affliction, their instinctual response often leads them down familiar, albeit harmful, paths of coping. Prior to seeking treatment, individuals often grapple with desperate attempts to cope, resorting to any means to simply stay afloat. 

As Le Yong candidly shared, some may turn to rather unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking, smoking or self-harm. These destructive behaviours, born out of desperation in search for relief, served as temporal distractions from the relentless onslaught of negative obsessive thoughts about himself. 

Embarking in his journey with BDD, Le Yong unearthed an arsenal of coping mechanisms that gradually reshaped his outlook and propelled him forward on his path to recovery. He emphasised the significance of implementing incremental adjustments throughout his journey. Despite encountering several articles advocating for the cessation of mirror checking altogether, Le Yong recognised the impracticality of such a feat for himself. Instead, he opted for more subtle modifications to his mirror-checking habits. 

“I ensure that I am at least 1 arm’s length away from any mirror,” Le Yong confides, revealing a simple yet profoundly effective coping mechanism. This subtle adaptation allowed him to partake in self-reflection without succumbing to the suffocating grip of obsession. 

Through this subtle shift, he transitioned from fixating solely on his perceived flaws to embracing a more holistic perspective of himself. 

“Be gentle with yourself,” 

                                                             - Le Yong emphasises,

stressing the importance of using compassionate and nurturing language when addressing oneself. For Le Yong, the journey was not just about breaking the habit of relentless mirror-checking - it was about infusing every reflection with a dose of self-compassion. These gradual shifts in mindset and behaviour played a pivotal role in his journey towards healing and self-discovery.

The path to recover is far from linear - marked by moments of triumph and challenges. In critical moments of adversity, it is vital to recognise that such setbacks do not obliterate all the progress made. As Le Yong aptly reassures, “It doesn't matter because what you’ve learned stays with you”, emphasising the enduring value of lessons learned and personal growth achieved along the way. 

In fact, he suggests that after experiencing a setback, it may be easier to get back on track because one can utilise and apply the insights gained previously. “Practice, revise and go over all the things you have learnt and done before.” 

Prioritising preventive measures is crucial in guarding against potential relapse during the recovery journey. Le Yong advocates for this proactive approach by recommending the cultivation of internal resilience and confidence. Strengthening internal confidence empowers individuals to navigate challenging situations with greater self-assurance, reducing vulnerability to relapse triggers. 

Advice and Support for Others

Support comes in different ways and works differently for each individual. Le Yong, for instance, initially struggled to find motivation in therapy and didn’t experience its effectiveness during the early phases of treatment. Over time, he became more receptive to the therapeutic process, learning more about himself and embracing his psychological journey. 

His advice?

“Be open to trying out different therapies and strategies to find out which is effective for you.”

For Le Yong, he found value in the approach of shifting his perspective. Le Yong shared that one day when he encountered a sign displaying the block number 503, instead of merely noting the digits, he paused to appreciate the sign’s purpose: guiding people to the right block. Inspired, he applied this same concept to himself. Rather than obsessing over his facial features, he shifted his focus to the function of his nose and its overall purpose.

This simple yet profound shift in perspective empowered him to embrace his uniqueness and appreciate himself beyond his appearance. In addition, he also credits his gradual recovery in grappling BDD to the power of self-awareness and self-education. He found that his understanding of his own experience deepened significantly after coming across an article on BDD in a magazine. Likewise, through education and learning more about BDD, we can also heighten our awareness and greatly transform our perspectives.

As Le Yong shares, “Explore what helps you and always be gentle with yourself. Because ultimately, if we (you) don’t choose and decide to help ourselves (yourself), the road to recovery will be tough no matter what support we (you) choose.” Indeed, the beginning of recovery starts with you. 

What will you do to start your journey of recovery?

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