Danny Bowman blogs about how body image issues and mental illness drove him to attempt suicide
When I was 14 years old I moved to a new school. This was a huge transition for me; moving from a small town middle school to an inner city private school. At this new school I felt like I wasn’t fitting in as well as I imagined I would, I felt like everyone was more academically brilliant than I was and to me it seemed like they had a perfect body image too.
I felt the only way to be successful and to be accepted at my new school would be to perfect my own body image. Before I embarked on my long and dangerous journey of trying to do this, I decided to have one final go at seeking the validation I needed about my looks to stop me in my tracks. I posted a selection of selfies online hoping I would receive nice comments that would help diminish my fears of not being good enough. Unfortunately I received a huge amount of insults pulling apart my entire appearance, from my teeth to my body shape. It was a complete demolition job on my self-esteem as a whole.
“I received a huge amount of insults…it was a complete demolition job on my self-esteem as a whole”
After receiving the horrible comments my condition worsened and I had to drop out of school for a short time. I came home on my last day and started to pull my appearance apart. At that point I didn’t realise I wouldn’t be able to leave the house for another six months.
During that time my days consisted of waking up at 7am and doing two hours of grooming rituals: washing my face six times, brushing my teeth four times and putting a whole tube of acne cream on my face, which made my face extremely red. Then I would have something to eat, only to then go to the bathroom and purge. After that I would take 50 selfies to check my appearance. Then I would spend a long period of time looking in the mirror and tearing up because I perceived myself as being repulsive; I felt that I looked like an alien. I would then repeat these actions. I did that that all day, every day, for six months.
“I would have something to eat only to then go to the bathroom and purge. After that I would take 50 selfies to check my appearance”
The psychological strain was becoming unbearable and more painful by the day. The sickening feeling I got every time I looked at my reflection was a constant reminder of the severe effect it was having not just on my mental health but my physical health too. I remember my lowest point; I was tired of purging twice a day, I was tired of taking 200 selfies a day and pulling my appearance apart in disgust. I felt like I couldn’t go on. I can picture myself – even now – calmly approaching the kitchen (where the medicine cupboard was) and reaching for the tablets and then steadily reversing back towards my room. I was rushed to A&E and saved by the brilliant NHS staff.
After I realised what I had done – the severity of my actions – my feelings changed and I wanted to get better. I had been given a second chance.
“I was tired of taking 200 selfies a day and pulling my appearance apart in disgust. I felt like I couldn’t go on”
I received absolutely incredible treatment from the Maudsley Hospital in London and step by step I started to recover from my mental illness and my body image difficulties. That’s why in 2016, I am better and free of the things that once plagued me. But, like any past health issue, you always need to monitor it and know that if it does come back it is not a failure on your part – you just need to keep fighting it.
I now address the struggles of people who are suffering from mental illness and body image issues through TV, radio, magazines and other outlets. Earlier this year I produced a research paper called ‘Mental health and the Social Media Society’ for Parliament Street think tank where I am a mental health spokesperson calling on the UK government to create a Minister for Mental health.
“Remember you can get through these difficulties and go on to live an incredible life”
My advice to others who are experiencing mental health difficulties and specifically to those suffering from body image disorders, is to never lose hope and remember you can get through these difficulties and go on to live an incredible life. My advice to individuals who are being bullied, is to speak up, be brave and realise you don’t deserve that sort of treatment. Although my illness was horrendous, it has made me into a person who is more compassionate, caring and driven to make a difference to the lives of those who so cruelly suffer from mental health difficulties, body image issues and bullying.
Written by Danny Bowman