I feel like there is ofter a misconception that making an effort with your appearance makes you arrogant; that girls who wear more makeup are less insecure about how they look or that people who seem confident carry fewer issues in life. I’ve always been concerned with the way the world sees me – as a young girl, this was channelled through shyness and self-consciousness, slowly evolving into vanity and paranoia as I got older. Although anyone who’s crossed paths with me might argue that my confidence is unquestionable, I have always struggled to accept myself or be happy in the skin I am in.
I became obsessed with changing my hair colour, obsessed with adding new piercings and obsessed with tanning products, finding myself bordering on repulsive on the days where I faded to a pale ghost. Looking back, at every opportunity I was trying to change in order to feel better about myself, but these fixes were short lived and a new phase would creep in.
When I got to Uni, one of my friends who studied Psychology and wiser than I could ever imagine being would tell me that she thought I suffered from Body Dysmorphia. Despite always boasting a low-BMI, I was constantly convinced I was overweight – somehow heavier, fleshier, fatter or just generally more unattractive than my friends and family. It lead to an unhealthy obsession with hating certain parts of my body, something I now still identify with, if not more so.
Having Crohn’s is probably now the tip of the iceberg. As I talk about in my latest Youtube Video, suffering with IBD symptoms is notoriously unglamorous. Unsurprisingly, it’s not considered ‘sexy’ to be on the toilet up to 24times a day with diarrhoea. It’s not ‘cute’ for your stomach to constantly be bloated or gurgling and it’s definitely not ‘#goals’ to still feel lethargic after 12hours sleep. No young female realistically want’s to sit in front of a Doctor and discuss whether her stools are ‘loose’ or contain ‘blood and mucus’ and definitely nobody want’s to have a stranger’s hand up their bum at 9:20am on a Wednesday morning (or maybe I’m just a prude). Enema’s, a sigmoidoscope and colonoscopy procedures will all shortly follow, each one slightly more uncomfortable and soul-destroying than the last, but yet you return to work a day later with a smile on your face and an uncertainty in your mind about how much detail to go into when people ask; ‘How did it go, babe?’
As if diagnosis isn’t ridiculous enough, your perception of yourself certainly takes a hit thanks to medication and flare ups. Over 12 months, I had 3 eight-week courses of steroids. That’s nearly half of the year spent on Prednisolone, resulting in 24 weeks of your year with a moon face and insomnia-induced eye bags. If you can handle the weight gain, that’s great, your strength is admirable and I am envious of it – because it destroyed me. Looking back on the (very few) photos during these sessions makes my heart hurt, watching my image that I care so much about melt away into a blur of swollen flesh and tired eyes. Following this, flare ups destroy your nutrient intake, allowing your skin, nails and follicles to reek havoc against you.
Additionally, and I will write a separate post about this, if you are prescribed immunosuppressive therapy, such as Azathioprine, you have to be prepared to allow your image to take a hit again – mainly in the form of hair loss. Your locks will become dry, fall out in clumps, break off half way up your hair and generally lose any attractive qualities it once possessed. For me, I had spent over a year avoiding hair dyes, heat or harsh chemicals, to let it breathe and reduce any impact Crohn’s might have on it anyway. Unfortunately, it was too late for me, as my major flare up in December meant that my follicles were now suffering (hair follicles work on a 3-month cycle for most people). But alas, that’s the position I found myself in.
I had spent months avoiding social situations, dreading going into work and feeling hesitant to look in the mirror. Dramatic as I am, I felt fat and bald, and mentally was struggling to cope with the effect Crohn’s was having on me. It’s funny, Crohn’s is notorious for being an invisible illness and yet all I could see in my reflection was someone unrecognisable due to sickness.
It’s only recently that I decided to look into Body Dysmorphia. Reading about it more makes so much more sense to me and allows me to realise that I’m not alone in feeling frustrated with a version of myself that people tell me they fail to see. With or without BDD, learning to accept and feel positively about yourself is so hard with Crohn’s Disease, no matter what age or gender you are.
What I have learnt over the last year or so is the importance of doing things that make you happy. The small changes we can each make in our lives that allow us the space to focus on self-worth can be the difference between feeling anxious to leave the house and being ready to embrace the day. To me, body image might always be an issue, but being able to acknowledge it and realise that I am so much more than my disease or internal-perception is brings me here to write this blog and post my videos. I wan’t everyone to know that they are not alone or weird in these thoughts, but that it is mainly within our own actions, belief and thought to change that. We all deserve to feel good in the skin we’re in, whatever challenges we are faced with.