My name is Tai and my onset of BDD came on when I was about fifteen. Up until then I think I'd been kind of a fearless kid. I was the kind of kid who would organize everybody. I don't remember having any appearance concerns. Then I started getting acne right around 15 and overnight it seemed like I would be really close up in the mirror, just staring at my skin and gradually I began picking it. I would pick it while I was in high school during a break. It would get so red that I would start missing classes. I didn't want to hang around my friends because I thought I looked so horrible. I had good days and bad days. I had days when if my skin was clear, I felt like I was ok, it's a decent day-I can live my life. But if it wasn't, which I felt like 99% of the time, it was a horrible day. It was like the world had ended.
My grades were pretty bad. I barely got out of high school. I was doing well up to then, but right when I graduated they handed me my little round roll without my diploma in it because I still had all these classes and work I had to do. Somehow I made it to college, but my first year there it intensified and I became very depressed. I kind of crashed and burned getting away from my friends and family in LA. It was too isolating and overwhelming. I failed out of school there as well-academically barred.
When I came home for the next 10 years I would go in and out of traditional therapy, but I would never talk about my skin picking. I thought that to just say those words would be horrific, that I picked my skin. So I think I must have talked about self-esteem and everything for a decade, through my twenties, but never, ever, ever really talked about the real problem. I didn't know what BDD was. I didn't know I had it. I didn't talk about my most shameful thing. I guess about three years ago it even got worse all of a sudden and I didn't want to leave the house. I was in the mirror now like six hours a day and sometimes I would look in the mirror and it would be like everything would fall away….like I would lost time and hours would pass picking my skin. It was the strangest thing, but I still didn't know what I had.
I knew something was wrong. I wouldn't see my mom. I thought if my mom saw me that she would cry and run because her daughter looked so horrific or she would pity me and try to keep it in, but really be horrified that I had become this. I thought I was this creature under the stairs, that I was becoming a monster. I wouldn't get the mail. I thought the mailman would run screaming if he saw me.
I think the hardest part was that I was watching my friends and on the phone with them and one of the most painful parts about it is your friends and peers are hitting their maturation point. They're graduating and getting jobs and you can't understand why your life is crashing and burning and doesn't look like everyone else's. You have odd jobs. I worked in jobs where it was really dark. I took a job at Marie Callender's. I know this now, that I took it because the uniform was so ugly. (It was a bowtie and a cummerbund with this hat and these horrible stockings, these terrible shoes). I didn't know this, but now I know-it was so ugly I loved it! I loved it because it was totally distracting from my face and if you saw me you would only see the uniform because it was so ugly. I loved it!
After I was housebound and started not going out things were bad. I started thinking about killing myself a lot more and it was just a really dark place. I got on the internet crying and searching, I started typing in skin picking and certain things came up and somehow I found my way to UCLA and I found myself in Arie's (therapist) office, which was really the turning point for me and my BDD. It was in his office that I finally understood. It's like when you go through the checklist of symptoms and you finally realize you have it! It's overwhelming because there's a name for it and 15 years have gone by and you had no idea!
It really helped to participate in the exposure therapy. I got a lot of self-esteem, just by going out in a café and having to sit there for five minutes and look at people and make sure they looked at me. I would go home and it was like I had climbed Mt. Everest! For me it was ... the doing of it was. For someone else it would be nothing, but for me it was so incredible. Every week I kept doing things like that. I started gradually getting better. Now, I'm in school. I was accepted to CAL State LA, my mom doesn't know that, but CAL State wants me! I have a social life and I go out. I don't avoid everything and it's just a different life. I'm really grateful to everybody, especially Arie, my therapist.