My first blog for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is on my experiences of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and hair loss.
In 2013 researchers found hair loss could even lead to exaggerated feelings of ugliness and, in the worst cases, trigger BDD, where sufferers experience acute anxiety about their looks. Doctors found that the ‘enormous emotional burden’ of going bald could lead in some cases to low self-confidence, mental disorders and even impaired quality of life. In fact some have said those with BDD, hair loss second most common issue, with further suggestion that it affects men more than women, but I am uncertain how true this is as I felt devoid of any femininity for many years due to my own hair loss. Much of the media reporting has been on men too, but to me this just adds to the taboo of female hair loss.
With all the twisted images and lies that the media (printed and social), it is no wonder we all feel bad about our appearances , and judge them against them. Many think of eating disorders with regard to BDD, but in my case it was loosing my hair completely over twenty five years ago. Hair loss is not just a cosmetic issue, hair transplants are neither cheap or for everyone, and can have far reaching consequences – and an underlying impact on well-being.
As well as hair loss, I struggled with self identity, bullying and abuse adding to the deadly cocktail that left me feeling like a freak and ogre. I was offered no psychological help at any stage with the trauma of dealing with being 13 (I am almost 41 now) and having no hair left on my body made me wish I actually had cancer as perhaps people might understand more, or I would have had offers of such help. My hair will probably never fully grow back, it did once but fell out again a year later, and almost twice but stress kicked in. I will always remember one little boy pointing at me, and asking if I had holes in my head when he saw patches, all I could do was run away and cry.
Being laughed at by my peers at school made me petrified to spend a few days away on a school trip with them…would they try to steal my wig in the night as some would find it funny? I would not have put it past them, but I kept it on all the time and cried myself to sleep each day. I did not want to be there; I even claimed home sickness to my teachers, when in reality home wasn’t where I wanted to be either. I was suicidal and rather be dead. By the time I did escape to university, I was so scared to be social as thought it might come off, and be laughed at anew by those I lived or studied with.
I have never had sexual attraction or a sex drive, I identify as asexual, which in turn was maybe a blessing in disguise. Nobody was attracted to me, or so I felt, so perhaps it was a good thing as how would I explain my hair loss. I struggled with every day life in terms of knowing who I was, self love, and identity as to me I was always in my narcissistic mother’s shadow and hair loss robbed me of any chance to fight back with individuality. I was so sure everyone knew I was wearing a wig, pointing and laughing at me in the street, or gossiping behind my back.
It took my love of photography to start the fight back, and win the war against my BDD. Photographs as I said at the start can be manipulated, but start off by someone taking them, and as someone who hated others taking my image I think taking them myself was equally about having that control of the image. Every time a family member took one of me my eyes are shut, I am blind in one eye and highly sensitive to light, so my eyes shut with sunshine to flashes, but he would routinely humiliate me having my eyes shut to laughing at me refusing to have him take any pictures of me. When your mind already says you’re a freakish ogre, you do not need this added to the cocktail. So turning the camera on me allowed me to see me, the raw bare faced image that the camera took. Over years, and selfies became a thing, I saw myself develop like an old film photograph. Now images of me by me are like the others I take, they are snapshots in time, which I do not manipulate as would not be truly me. Recently a student at work, who was working of self esteem, had to write something positive about everyone – her’s to me was ‘different and talented’ (I had to resist giving her a big hug).
I have learnt that my body is a shell; people see an outer layer but only as we let them closer do they see the different layers that make us who we are, with very few seeing our skeleton being. I may have very judgemental people in my family, but I have never been one except of my own self. BDD can still try crawl back, but like the black dog that is my depression, this dog’s begging will not result in treats! Ignoring those, or removing them completely, that bring us harm is just as important to do with ourselves – cutting out the toxicity we have for ourselves.
© Fi S. J. Brown