Rabu, 12 Desember 2012

Acne and Self Image: The Reality in the Mirror

Hello everyone. I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving holiday and that you survived your family get-togethers without any fights, food guilt or other disasters!
In my last post, I shared something that I've been dealing with for many years now: my struggle with cystic acne. Since then, I've been continuing my work on healing my body. But as I already mentioned, I don't want to get too detailed about the plan I'm doing until I have a fair view of how well it's working for me, and I believe that this process is going to take a little more time.

Instead, today I'd like to address a different part of my struggle, one that I feel has gone ignored both by me and many other people for far too long: the emotional issues surrounding acne.

When we have acne, we become masters of physical experimentation. We try every cream on the market. We mix up our own potions consisting of just about every ingredient that exists, from egg whites to avocado to honey to mud. We control our diets down to every last ingredient. We fast, we flush, we attempt to cleanse our body with herbs and soups and tonics. We develop the strength to abstain from many of the foods we once loved in a desperate effort to fix our terrible problem.

I have, anyway.

Not that any of these things are necessarily bad. I've developed an incredible amount of health and dietary knowledge (not to mention self-discipline) thanks to the pursuit of freeing myself from my skin problems. But like me, how many of you are ultra-focused on the physical while completely neglecting the emotional side of things?
read also : Acne Treatment: Types, Side Effects, and More
You may have heard of something called body dysmorphic disorder. The Mayo clinic website defines it this way:

"Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of chronic mental illness in which you can't stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don't want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called "imagined ugliness."(1)

Now, I know what you're probably thinking. Acne isn't imagined, right? Of course it isn't. And I'm not saying that anyone who is concerned with their skin has body dysmorphic disorder (or acne dysmorphic disorder, as some call it). But a line is crossed when our desperation to heal our skin becomes a full-on obsession. This is something I have battled in the past. It's something that I still battle today.

Years ago, when my acne was at its worst, I developed anxiety so severe that I had difficulty leaving the house. I began compulsively checking my skin in the mirror, at first every hour or two, but soon every half hour, and then every fifteen minutes. It quickly developed to the point where I couldn't even make it five minutes without running to a mirror (or any other reflective surface) to see if any new spots were forming. Even getting through a day of work was extremely challenging for me, and most nights, I cried myself to sleep.

After a while, my anxiety and depression reached a point where I began contemplating suicide. My skin was not getting any better, and I couldn't live this way anymore. The possibility of a happy future was completely riding on the seemingly unlikely hope that my skin would get better, and I had long since decided that I was nothing if I was ugly. Because good things only happen to people with beautiful skin, right? No one ever falls in love with an ugly person, or gives them an award, or a great job, or a role in a movie, or a publishing deal, or anything else that could possibly be good, right? We are taught from a very young age that good things only happen to beautiful people, because that's what we see in the media and all around us: unrealistically, impossibly, flawlessly beautiful people.

At least, that's what I saw.

And the media is only one source that teaches us this distorted approach. Maybe it came from an abusive mother, or the father who abandoned you, or an ex boyfriend that was cruel to you and called you ugly over your skin. Maybe it came from the bullies at school that you dealt with when you were young. I still clearly remember the girl who stood in front of me in the third grade and listed out all of the girls in our class who she thought were prettier than me. Or the popular boy in the seventh grade who came up to me and "asked me out" as a practical joke while all of his popular friends laughed at me from a few feet away.

It doesn't matter what the source is, these types of experiences all come together over a lifetime to teach us one thing: we aren't good enough to deserve happiness or compassion. So it isn't surprising that coming down with an illness that destroys the skin on our faces will often times, make us feel worthless.

These are feelings that many of you may relate to. They are feelings that I am still dealing with to this day. In the past, when my anxiety over my skin reached a breaking point, I ended up deciding that I did indeed want to live and the only way that I could do that was to seek some sort of help. I ended up being guided toward something called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It helped a great deal at the time, but then I was lucky enough to move into a period of clearer skin. During that time, it was easier to forget about these bad feelings and lock them up inside once again. A healthy self image is an ongoing work in progress, whether or not the physical condition that we loathe ourselves for improves. Perhaps my mistake was thinking that I had healed my self esteem when I clearly had not, since now that I've been dealing with acne again, the anxiety and obsessive thoughts have come back to bite me.

But how do we stop obsessing over our skin when it causes us physical pain, emotional discomfort and a lowered self-image?

That is a difficult question, and there is no easy answer. But there are a number of things that can help.

-EFT is an excellent tool for harnessing control of your mind, especially when it comes to managing anxiety and obsessive thoughts. This post isn't about to be about EFT itself, but there are plenty of resources out there on the net to help you learn about this wonderful therapy. I will list some links with more information, including the exact video from which I learned the process of this therapy, at the bottom of this post.

-Reaching out to others who understand just what you're going through and offering strength and support to each other is another great way to stay positive on your healing journey. There are forums for body dysmorphic disorder, forums for anxiety disorder, and forums specifically for acne sufferers, all of which are wonderful for this.

-Avoiding mirrors is another thing that can help, although it may be difficult. If you've been obsessively looking in the mirror, try challenging yourself to only checking your skin a few times per day instead of twenty. Reward yourself with something that will bring you joy each day that you do well. Forget about your setbacks.

-Focus on what you like about your body, even if you can only come up with one thing. If you can, make a list and post it somewhere you will see it every day. Every time you catch yourself obsessing over your skin, go read the list!

-Go be with friends when you are having a hard day. This one is also tough, because when most of us are feeling bad about our skin, we just want to stay inside our house and hide. If you can, force yourself to go and visit a close friend. There have been so many times where I have almost cancelled on friends because I felt bad about my skin, and every time I went out anyway, I was glad that I did. It helps so much to remember that you are cared about and that your true friends think you're lovely despite the state of your face.

-If you are still struggling and feel suicidal or otherwise unable to cope, don't be afraid to seek professional help. Obsession and anxiety over skin problems are extremely common and you are not alone! There are many caring therapists who will work with you to help get your life back on track.

Despite this all being quite personal, I am putting it out there because I think it's something that so many of us are dealing with. Finding acceptance over being imperfect doesn't mean that we will give up on the fight for clear skin. It just means that we are choosing to love ourselves enough to decide that we deserve happiness, peace and relaxation. It means that we aren't going to sit around and wait for clear skin so that life can finally begin. It means that even if our skin never clears completely, we will still stand up and shout that we are worthy of all of the love and success that is possible in this world.

Healing, growing and maintaining a healthy self-image is an ongoing process. I'll keep at it and I hope you will too.

BDD, Anxiety and Healing Resources

(1)Body Dysmorphic Disorder Information
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Forum
Another Great Blog Specifically About Acne Dysmorphia
EFT Information
More EFT Information and Cheat Sheat
The Video That Taught Me EFT in Eight Minutes (And Changed My Life!)
Emotional Support Forum for Acne Sufferers at Acne.org

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