Ping. Ping. A young girl, barely fifteen years old, looked down at her phone. Her Instagram was blowing up. Strange. Kiley hardly posted anything. She never had anything worth posting. Besides, if she posted something, chances were she'd have to be in the picture, and that was never going to happen. Even hanging out with her friends, Kiley always refused to be in photographs. She could not stand seeing herself.
So, it wasn't her post that was getting so much attention. When she opened her feed, DMs popped up one after another. Ping. Ping. Ping. They wouldn't stop, and Kiley desperately wished they would. Each was more hurtful than the last. Who was it that started that sticks and stones saying? Well, they were wrong. With each ping, more tears filled Kiley's eyes.
Only two days ago she'd stayed over at her “friend,” Ariana's, house. Now, Kiley realized the hangout wasn't to befriend her. Why would Ariana need another friend? Ariana was popular with any pick of friends she wanted. She was also a diva.
They'd gone for a mile run at Ariana's. Kiley hated every minute of it. While sweat dripped off Kiley in droves, Ariana only ran faster. When Kiley's face grew red and blotchy, Ariana's makeup didn't even smudge. Kiley's body bounced and flopped until she felt like a sumo wrestler, but Ariana's muscles only looked firmer in her yoga pants and sports bra. Horror filled Kiley as she stared at a video of herself running on her phone. She was huffing and puffing while she held one hand over her oversized, boxy shirt to make sure it couldn't fly-up. When they finally stopped running, she guzzled down her water and explained to Ariana that she hadn't gone for a run for a little while. Now, she could see Ariana's smirk and wink at the camera behind a bush she hadn't noticed. It was too much. Kiley felt sick. How could anyone do this to her?
Days passed. Kiley wouldn't eat, wouldn't leave her room, wouldn't look in the mirror. Even a side-long glance in the mirror sickened her. Sometimes she puked. Other times she would burst into tears and start squatting until her legs felt like they'd fall off. One time, though, she couldn't stand it anymore. She started screaming at herself. She shouted everything she couldn't stand about herself. Then, she threw anything within reach at the mirror. She didn't stop, couldn't stop until it shattered.
Rocking herself on her bed, she cried and didn't stop. “Why?” she asked. “Why do I have this body?” A sob punctuated her words. “I HATE it!” That night she fell asleep crying.
It had been a week since Kiley had left her room. Her parents worried about her constantly. If they tried to tell her she was beautiful, then she'd scream and sob about how they couldn't see her, not the real her. At night, she'd sneak out of her room and grab rice cakes with a smidgen of peanut butter smeared across the top. During the day, she'd cry or scream at herself or sleep for hours straight. Sometime throughout the week, Kiley chucked her phone out the window.
So, her parents decided they couldn't manage their little girl by-themselves anymore. Ding-dong-dang. The old house rang out. Muffled voices reached Kiley upstairs where she sat in her bay window, looking out at the coast with its crashing waves. Then, a knock sounded on her door. Kylie didn't answer. But, they came in anyway.
“Sweetheart,” Kylie's mom said softly, “this is Dr. Lystson. She's here to … help you.”
Kiley still didn't speak. Instead, her dad did. “Please, Kiley, just talk to her. Talk to someone.”
Kiley didn't turn her head. Dr. Lystson wasn't thrown, though. She looked at the girl in the window and breathed deep. When her parents moved to speak again, the doctor stopped them. “It is quite all right. I am the imposter. Maybe I should speak first, Kiley?”
Kiley didn't even shrug her shoulders, but the doctor didn't mind. “You can call me Dr. Anna. That is if you ever decide to speak again.” The joke wasn't funny, it wasn't even good, but it made Kiley turn to Dr. Anna. “There. We have a face to the back.” Kiley stared at the woman. She was different. She had an accent and her clothes were crisp and neat yet simple and casual. She made no sense but her face was kind and her words were friendly. “Nothing?” Dr. Anna huffed in fake aggravation. “I would have thought my cheesy dad jokes would have gotten us somewhere.”
Again, Kiley's parents moved as if to force their daughter to talk. This time Dr. Anna merely held up her hand and asked if they would allow them some privacy. “Who knows, if Kiley ever decides to talk, we might be subject to client confidentiality.” Then, she winked at Kiley.
It wasn't on the first visit or even the second or third, but eventually, Kiley started talking to Dr. Anna. Sometimes they talked about the weather. Sometimes they spoke about her feelings. And, sometimes they just watched the sea. Later, though, Dr. Anna told Kiley she suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Dr. Anna told her what it meant. She helped Kiley vocalize her thoughts and gave her medicine that worked similarly to anti-depressants. Slowly, Kiley healed.
It was like putting on a new pair of glasses when you've gone your whole life half-blind. She didn't hate herself. She didn't puke at the sight of herself. She didn't avoid people and cameras. Every day was hard and stressful. Sometimes the thoughts wandered back, but with Dr. Anna's help, Kiley lived through them and understood that those thoughts were wrong. She was getting better each day. But, something wasn't right. She couldn't fully heal until she faced this one last thing.
“This is Kiley Wulff. I have lived most of my life suffering from BDD, also known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder. After dealing with cyber-bullying that harped on my disorder, I've gotten professional help and know that I'm beautiful, inside and out. People will always have something mean to say to me or about me. And, that will always hurt. I'm still human. But, now I know that those thoughts are toxic, and I'm never going to fall for them again. Maybe you don't deal with BDD or haven't even heard of it. That doesn't mean your pain is any less. It is up to us to stop cyber-bullying. We are the future. Now let's be the change.”
She posted her story for everyone to see. It was public. The berating post and her healing became her voice. Now, she could help someone else before they got hurt in the same way.
Twenty years passed. Life kept going, and so did Kiley. She continued fighting to raise awareness about cyber-bullying, and every day someone thanked her for the inspiration she'd given them. For ten years, Kiley worked as a child psychologist. Every day her determination to help people grew. She knew little girls were out there thinking and believing the same things she'd thought for so long. So, she helped them. She faced her demons and healed the scars they'd left behind.