My previous post, “Your Skin in 500 Words“, mentioned Natalie who is one of the creators of the Skin So Many Words Project. To show the solidarity of all with skin conditions, here is a post written by Natalie about her skin condition, Vitiligo.
“I was now a young mixed race girl of 4, with skin that was 80% white”
Whilst Psoriasis and Vitiligo are two very different skin conditions, some may agree there is some similarity, in that they can both have an affect on a person’s emotional wellbeing and the day-to-day choices that person makes. I have battled with Vitiligo since I was a teenager, having developed the condition when I was a baby. Here is my story…
I was just 2 years old when the white patch appeared ‘innocently’ on the back of my hand. No bigger than a ten pence piece, it sat boldly on my caramel coloured skin, eager to ensure it was visible for all to see. Whilst it was unusual in shape and colour my parents weren’t too alarmed when my GP couldn’t confirm what it was, after all it wasn’t causing me any pain nor was it irritating my skin.
Quite some months later, more patches started to develop. Dotted across my body like paint flicked on white paper, it became apparent that my skin was slowly turning white with very little control. Back to my GP I went. This time, my parents determined to get answers about my rapidly changing skin colour. However, once again, my GP had no clue about what was happening to me. He quickly referred me to a dermatologist where it was later confirmed I had Vitiligo and it was incurable. Eventually my skin settled. However, I was now a young mixed race girl of 4, with skin that was 80% white.
My parents were well aware my rare skin condition, that affects just 1-2% of the world’s population, wasn’t going to go unnoticed. Naturally they tried to prepare themselves for the potential challenges that came with having a child that was ‘different’. One of my most poignant memories was how my parents encouraged me not to cover up. They allowed me to wear pretty dresses, shorts and t-shirts in the summer, and a swimsuit on the beach. At such a young age, my world was full of innocence. I had no idea there was such a thing as ‘normal’ and so I lead a childhood completely unfazed by my indifferences.
Soon after diagnosis, I began treatment. I tried oral medication, topical steroid creams and homeopathy. For years I was trying to regain my natural skin colour, but nothing worked, in fact I firmly believe the mix of chemicals made my skin worse.
As I approached my teens, Vitiligo became the center of my being. I began recognising my skin for what it really was; a flaw. Self hatred kicked in and I became obsessed about covering up, even during the summer. I was sucked in by images in magazines of girls with long straight hair, the ideal figure, perfect teeth and the one thing I desired most…flawless skin. I became self-conscious and was paranoid that people found my skin repulsive.
One of the biggest challenges with having Vitiligo, is the feeling of isolation. The feeling that you are the only one in the world living a tormented life caused by a skin condition. I later joined the Vitiligo Society, which provided me with the support I needed. It allowed me to open up and talk about my experiences with people on a journey similar to mine. I got great sense of comfort being around people I could finally relate too.
In 2014 I gave treatment one last go. I decided, with referral from my GP, to try UVB Narrowband treatment. I wasn’t hopeful it would be a success. When you have an incurable skin condition, the last thing you are is optimistic. Turns out I should have been, because within 4 months of being treated, I was starting to regain my natural skin colour. Miraculously, after 12 months, my patches were reduced to just 20%.
Decades later and I’m finally at peace with who I am. Acceptance started in my thirties, when I started to realise just how many forms of beauty there are outside magazines and social media. I looked back at my life and realised I’d accomplished things I never knew I would and I felt proud, so why shouldn’t I be proud of my skin too?
Author – Natalie Ambersley