Body dysmorphic disorder, a condition related to obsessive compulsive disorder, has resulted in both the loss of one young man and a tremendous journey to touch the lives of others by that young man’s father.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a common, severe, type of body image disorder in which the afflicted constantly imagines and perceives their body as flawed. Though those suffering from body dysmorphic disorder appear normal, they perceive something wrong with their appearance and typically cannot be convinced that their appearance is not flawed.
According to the article Body Dysmorphic Disorder Dieting Linked to More Suicide Attempts by Rick Nauert PHD, “More than 75 percent of people with BDD feel life is not worth living or think about suicide in their lifetime, and approximately 25 percent have a history of a suicide attempt.”
On April 15, 2011, Nathaniel Asselin, 24, committed suicide as the result of a 13-year battle with body dysmorphic disorder. Since the fifth grade, Nathaniel obsessed over his appearance, causing him to spiral deeper into depression.
Nathaniel’s mother, Judy Asselin, told ABC, “A shaving nick or a small blemish, or even just a bump under the skin would keep him in front of the mirror for hours, applying small pieces of Band aid to cover up the marks”
According to Nathaniel’s mother, her son would tell his parents, “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t wake up in my bed in the morning and do this all over again.”
Nathaniel gave up trying to fight the disorder and took his life in 2011. His act is now inspiring others across a wide path through northeast America and across the globe.
Denis Asselin, Nathaniel’s 64-year-old father, took it upon himself to trek, by foot, the 525 miles from his Cheyney, Pennsylvania home to Boston in an effort to educate, raise money and awareness for body dysmorphic disorder.
“It’s a conduit for some of the pain and sorrow deep inside. And you are moving, not sedentary. It’s like a cleansing that’s happening – and you are doing something,” Asselin told ABC.
Asselin added, “putting one foot in front of the other was a metaphorically powerful symbol for me – how to move forward after the most tragic experience.”
Denis Asselin wrote of his journey in a CNN article titled Dad walks 525 miles after son’s suicide.
“My primary goals are to tell Nathaniel’s story – so that awareness about brain disorders, especially OCD and BDD, can spread far and wide – and to raise much needed funds for the International OCD Foundation so research and programs can help other sufferers, their families and their friends,” said Asselin.
In Asselin’s article, he states what he has learned from his journey in ten succinct points.
“1. Not many people know about the cruel brain disorder, BDD. They have heard of OCD, but not much about the former. Therefore, I tell them Nathaniel’s story.
2. You can never fully know whose life you will touch by making yourself available to others and by speaking from the heart.
3. The first 10 seconds of my encounters with strangers are the most critical in gaining their attention and their willingness to hear more and to learn more. I usually vary by approach, but I must always choose my initial words carefully. They are portals through which connections occur.
4. When you mention brain disorders, you intentionally open the doors for your listeners to also share their stories about similar conditions in their own lives, in their own families and among their own friends. I’m learning to be a good listener.
5. If you put one foot in front of the other, you will eventually get somewhere.
6. Everyone seems to be rushing somewhere, mostly in cars, and don’t seem to be very happy about it. Apparently, increasing one’s speed doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.
7. Acts of kindness still happen in the world based on my direct experiences of the generosity of others during these past weeks.
8. Life doesn’t get any better than when you live it fully outside. Walking outdoors puts you directly in touch with nature but also with yourself.
9. I marvel at my own resilience, resolve, flexibility and spontaneity. I never knew I already had these skills in such huge quantities.
10. The best rule of thumb when walking is to be open, to be attentive, to be present and to let life unfold in [front] of you. I am ‘Walking with Nathaniel.’”
Asselin’s full CNN article can be found here.