How Trash TV Stokes The Fires Of BDD

Much is said today about the damaging effects of social media platforms…

…but I believe television is still at the root of our false ideals of beauty and transformation.

In a world of screens small and big it can be easy to forget about the original screen that captivated the world and served to establish a number of social standards and cultural ideologies that continue to reverberate today.

Television as a medium has been with us for decades now and although there’s been a great deal of discussion about the social damage that new media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram can wreak on young minds. It is television and those that create it that are responsible for setting the major trends that have defined mind sets and planted the seeds of body dysmorphic disorder in thousands of minds around in the UK alone.

Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition defined by the NHS as:

“a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.”

BDD is a very different beast to OCD, but in many cases they are inextricably linked. The causes vary from person to person – some studies have pointed towards a genetic link, whereas others suggest that a chemical imbalance in the brain is the root cause for the condition. In my case I know that reality television was the instigating factor in the formation of my own case of BDD which led to me undergoing a series of surgeries including a breast reduction, rhinoplasty and multiple chemical peels over the course of a single year.

Plastic & ProudMake Me A Famous Face, 10 Years Younger

If you’re a fan of so-called ‘trash TV’ then you’ll no doubt be familiar with these titles, they collectively represent the quick and easy face of plastic surgery in the UK and although they might make attempts to portray the ‘realities’ of surgery, it’s hard to see any of this realism amidst the snappy narration, jolly mood and transformations that take place during barely 45 minutes of television.

These shows, amongst others, portray the kind of plastic surgery myth that has worked to realign how the public conceives beauty as a commodity, rather than an innate quality. They show ‘normal people’ undergoing surgical procedures in an attempt to realign their physical appearance with how they believe they should look. But where do these belief’s come from? Whereas it would be easy to point towards Hollywood and the high aesthetic standards that are held there, in truth it is today’s cult of reality television that is to blame.

Love IslandThe Only Way Is Essex, Made In Chelsesa

For the last 8 years or so a strange kind of reality television has permeated culture in the UK that has single-handedly come to define a new standard of beauty. This beauty harks back to the 18th century obsession with obvious fakery and intersects with a skewed perception of wealth to create a new ideal of success in the minds of millions. Whilst many might choose to watch these shows ‘ironically’, true devotees of this particular brand of television have realigned their aspirations to see the stars of this show as pinnacles of success in terms of their appearance and their social clout.

Despite many claiming that that age of television’s influence has ended, it’s power to hypnotise and suggest still holds many under it’s spell.

Some Common Forms of OCD

These OCD manifestations are amongst the most common…

 

Between the charismatic television depictions and snappy documentaries it can sometimes be hard to get to grips with the real manifestations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Unlike the oddball traits that many writers use to add a ‘quirky’ charm to their creations, an obsessive compulsive disorder is a condition that absorbs a person’s conscious thoughts, making it near impossible for them to think about anything else. Some of the forms that OCD take might be visible from the outside, whereas others will be completely internal and therefore harder to spot.

People living with OCD might well have to deal with a number of these conditions simultaneously with many of them feeding into each other.

This is a rundown of some of the more common OCD manifestations, although it’s important to remember that this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Contamination

Most people have a natural dislike of being dirty, we all try to avoid contaminating ourselves and wash our hands as a way to stay on top of this and for most people that’s where their thoughts concerning these matters end. An obsession of contamination can seriously affect a person’s life, compulsions include repeated washing, cleaning surfaces or simply avoiding contact with inanimate objects such as door handles, banisters or money. This particular manifestation can lead to a person developing an agoraphobic lifestyle, damaging their body with repeated cleaning and social isolation.

Hoarding

Although hoarding is often seen as a separate condition unto itself, the root of this manifestation lies in an obsessive compulsion to collect and store items. The root of this particular manifestation can vary from mental trauma to genetic traits, however the symptoms are usually the same across the board and often lead to serious health and safety implications. A person who hoards will start small, usually collecting items to ease their their anxiety however as their problems build they lean more on their compulsion, thus collecting more belongings to the point where their entire living space may be dominated by them.

Intrusive Thoughts

Most people experience intrusive thoughts from time to time. These are the odd notions and ideas that might flit into our minds completely at random, they might be pleasant (a prolonged fantasy of winning the lottery) or negative (verbally abusing a loved one) but often they are gone before we are given any chance to seriously consider their meaning. In an OCD context these intrusive thoughts are constant and more often than not unpleasant, such as the persistent thought of hurting another person, or the fear of being sexually attracted to children. These thoughts are never acted upon and are never associated with an impulsion to act upon them, but they can nonetheless cause an individual extreme stress.

Checking

Anxiety is at the root of nearly all obsessive compulsions and are most noticeable in the case of ‘checking’. Although some may claim to be ‘a bit OCD’ when it comes to checking that their home is secured or that they’ve turned the oven off, those who truly have a ‘checking’ compulsion will end up having their entire life revolve around their checking routine. Some may check their memory for reassurance that they have not done something wrong, others might constantly check the taps in their home for fear of flooding – as in most cases, the person will not cease their compulsions until they ‘feel’ that they are reassured.

Taking the Plunge: Three Methods of Treating OCD

Treating an obsessive compulsive disorder is not a simple process.

An obsessive compulsive disorder has the capacity to disrupt a person’s day-to-day life to such an extent that they might not be able to work, go to school or maintain healthy relationships.

The sooner that treatment is sought for the disorder, the sooner the compulsion can be unravelled and dealt with, however this is much easier said than done. At the source of each obsessive compulsion is a deep-rooted anxiety. This could be an anxiety based around remaining clean, or it could be a more general anxiety about the threat of death, or illness to a family member or friend. Regardless of the disorder, it’s important that the disorder is not simply lived with. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders do not tend to ease as time passes, in fact the opposite is true. It’s much more likely that someone will find themselves leaning on their compulsion more as time passes and their anxiety is not properly resolved. Anxiety can be caused by a traumatic childhood experience, or can be built up over many years as a result of an abusive relationship. As these compulsions can often take a long time to set in, they often take a long time to get rid of which is why it’s so important to seek help as soon as possible.

There are three main ways that Obsessive Compulsive Disorders are treated:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This is the most common of all treatments and usually forms the basis of all treatment schedules. At its core CBT involves simply sitting down with a trained therapist in a comfortable environment and talking through the issues that you have. CBT is often extremely challenging for those with OCD, as confronting the reasons why they have formed these compulsions is usually deeply unsettling and requires them to disclose very personal (and usually embarrassing) truths about themselves. CBT is nonetheless an important jumping off point for any treatment process and must be tackled before any other treatment is considered.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP)

ERP is a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy that focuses on confronting the person with the OCD with the source of their anxiety. For example, if a person has a contamination based compulsion one of their triggers might be a swimming pool and the various items or materials that they relate with them. A trained therapist would therefore focus on slowly introducing the patient to scraps of aquamatic swimming pool covers, swimming trunks and other such items whilst asking them to resist giving in to  their compulsion. This process is called habitation and is always taken at the patient’s own pace.

Medication

Although therapists will always try to solve a Compulsive Disorder without the use of medication, in some cases it’s necessary in order to treat the primary or secondary symptoms of the disorder that might be worsening the patient’s case. In cases of hoarding disorders, hoarders will often find that their condition leads them into a depression which could cause them to lean even harder on their compulsion. Antidepressants can help to adjust any mood imbalances, in the same way that beta-blockers can treat the physical symptoms of anxiety and tranquillisers might aid sleep.

More Common Forms of OCD

Different manifestations of OCD require a different approach…

There’s much more to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder than just colour co-ordination.

CBBT is dedicated to debunking the myths around OCD that have been perpetuated by popular culture and television so that we can raise awareness for OCD as it actually is, a challenging mental condition that required perseverance and support to be overcome. In our last post we took the lid off some of the more common manifestations of OCD, today we’ll be looking at a few little known forms of OCD and how they effect a person’s day-to-day life.

Symmetry and Orderliness

Although it might be the one manifestation of OCD that is portrayed the most in movies, the need to have everything line up or ‘just right’ is not that common of a compulsion. Those who have not lived with this troublesome condition often see it as a ‘blessing in disguise’, after all, who wouldn’t want their house in a perfectly organised state? As much as this level of order might sound appealing, the reality is far from it. Those with this compulsion might spend hours making minute adjustments to meaningless items in their home, missing appointments or social occasions in the mean time. They might also avoid inviting anyone to their home for fear of upsetting the fine balance they’ve managed to achieve.

Ruminations

As with many health conditions some manifestations of OCD are completely internal, making them much harder to diagnose and be treated. Ruminations is the term given for a compulsion to dwell on a particular thought or idea for a long amount of time. This is more than just ‘going off in your head’ for a half hour, a rumination is a theme or question that a person obsessively thinks about for hours or even days at a time. There are rarely ever any satisfying conclusions to a rumination, leading the person thinking about them to be pre-occupied and detached for a long period of time.

Ritual

We all have our own little rituals which we accumulate over our lives. Whether it’s our bathroom routine, the order we eat our lunch in or patting our pockets before we leave the house, small rituals such as this are part of the pattern of our lives, helping us to achieve the everyday small tasks with little or no mental effort. For obsessive compulsives rituals can become the opposite of this. Often an obsessive ritual will have no clear logic from an outside perspective, it will exist only to calm the anxiety of the performer and will usually have a defined start and end point. Often if the ritual is interrupted, then the whole process will have to be restarted in order for the compulsion to be eased.

Avoidance

Many obsessive compulsives live in fear of their own condition, they are aware of their ‘triggers’ and often actively seek to avoid these where possible. Someone with a contamination compulsion might avoid areas they deem to be unclean such as bars or restaurants, whereas someone with a fear of homosexuality might avoid areas in a city that they relate with gay people. Avoidance is the very pinnacle of anxiety and might lead to a person completely withdrawing themselves from the world so that they can maintain the illusion of stability.

Hoarding: A Closer Look

“Ten years ago I nearly suffocated in my home.”

“You’re never really free of your past.”

“It doesn’t matter how much time passes or how far you come, it can be really difficult to separate yourself from the person you used to be. For some people this might be trying to erase the memory of an awful haircut, for others it might be a period of alcohol-fuelled depression – for me it’s my life as a hoarder. Every day when I wake up and look around at my room I’m grateful to be able to breathe clean fresh. I’m grateful to be able to see my carpet, to see the light streaming through my windows and not be surrounded by mountains of magazines, books and letters.”

“When I was in the throes of my hoarding I was beyond the help of any professional decluttering service. My home was a lost cause to any professional team of cleaners and even my friends had given up on me. Luckily, I still had my Mum to help me out. She’d gone through a similar phase when we were young and when she saw how I was slowly following her footsteps she knew that I’d need help to get through my problem. I’m eternally grateful for her patience and support – without her I would not be able to sit my clean desk in my dining room and write this piece explaining hoarding.”

What is hoarding?

Hoarding is when a person collects or acquires an excessive amount of items. These items can be anything at all. They could be disposable objects that have little or no value or they could be very valuable indeed – the important thing is that the person feels the need to keep a large amount of items, to the point where the belongings become unmanageable. Now, if you leave a lot of dishes in the sink, let bills stack up and are generally untidy that doesn’t make you a hoarder. You only have a hoarding problem if the amount of clutter that you have obtained interferes with your everyday living or if the clutter is causing you negatively affecting your quality of life or that of your family.

How is this different from collecting?

Many people have collections of things and sometimes these collections can border on the excessive but that doesn’t necessarily make them a hoarder. Someone who hoards will be obsessively compelled to do so, they won’t be gaining any pleasure from the action and there will be no structure or organisation of their items. At the beginning they may hoard items to ease their anxiety, but this is not the same thing as gaining pleasure.

Why do people hoard?

People hoard for a variety of reasons, as with all OCD manifestations the route of the behaviour is usually anxiety. Often you’ll find that there a variety of reasons for a person to hoard, they might start as the result of a depression, then as time goes on they may become more and more socially isolated as a result of their new compulsion, which could then lead to psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia or manic paranoia. All cases are different and should be treated as such.

How is it treated?

Hoarding is a complex and difficult condition that is not simply cured over night. A great deal of patience is required on the part of the hoarder’s support network, as the compulsion to hoard is often deeply embedded into the person’s psyche. A therapist might choose to take the hoarder through a course of cognitive behavioural therapy in order to understand why the hoarding has begun, but it’s crucial that the hoarder takes the responsibility of clearing their own home.

My Stuffed Toy Army

It’s amazing what behaviour parents will accept as normal.

I was a child obsessed with having and keeping things, but what started with a frustrating quirk would eventually turn into a condition that would serve to impact every facet of my life.

Having and keeping things is in many ways a habit that is baked into human nature. We’re descended from hunter/gatherers and, for me at least, ‘gathering’ would become something that I would obsess over. That’s a part of the symptom that so many people fail to think about when they refer to themselves as being ‘a bit OCD’.

The definition of ‘obsessive‘ is:

‘an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind’

The key word to think of there is ‘continually’. That’s the key difference between someone who is ‘a bit OCD’ and someone who lives everyday with a form of OCD. It’s not just an odd, casually charming personality defect that you choose to pull out every now and again as a party trick, it’s a constantly pervasive thought, an impulse or need to do something that eclipses all other thoughts. In my case it was an obsession over my belongings.

My parents had not noticed the beginnings of my compulsion at this point in my life, but they had begun to become unnerved by the manner that I treated my stuffed toys. Unfortunately, a 2-year old child jealously coveting their toys was not something that my parents saw the need to worry about. I was an only child, so sharing my toys never cropped up as an issue until my started my Mother started organising play dates.

Like any other kid I had my favourite toys when I was a baby, but unlike other kids my favourites never fell out of my favour. Each new addition to my collection would be exalted as a new heir apparent to the kingdom of plush toys that I had come to amass, born into a family of equally cherished creatures that I would look upon proudly each and every day. My parents knew for certain that something was up when I didn’t allow my new friends to play with any of the toys. I’d say that they didn’t like being touched and that no one could touch them. My obsession had become as large as my collection and soon it was the only thing that I thought about – ensuring each and every one of those toys was safe, untouched in their preordained position.

My parents didn’t seek help for me, perhaps fearing what kind of diagnosis I would be given. It’s impossible to know if I’d have turned out any different if they’d taken me to get help sooner, I try not to think about it too much but they’ve both exhibited regret in letting me leave home with over 150 stuffed animals.

University was a tough time for me, it was a stressful period of change that led to me leaning on my compulsion more than ever, but it also led to me meeting some fantastic compassionate people who saw my habits for what they were and led me to getting the help that I’d so desperately needed for most of my life.