Real Life: I Look in the Mirror and THIS Is What I See; Sally Ingham, 46, Spent Years Believing She Was So Ugly She Scared People. Then She Discovered She Had Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Here's Her Story

Article excerpt

Byline: Sally Ingham

Iwas 12 when it started. A friend and I were bridesmaids and all dressed up in our pretty frocks with our hair curled. She had a little turned-up nose, I had a straight nose and I suddenly found myself comparing my face to hers. All day long I kept looking in mirrors, thinking, "What's wrong with me? I don't feel right."

About a year later, my mum suddenly said: "What is happening to your nose these days? It's getting very hooked."

I'm sure she didn't mean to be unkind and probably regretted it the minute she'd said it. But from that moment I began to obsess about my nose. I stopped going out and spent hours in my bedroom every night, just staring at it. I thought it was grotesque. I had three mirrors and would exhaust myself checking it from every angle, trying different hairstyles, practising expressions that might improve my look. When I went to bed I would massage my nose to try to turn it up, but I made it so sore that a scab formed.

By then I felt my whole face was hideous. I thought my eyes bulged like a frog's and my nose was sticking out 10 yards. There were times when I felt quite suicidal.

I grew my hair long and wore it in curtains to try and hide my face. When I went out my heart would be pounding. I was sure that if I turned to look at anybody they would reel back repulsed.

The crazy thing is, although I felt ugly, I couldn't stop looking in mirrors. All the time I had to check, check, and check again to make sure I hadn't changed. Any reflective surface would do - windows were like a horrible magnet. My parents just thought I was vain.

As a teenager going out on a Saturday night was sheer torture. I would start getting ready at midday. It was very ritualistic, the make-up had to go on in a certain way. Then I'd take it off and start again if it wasn't perfect. My skin became so sore. I'd sometimes wash and style my hair four times.

By the time I went out I was depressed and utterly exhausted, so I never enjoyed the evening. If the wind blew my hair I'd have to go back home and stay in.

And if I went to the beach I would sit in the full sun plastered in thick make-up, while all my friends splashed about in the sea.

Whenever people said how attractive I looked I never believed them. I had no trouble attracting boys, but I worried about being kissed because my lipstick would come off. When I was 17 and at college, I met a wonderful boy who adored me. Peter was an artist and would show me pictures he'd drawn of me, saying: "Look at your lovely smile". Bit by bit I began to feel good about myself. And for the first time, since I was 12, I stopped obsessing about my appearance. But two years later Peter was killed in a freak accident. His death plunged me into despair again. I went right back to how I was. If I spent the night with someone I'd have to get up hours before they were awake and spend hours in the bathroom re-doing my make-up before I'd let them see me. I thought nobody else would ever want me but when I was 22 I met Jonathan, who fell in love with me despite my hang-ups. A year later we got married but my wedding day was a nightmare. I was terrified of being the centre of attention and being photographed. I had a terrible stiff neck from trying to keep my head in the best position. Throughout our marriage Jonathan had a very difficult time. I told him I hated the way I looked, but he simply didn't understand. He thought I was neurotic. He'd get exasperated because I was constantly seeking reassurance. Our social life suffered terribly. I became very withdrawn. I'd always get Jonathan to cancel arrangements at the last minute because I didn't like the way I looked.

I'm a nursery school assistant and amazingly I managed to hold down jobs. But there was always a problem with lateness because I'd take so long to get ready each morning. I loved working with the little children because I knew they accepted me, whatever I looked like. …