We dressed up like the Bionic Woman. My cousin Tiffany and I wore the same costume for Halloween that year. It was around 1978, a time when it was safe for two seven-year-old girls to go “trick or treating” without an adult, and a year that the Bionic Woman was a popular Halloween costume. We approached the white house on the corner, across the street from the woods near my house. I remember it like it was yesterday. By this time the plastic masks had become unbearably hot and we flipped them up on top of our heads. We rang the doorbell and a woman—looking back it was probably a teenaged girl, but to a seven-year-old, it was still a “grown-up”—opened the door. Another woman, older than the first, came over with the bowl of candy and put a piece of candy in each of our bags.
The younger woman pointed to Tiffany and said, “Oh mom, look how cute she is. Give her another one!”
The woman reached into the bowl and put more candy into Tiffany’s bag. I can’t really describe to you how I felt at the time. I’m sure I was more humiliated than hurt; my face felt flushed and my stomach queasy. I didn’t say a word. We headed down the hill toward home. We were almost done. I remember not wanting to trick or treat anymore, but I also didn’t want to bring attention to what just happened. If Tiffany noticed anything, she didn’t say. I didn’t care about being hot anymore, I just pulled the mask back down over my face and continued trick or treating until we got home. I wasn’t gonna let that happen again!
Looking back, I believe that this experience was pivotal for me because it confirmed what my big brother had always told me … I wasn’t pretty. There must have been some hope, somewhere in the back of my mind, that he could be wrong. After all, he was the only one who said it, and he was just a kid like me; but now an adult confirmed it, and all hope was gone. In the mind of a seven-year-old, adults are right about everything! I actually felt sick to my stomach, and had no one to turn to. It was too humiliating. After all, my parents had heard the things my brother would say and never once yelled at him or punished him for being mean to me. What if they didn’t think I was pretty either? I couldn’t ask them. What if they agreed with him? I may have been young, but I knew for sure I wouldn’t be able to handle that! So I never asked. I don’t know, some of you may be thinking I was too sensitive.
You may think “that’s what big brothers do, they pick on their little sisters and we accept it and go on.” Well I didn’t, I couldn’t. It hurt me really deep down. It changed my mood. Whenever he said those things, it took the fun out of playing with my brother. I wanted so badly to be pretty. Even if I couldn’t change the way I looked, I wanted so badly to change the way he thought of me. I wanted him to think I was pretty. I actually felt guilty, I felt sorry for him that he didn’t have a sister to be proud of and it was my fault for looking this way—crazy right? I thought so too. And I was actually right; I have since learned that I had Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a “… disorder marked by a preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance that causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning,” a mental disease of the mind that causes people to obsess about their perception of themselves. For me it was my facial features, I had a bump on the bridge of my nose, but it could be any physical trait. It could be a birth mark or freckles, thinking they’re too tall or too short, under or over weight, for girls it could be the size of their breasts and for boys the size of their penis. People with BDD often become so obsessed with a part or parts of their physical appearance (whether it’s visible to others or not) that they become unable to live a normal life. My time became consumed by looking in, OR avoiding mirrors, trying to correct or change, hide or cover this “defect.”
One of the BDD symptoms is relentless skin “picking.” I would constantly scratch or squeeze bumps, pimples and any lesions on my skin. BDD sufferers often pick until they’ve created an obvious wound. This I will never understand. This worsens and draws attention to an appearance we are already unhappy with. But, sure enough, every time I would get the littlest pimple, bite or bump on my skin, I would pick at it until I created this huge wound; then would try to cover it with make-up which never worked.
Many people with BDD, myself included, also suffer Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The similarities between the two diseases according to the OCD center of Los Angeles, are: “While the specific thoughts and behaviors may vary with each of these disorders, this cyclical process is identical.” To make it clear, “the cyclical process is identical” means we can’t stop doing either. We can’t stop the rituals of the OCD, like hand washing, tapping or touching things a certain number of times; and we can’t stop focusing on our defect from the BDD.
When I was young, I didn’t know I had OCD. I never even heard of it so I deduced that my OCD “rituals” were “messages from God.” As a church-going Catholic child, with strong faith, it was the only thing I could think was responsible for my odd behavior. I would pay close attention to the steps I would take as I walked home from school. If I got to some point, a quarter of the way home, half way, it didn’t matter, there were some days that I would get this “uneasy feeling” that something wasn’t right. I would then walk back to school and re-walk, the same route home again and again until it “felt right.” It always had to be the exact same route. It was God talking to me, right? He was keeping me out of harm’s way. I thought maybe there were burglars robbing my house, since my mom worked and wasn’t home yet; or a child predator was hiding in the woods, near my house. I didn’t know what it was; I just knew I had to go back and do it again. It’s the same disease that the people who we sometimes refer to as “germaphobes” have, just different “rituals.” But the “repetition” is the same. They may repeatedly wash their hands while I repeat the walk home from school.
I also played a “counting game,” or at least that’s what I call it now that I know it isn’t “my deal with God” which is what I used to call it. I would flip light switches on and off seven times when I would enter or leave a room alone. I would also flip the shampoo and conditioner flip-top caps open and closed eleven times before I’d use them in the shower.
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Genre – Biographies & Memoirs / Self-Help
Rating – R