-Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption
You never really know what is going to happen in your life. Everything can be going along just fine and then out of nowhere everything changes in an instant. Sometimes, when you are faced with adversity, you discover a side of yourself that you may not have been aware of. A few years ago, I went on a ski trip with my family to Utah. I never would have thought that the trip would have such a profound effect on my life. I really looked forward to the trip and was happy to get away from my life for a while.
I was in between jobs and was not feeling very confident. I was going through one of those times in which you reach a crossroad and are not sure which way to go. Anyway, while snowboarding in Utah, I was shocked with how bright and powerful the sun was. The first day on the slopes, I made the mistake of not putting on any sunscreen and got sunburned severely. I made sure to wear sunscreen over the next several days. However, my sunburn continued to get worse and I decided to sit out on the last day of the trip.
After returning from the trip, I soon realized that my sunburn was taking a long time to heal. When it finally did heal, I was left with some di-pigmentation on the right side of my face and neck. Also, I developed some white patches on the top of my head. When the hair grew out on the di-pigmented are of my chin, it was pure white. I had no idea what was going on, but was not too worried. I thought that it was just a severe reaction to the sun and that it would heal soon. A few more weeks went by, and still no improvement. Now I was starting to get concerned and decided to see a dermatologist.
The dermatologist informed me that I had developed a skin condition called Vitiligo. He explained that Vitiligo is a condition in which one's immune system attacks itself and results in some loss of pigmentation. He went on to state that Michael Jackson had the disease as well and actually made his skin completely white so that the patches would not be so noticeable. He continued to state that there was no cure for the condition. However, there were some therapies that some people were having some success with.
He prescribed some creams for me. Unfortunately, after a few months, there was no improvement. I began to become very insecure about the condition and got worried that I would have it permanently. I started noticing people staring at me or taking a double take. This made me even more insecure. In addition, as a single young male my confidence dropped tremendously. As I stated earlier, I was not feeling too confident before getting Vitiligo. Now, I felt even worse. I kept on wishing that I could go back in time when my face looked normal and take advantage of the way that I looked. Now it was too late and I would have to settle with looking like a "freak." I kept wondering why this had happened to me.
What did I do to deserve this? I kept thinking about what I could have done to prevent the condition from occurring. Maybe if I wore sunscreen that day, it never would have happened. Maybe if I did not go on the trip at all, it never would have happened. Several dermatologists assured me that there was no connection between the sunburn and the condition and that I probably would have developed the condition at some point. Their assurances did not make me feel any better.
The more I thought about the condition and the possibility of having it for the rest of my life, the worse I felt. I started feeling more and more sorry for myself and that just made matters worse. When friends and family told me that it was not a big deal, I got even angrier. Who were they to tell me anything? They were not the ones that had to live with the affliction! Every time I caught a glimpse of a mirror, it was like a slap in the face. When I spoke to people, I would try to keep them on my left side so that they would not see the condition.
Out of necessity, I managed to land a good job in sales and moved on a little bit. Of course, the problem was that the job put me in contact with more people. Being in sales is hard enough when you look "normal." However, it is much more difficult with Vitiligo on your face. I always felt that people were looking at my skin instead of listening to what I was saying. I often felt like I had to find a way to explain what happened to me. I wanted everyone to know that I was not born like this and that I used to be normal.
I soon realized that I had to do something immediately to boost my confidence. I discovered some cover-up products that blended in with the skin to make the condition look less obvious. As a man, I was not comfortable with the prospect of wearing make-up. Nevertheless, I felt that it had to be better than not covering it up. Thus, I started wearing the cover-up. Initially, it boosted my confidence. I felt like I looked much better and that I was almost back to normal. It is funny how your attitude changes everything about your life.
I soon attracted an amazing woman into my life and landed a much better job. Things were looking pretty good and I was feeling much better. I had days in which I forgot that I even had Vitiligo and did not focus on it as much. However, like a nagging pain or worry, it kept coming back to me until I decided to look at some more treatments.
I tried a few more creams that did not do anything. Next, I decided to try a treatment called PUVA in which you expose the effected area to UV light. Although PUVA has worked well for some people, it did not work well for me. After the first treatment, I suffered a serious burn that was so painful, that it hurt to eat or even move around. Fortunately, I healed up after a few weeks. Regardless, I had no intention to try PUVA again. That experience was a major turning point in my life.
I started thinking about what bothered me about having Vitiligo so much. After all, it is more of a cosmetic problem than anything else. Who was I wearing the make-up for?
Why was I so worried about what other people thought? When I was a teenager, I had dreadlocks and dressed like I was in a heavy metal band. I used to get stared at and received negative attention all of the time. Nevertheless, I did not care at all. I came to a place in which I realized that I had to accept the Vitiligo into my life. I had to become one with it and ascertain the hidden message. I decided to stop wearing the make-up and face the world. I thought that if anyone has a problem with the way that I look, then that is their problem, not mine. If people look at me in horror or disgust, then they have bigger problems than I will ever have. My Vitiligo became a superficiality test. If someone looked down on me for having the condition, then that was not someone that I wanted to associate with.
After that day, I found myself taking risks that I would never have taken when my skin was fine. Why? Because I did not want the skin condition to hold me back from doing anything. Every time I hesitated to do something, I asked myself if it was my condition that was holding me back. Whether the answer was yes or no did not really matter. Just asking the question forced me to take action. I remembered that everything in life happens for a reason and that we never really know when something is positive or negative. Sometimes events that are seen as negatives are simply lessons in disguise. Sometimes we need to learn these lessons in order to rise to a higher level of awareness.
Living With Vitiligo
Am I saying that I am glad that I developed Vitiligo? Of course not. Am I saying that I would not be interested in a cure? Of course not. All that I am saying is that I have learned to live with Vitiligo instead of against it. It has been with me for two years and who knows how long it will stay with me. Perhaps, when I have learned what I need to learn, it will move on. Perhaps, it will never move on. In the meantime, it is part of me and life goes on.