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life-changing Blogger reveals how he discovered he had been living with BDD for over 20 years

'Somebody just mentioned to me about body dysmorphia: 'Have you ever looked it up?' I looked it up and that was a massive turning point for me'

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Keith Russell has suffered for most of his life, but knows he is in a better place now

Keith Russell has suffered for most of his life, but knows he is in a better place now

Keith's in a better place with his mental health

Keith's in a better place with his mental health

Keith as a child in his mum's favourite photo of him

Keith as a child in his mum's favourite photo of him

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Keith Russell has suffered for most of his life, but knows he is in a better place now

Following a kind-hearted message on social media, Keith Russell googled 'body dysmorphic disorder' - and realised he'd discovered the condition that had plagued him for most of his adult life.

A reader on his blog series on mental health had noticed some traits in keeping with the little-understood condition. For Keith, it was the first step in a life-changing realisation that, in the past, had driven him to the brink.

"Somebody just mentioned to me about body dysmorphia: 'Have you ever looked it up?' I looked it up and that was a massive turning point for me.

"Obviously someone read the blog and picked up on something in it. I looked up the term and my life just changed in a flash.

"Body dysmorphic disorder, is the actual term for it and I'd been living with it for over 20 years."

BDD is the term used for a mental health condition where those affected can't stop thinking about perceived flaws in their appearance.

It marked the beginning of years of suffering from anxiety and depression for Keith, from Rush in Co Dublin.

Difficulties with eating disorders impacted on him greatly. On occasion, he would even struggle with thoughts of ending his own life.

He recalls how he first started to feel conscious of his looks in adolescence, and a photo of him not wearing a t-shirt - which his mum says is her favourite photo of him - was the last such photo he had ever taken.

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Keith as a child in his mum's favourite photo of him

Keith as a child in his mum's favourite photo of him

Keith as a child in his mum's favourite photo of him

"Up until my early teens, I was fine. I'm an '80s kid. I love my '80s music and 80s films because it's nostalgic for me.

"I didn't have a care in the world.

"And then I think my life kind of changed for me in my early teens, when I started going swimming, and to life saving classes in the swimming pool. I started to be very uncomfortable doing those classes.

"I never had any problems. I was just a happy child.

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"And all of a sudden you find yourself standing on the side of the pool.

"You had to wear Speedos, and you're looking at other people. And all of a sudden, I just started comparing myself to other people.

"I just started to not like how I looked, even though anyone else would tell me I was perfectly normal."

He believes, in hindsight, that his problems were compounded by the fact that body issues or eating disorders aren't spoken about in boys and men.

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Keith's in a better place with his mental health

Keith's in a better place with his mental health

Keith's in a better place with his mental health

"Things just got worse and worse and worse. I didn't even know I had anxiety.

"At that age you're starting to like girls, starting to develop.

"And it wasn't the place where I felt I needed to be. I'd go to the classes then I'd go home, feeling terrible about myself and feeling miserable."

In other areas of his life such as school, Keith was doing fine.

But over the years the pressures started to take their toll.

"I ended up going for therapy for depression in my early 20s because the anxiety turned into depression.

"I would sit there and I would list things I didn't like about myself. I didn't like my jawline.

"I didn't like a tiny little birthmark on my ear that nobody ever noticed. I didn't like my wrists.

"I didn't like that I couldn't grow facial hair properly. I didn't like my hairline. I didn't like my calves. I felt I had a spare tyre around my waist.

"I would be constantly doing that to myself. And when you keep telling yourself all these things over and over and over again, you eventually just start to believe it.

"And when you start believing those things about yourself, you just go into your shell and you don't want to go anywhere.

"I didn't want to go bowling with my friends because I didn't want to lean forward and throw the ball down the lane, because I felt I had weight on my lower back."

Keith felt that what he now knows to be body dysmorphic disorder was taking over his life, and he started binge and comfort eating as a reaction to his emotions.

Later he would over-exercise in a bid to burn off the calories he had consumed, and started to feel completely burnt out.

"I didn't speak out. I didn't talk, I didn't share. Because you feel like you're a guy, you're a man, and you just feel like you're going to be judged."

He says that the past year has marked a huge turning point for him, as he started to share his thoughts on a blog.

His first post, about watching sport to take his mind off his feelings, drew a hugely positive reaction on social media, including the message that led to his realisation he had BDD.

He has since started a podcast, The Endless Spiral, where he and his guests aim to end the stigmas around BDD, anxiety and depression in a bid to support others. It's now listened to in over 30 countries.

"I realised that I wasn't on my own. I was able to bring these experts on the podcast that were nutritionists, personal trainers or people who are sharing their stories of people with eating disorders, and I was able to learn so much from other people.

"You would not believe the supportive community I have found.

"I'm still on my journey but I've done a lot this year. Maybe other people aren't quite willing or quite in that headspace to be able to share their stories, which is fair enough.

"But if I can share my story, and inspire maybe people to go and speak to a therapist in private, then that's great. I always say, if only one person listens to my podcast, and gets that from it, then I'm happy."

The Endless Spiral is available on all good podcast platforms.

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