“Vitiligo (vit-ih-LIE-go) is a disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches. The extent and rate of color loss from vitiligo is unpredictable. It can affect the skin on any part of your body. It may also affect hair, the inside of the mouth and even the eyes.” – Mayo Clinic
My continued struggle with finding self-confidence and peer approval only heightened in my teenage years when I developed a skin condition that I had never heard of. One that prominently covered my hands, my face, and other extremities. One that I hated and was embarrassed over. One that I vainly thought was going to destroy my appearance.
I never had skin issues. I mean, I was always a white girl that didn’t hold a tan, the one that often got called “pasty” in those mean-girl arguments. But it never bothered me, because I didn’t care what others think. I still don’t care what others think, most of the time.
I was about 14, just entering high school. Tanning my white skin was just something I often did and I really didn’t think much of it. Until one day I began to notice that my hands weren’t tanning right. I thought the lotion I was using may not have been rubbed in correctly. I took better care next time, rubbing it in every crevice of my young little hands, but it didn’t help and after a short time, I began searching for answers.
A few doctors appointments, a few tests, and even more questions. VITILIGO. I have vitiligo. At the time I didn’t understand that it wasn’t curable. I didn’t understand that it could eventually spread uncontrollably. I didn’t realize that this “loss of pigmentation in the skin” would soon shake my rock- hard “not caring” attitude.
In the coming months, my vitiligo just got worse. Seeming to spread to larger areas, but still on my hands, and only becoming more noticeable as it whitened against my “tanned” skin. I began to ignore it, the spots weren’t that bad I guess.
And then that’s when the worst of it appeared. These “spots” appeared on my face.
I remember telling my mom, “I could handle it anywhere, anywhere, but on my face? I can’t deal with it on my face.” And I cried. And I stopped tanning. And I became a little more vulnerable as I allowed my skin to slowly lose the color that it had just gained, and was now only hope for a more evening skin tone.
But the questions began not long after that, “What’s wrong with your hands?”, “Did you burn yourself?”, “What happened there?”. But I really didn’t have an answer. Sometimes I still don’t have an answer.
Because when they ask, when you ask, sometimes I want to crawl under a rock. Most times, I’m super open about it. I’m willing to tell you about what it is, how long I’ve had it, that there’s no treatment, and YES, I will have it for the rest of my life.
But then there are those times when I feel judged, I feel ugly. Honestly, there are days where I feel like the ugly duckling. There are days when I see my very white skin and I wish for an olive tone. There are days when the comments like “Man, you need a tan” hit me hard. Those “I don’t know how you deal with that” comments are crushing because sometimes I don’t deal with it, it’s just there.
But while I have vitiligo, vitiligo doesn’t have me.
It continues to be a weight that I drag around with me, yet a great example of Joseph’s colorful coat.
A gift that my Father has given me, one that a lot of people don’t understand….. a gift that sometimes I don’t understand. It continues to be the baggage that I unwillingly carry around.
But it’s also become my own “originality”. It’s taught me to be empowered by adversity and be confident in my identity. It’s shown me that beauty isn’t only defined by appearance, but by attitude, by demeanor, by strength, and by courage.
Don’t let your insecurities overpower your dreams, don’t let them overshadow your calling, don’t allow them to define your path. This life is but a vapor, and in this life I have vitiligo. But even in Heaven, vitiligo won’t have me.