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Irish man reveals body dysmorphia ‘wrote off’ years of his life

"My teens and my twenties and even my early thirties were a write off for me because I just didn’t like myself so much."

Keith Russell

Maeve McTaggartSunday World

A man has described how body dysmorphia made much of his life a “write off” as he was consumed by anxiety about his appearance.

Keith Russell opened up about his experience on Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live yesterday, confessing how the thoughts “just took over” his life for decades.

Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about their perceived physical flaws.

This can have a huge impact on sufferers’ lives, and it started for Keith at the age of 12.

“When I started swimming lessons, I started to really, really just be self conscious about myself and just not be really comfortable in my own skin,” he said.

A young happy Keith as a child

"I started to compare myself to others and I just realised very, very quickly that I wasn’t handling it very well.

"My teens and my twenties and even my early thirties were a write off for me because I just didn’t like myself so much."

He found himself in a spiral of depression and anxiety common to people who deal with body dysmorphia.

Keith said he “slowly started to hide in the shadows” as the anxiety consumed him.

He is only recently able to listen to 90s music as ever since his youth it “sends chills through me, it just wasn’t a good time in my life.”

Keith’s turning point was beginning a blog to write about what he was going through.

"I started to write about my own story and the first few blogs I was kind of teasing things out for myself - the anxiety and where that was coming from,” he recalled.

Talking about his ideas to other people introduced him to what ‘body dysmorphia’ was.

He said finding the words for what he was experiencing was life-changing.

“Once I learnt what that was, my life changed overnight because I realised, ‘Wow, I’ve been living with a condition for so long that I didn’t know I had,” he said.

He now spends his time raising awareness on the condition and deconstructing the stigma that surrounds it.

"I’m doing much better now but I’m going to live with this for the rest of my life but the good thing is I can process things so much better and I’m dealing with so much better.”

Bodywhys, a national organisation that offers help to those struggling with eating disorders, describes the consequences body dysmorphia.

"It’s essential to understand that for the person, the beliefs about their flaw(s) feel real.

“The person may believe that others are disgusted at a particular aspect of their appearance. Individuals who experience [body dysmorphic disorder] may express a desire to ‘become invisible’.”

The condition can increase the risk of suicide as it can be incredibly distressing for sufferers.

Bodywhys’ helpline is 01-2107906.

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