I’m incredibly honored to feature a three-part interview with Maggie, an amazing woman who shares her story of recovery from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
Maggie started a wonderful organization called Sprout Yoga that offers free yoga to individuals recovering from eating disorders and trauma. She’s truly an inspiration and a great example of how recovery is possible, when you find the right treatment and put in the hard work.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part two!
Please tell us about yourself and your work.
I am a certified yoga teacher, former rape crisis counselor and domestic violence advocate. I decided to work towards getting certified to teach yoga after a long time studying integral yoga – based on the teachings of Satchidananda – so that I could bring the sense of peace and presence that yoga gave me to other people.
After I saw how many other teachers wanted to get involved in the same kind of work – yoga for people who suffer disordered eating – I started Sprout Yoga. We train yoga teachers to work more deeply and specifically with people with disordered eating/eating disorders, assist with research in how yoga can benefit those with eating disorders, and participate in advocacy about eating disorders and disordered eating. I write articles on yoga and disordered eating (there’s a great one on www.healthygirl.org) and blog at www.padmaease.wordpress.com and am in the editing phases of a resource manual for yoga teachers on yoga and eating disorders and am in the beginning phases of a book on yoga and disordered eating.
I also took my work on yoga and trauma, based on my crisis counseling background to a newly formed group called Voices Incorporated – that provides healing to trauma survivors through art, theater, dance and yoga therapy. I love the mission of Voices and am excited about that work. I am also traveling to Haiti as part of a group of yoga teachers who provide trauma informed yoga, working with Yoga for Trauma.
I am also an attorney working in litigation and doing pro bono work by helping people start nonprofits.
How did your BDD start and what do you think contributed to it?
I don’t know if I could tell you when it started. I think this is true for many people with BDD; they think that there isn’t anything wrong with them mentally, just that their physical appearance is terrible. For me, my BDD doesn’t take the form of obsession on a specific body part, but rather on my overall size.
Most likely my BDD kicked off around the 6th grade where I grew almost half a foot in one school year and at the same time, the teenage, or tweenage, boys began harassing any girl in school who was too tall, too fat, or anything outside of the safe norm. They would tell one girl to get liposuction and another one that she had stick legs.
For me, the issue was how tall I was (an inch or two above everyone else), and then when I started dieting to be physically smaller, and crashing and bingeing and gained all the pounds my body needed to gain to fill out the six inches I’d grown, I was harassed for being overweight by those boys. At the same time, while I’m sure my parents were well intentioned, their comments on my weight and efforts to get me to see that I was bingeing backfired on them and stayed with me for years, even decades. The result of my parents prompting left me feeling that I must be huge or unacceptably big. In fact, the nickname those boys gave me was “Jolly Green” as in, the Jolly Green Giant.
How did you come to realize that you suffered from BDD?
It wasn’t actually until I was diagnosed with it. Actually, it was several months after I’d began treatment for depression. I’d heard for what felt like the millionth time from a friend that I “wasn’t as big as you think you are.” I knew I had disordered eating that at times spiraled to the point where I was slightly underweight and other times where I binged uncontrollably, as in, wolfing down five cookies in two minutes flat with nearly no recall of having done so.
I don’t think that I understood the relationship between BDD and depression until after I had made headway in healing the compulsive eating/binge eating and had begun a somewhat more healthy relationship with exercise. When stress in my life would seem overwhelming, or I would feel as though I’d failed at something, I would feel enormous. I knew that there was a direct link, but until I could really see that the BDD would continue to creep in and out of my life at times of stress or disappointment, my only coping mechanism was to throw myself headlong into a scheme to be smaller.
I think the aspect of realizing that I suffered was longer in coming. My cousin remarked recently that she never knew that I struggled with body and eating issues for so long. My response to her was that I never realized I was struggling. I thought everyone struggled like I did, or if they didn’t, it was because they were already acceptable, they were already OK. It wasn’t until I realized that I was really incapable of seeing how big or small I really was, and acknowledged that I really hurt during those times that I felt enormous, that I could understand the depth and breadth of the hold BDD had on me.
Many people don’t know where to start in seeking treatment. How did you go about finding yours?
I think part of the reason people with BDD don’t know where to seek treatment is due to the misunderstanding of what BDD is, and how it feels to live with it. There’s an element of secrecy about BDD and an element of shame. I recall having two roommates in college who thought I was horribly vain and self involved because I had to look at my reflection in the windows of the small town where my college was. What they didn’t understand was that I had to check my reflection to make sure I hadn’t gotten fat from one window to the next.
Hearing both what they said to me about that, and how they said it (not terribly thoughtfully or compassionately) sent my BDD even deeper under my skin for almost a decade.
I sought treatment for depression and anxiety. When I began to learn to tolerate my anxiety, I found that I was gaining weight. Which partially horrified me, and partially was a new experience. I was actually able to notice and feel where I was gaining weight, and in which areas. At times I couldn’t tolerate the weight, and at times I was happy with where I was and who I was. My point is that by learning tools to address anxiety and understanding the self as a whole gigantic unit of attributes and skills and feelings, I was able to place my body as not being the center of whether I was a worthwhile person or not.
I was lucky to have found a therapist who was capable of diagnosing the BDD in addition to the depression, and to work elements of addressing that into our sessions. I’m not sure therapy on the BDD aspect would have been possible if I didn’t learn to tolerate anxiety about a variety of things in addition to my body, which was part and parcel of addressing my depression.
Thank you so much, Maggie, for sharing your story with us. Be sure to come back tomorrow for part two!