Over the last 17 months I have had the absolute honour of working with a local Decades Reloaded instructor and Friend Lauren who has supported me and Decades Reloaded as a participant and an instructor since her training in Feb 2020. Many of you loving her choreography to Ricky martin - Livin' La Vida Loca.
Lauren and I have known each other several years from previous classes that she attended with me and then when she started her Decades Reloaded journey as a participant at the very first classes in 2019. It just so happens we even moved on to the same development too!
We spent summer lockdown walking (MILES!!!!) and dancing in fields in the sunshine for hours on end getting sunburnt. This meant we spent a lot of time talking in great depth with immense passion about our experiences with Mental health conditions, which have on many occasions had huge implications on our lives for the better and the worst. This lead to Lauren opening up to me about living with a very unknown and often overlooked condition that can in many cases lead to other mental health conditions such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety and more.
This was the first time Lauren had ever opened up to anyone outside of her immediate support network about her mental health and I am so grateful that she trusted me enough to share her journey and is now in a place where she would like to share her journey here, in hope to raise awareness and offer her understanding and support to anyone else who may be wondering - Is this my reflection in a mirror or a reflection of how I see myself?
Here's what she had to say.
Hi I’m Lauren and I am a Decades Reloaded instructor.
I regularly run live ZOOM classes on Sunday's to raise money for the Body Dysmorphia disorder foundation. I want to share with you why I have chosen to support the BDD foundation and share my experiences of living with the disorder.
What is Body Dysmorphia? - Body dysmorphic disorder, or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where you spend a lot of time worrying about your appearance.
The term Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) describes a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in appearance. It can affect all genders, and makes sufferers excessively self-conscious.
People of any age can have BDD, but it's most common in teenagers and young adults.
Sufferers spend a lot of time comparing their looks with other people's - Sufferers may look at themselves in mirrors a lot or avoid mirrors altogether - Sufferers attempt to camouflage or alter the perceived defect and avoid public or social situations or triggers that increase distress. (NHS and The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation)
What can cause body dysmorphia?
You may be more likely to develop BDD if you have a relative with BDD, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or depression
A traumatic experience in the past – you may be more likely to develop BDD if you were teased, bullied or abused when you were a child (NHS)
For me I can’t remember a day when I didn’t suffer from Body Dysmorphia!
At first I just thought everybody felt like me and that it was normal to have hundreds of thoughts daily about how I looked, how I felt in my clothes and how I felt in my body. As the years went by the loudness of the stories and constant self talk grew stronger and quickly took over my mental health and wellbeing.
As a teenager, living with body dysmorphia was hard, no two days were the same and I could quickly go from loving how I looked to calling my image disgusting and not being able to look at my reflection. Avoiding all mirrors, shop windows and glass reflections became a survival strategy.
Loose fitted clothing, bags, cushions, blankets anything I could find in order to cover my body whilst in social gatherings become a daily habit.
Through my teenage years the constant battle in my head lead me to feeling isolated, anxious and at times depressed. I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way and it just wasn’t going away! I felt out of control and struggled to regulate my emotions. In order to gain control of my experiences I tried different diets, binge eating, intense exercise classes and finally starvation.
It didn’t take long until I was obsessing over the scales and I had developed an eating disorder.
As time went on my thoughts around food got better and I slowly began to have a healthy relationship with food. I would be lying if I said the thoughts have gone away completely. Some day's they are much quieter than others but still very much present. For me my anxiety around my body hasn’t changed. I still worry about how I will look in a photo, a video and how I will look compared to other people. I still worry that people will look at me and say “look how big she is” or “she looks terrible”.
Everyday I’m conscious of how I hold my body and how my body looks to other people. I worry everyday about what I’m going to wear and still catch myself saying the most awful things to myself.
As an instructor my experiences with body dysmorphia have always been a challenge! Standing in front of a class of people or live on Zoom can be very triggering for me. I worry about if I look terrible doing the moves, I worry if people with think I look too big to be an instructor! The overthinking can be exhausting.
Then I found Decades Reloaded and quickly learnt that it didn’t matter what I looked like, it was all about enjoying myself!
In reality the thoughts still happen and the anxiety still comes in waves. Through decades Reloaded I have learnt to appreciate how my body moves, I can now just about stand to watch myself dance on replay (that was a massive step).
I am now saying “look how happy you look! Wow look how your body moves!” Instead of “everybody thinks you look fat! You look so bad!”.
I chose to raise money for the BDD foundation to raise awareness of the disorder and show support to all the individuals and families who have been affected by BDD. At present I am still learning about what BDD is and exploring how this disorder has effected me and how it is still impacting my life. For many people they have never heard of Body Dysmorphia and for others that don’t understand what is is or how it can affect a person’s wellbeing. In my classes you will find me in my favourite comfy patterned trousers (I have about 40 pairs), it’s not your usual gym dress code but to me I feel free, comfortable and good In my body when I wear them.
What to wear to an exercise class can be very anxiety provoking and that’s why in Decades Reloaded classes it’s your dance floor and your space to feel comfortable.
Body dysmorphia can be very subjective and everybody has different experiences of living with the disorder. For me life as a 27 year old is still filled with negative thoughts about my body and some days are harder than others. Some days my thoughts will stay consistent and others I can feel like I’m on a rollercoaster. I hope to continue raising money and awareness for the body dysmorphia disorder foundation and continue to help people in the community dance their way to a better day.
Would you like to share your journey and feature on the Decades Reloaded Blog? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experiences.