Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OK... So What?

My first serious relationship happened when I was 17 years old. Until that time, I had accepted that I would never be like my girlfriends in the boys’ eyes. I never had guys falling over themselves for me the way my girlfriends did, so I did the next best thing and made sure I was as good friends with them as I could be instead. Growing up with an older brother in the house meant that I had a knack for being ‘one of the boys’.

Having someone actually interested in me was frightening to say the least. He had approached me on my 17th birthday, as I was on the dancefloor celebrating with my friends, to compliment me on my dance skills and my style. I remember I was wearing a black fedora hat tipped to one side, as always finding ways to mask my face and draw attention to my style and not my skin.

He was 6 years older than me, which at the time was a huge age difference. I couldn’t believe that this man liked me, but he persisted in asking me out for weeks to follow, trying to make a date and I kept refusing, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the age difference played a major part. I had never had a serious boyfriend, so naturally I was afraid that we would not be on the same level of thought. I was afraid of what my parents would say. And most of all, I knew that he hadn’t seen my skin properly because of the hat I’d been wearing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide my Vitiligo from him and I didn’t want him to think he was getting a white girl when indeed I was anything but. I was scared to let myself like him.

Weeks passed, and in communicating we found out that we had a lot in common. Conversation was fantastic, he was friendly and outgoing like me and I soon developed a crush. Finally, I agreed to go on a date with him. To this day, that date is the most romantic first date I have ever experienced, perhaps because it was my first real date, or perhaps because he really stepped up to the plate to win me over. He took me out to Aphrodite’s Rock, a well-known landmark in Cyprus. We sat eating ice cream on a cliff overlooking the ocean, where a huge rock stands out of the water near the shore, rumoured to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love.

Again, because it was night-time - my friend, the Night - I thought he wouldn’t be able to see the spots on my face, and was nervous to tell him about my skin. I told him there was something he needed to know, which played a big part in me not agreeing to go out with him. I told of how my skin used to be dark, and was gradually changing to white over the years and had almost completely changed. I remember my voice was shaking as I imagined him jumping back in the car, taking me home and running away, never wanting to see me or speak to me again. I thought that news like mine would be too much responsibility for someone to take on and much more than they bargained for.

He listened to my story, watching me closely the entire time, and then… he shrugged his shoulders.

He said: “Okay… So what?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Well…” I stuttered. “My skin could change back… or it might not. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t know if you could handle being seen with me if my skin was patchy? I look strange…”

He looked at me like I was the silliest person in the world (which, at that moment, I felt like as well).

“What if I told you… that I don’t actually care what colour your skin is, or if you have more than one colour visible? And what if I told you that anybody who had anything to say to you about your skin, would have to go through me first?”

The feeling of relief that washed over me was indescribable. No one, much less a boy, had ever said that to me before and in that moment, I finally felt like I had someone on my side who wasn't obligated to defend me like family.

Our wonderfully fulfilling relationship lasted almost three years and we have a friendship that still stands today. And one thing I learned from that night…

Sometimes I let my skin matter to me more than it matters to others.

Think about it. Your Vitiligo is only as important as you choose to make it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


You are beautiful... Your skin is flawless...

These are things I try to say to myself when I look at me in the mirror. This is what I say to convince myself that everything is okay and it's not worrying me that there is a new spot on my face that most certainly wasn't there this time last week.

I have never thought of myself as beautiful. Never. Even now, when people say it to me, on whatever rare occasion that may be, it's not a word I would ever use to describe myself. It's hard to change years of habitual thinking. Attractive, maybe. I can see attractive... I pride myself on keeping my body toned and fit, loved my life in the dance studio, so even sexy is a definite possibility. But my skin tortured me enough over the years to stop me from ever using beautiful

And yet, when I look in the mirror, I repeat these affirmations to convince myself that that spot has always been there. It's not new, it's not adding to the multitude of tiny spots that I can identify on various parts of my body. Inside though, I am freaking out. Yes, it's only small now, but the point is that it wasn't there a few days ago. And I swear that the spot I noticed two weeks ago is now twice the size it was before.

What does this mean? Does this mean that my Vitiligo is better? Or is it worse? I'm so confused by my condition sometimes because I don't have distinguishable patches like other sufferers, so does this mean that I have an extreme case of bad Vitiligo or a good case of one skin tone, even if it isn't mine? Confused, confused, confused...

I went to a poetry reading the other day with some friends. At the end of the first session, a girl sang a popular song by India Arie called Video. I know the song well enough to sing along, but it was only when I started singing along to the second verse that the lyrics hit me like a two-ton truck:

When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me
Every freckle on my face is where it's supposed to be

But... but... every freckle on my face is not where it's supposed to be though! This is what a voice in my head started screaming and since then, I can't stop thinking about those lyrics. My freckles are changing every day. My skin won't behave itself, so I sometimes feel like I am losing me, or the me I have learned to identify with.

Skin. It's the first point of contact someone has with us. It's the first thing people see, it's how people identify with one another. In one way, our skin defines us. Sad, but true. I refused to let my skin define me as a person growing up, so I became talkative, outgoing, strong-minded and opinionated so that people would judge me outside of my skin and look past the patches to my personality. And then I became one colour and I adapted and learned to have an identity that included my new skin. And now, it feels like after years, I have finally adjusted with this skin that isn't mine in the first place - yet it is - and it's playing tricks on me again.

I keep thinking: Maybe I should stress myself out so that the pigment spots disappear or don't grow so rapidly.

How ridiculous is that? Stressing yourself out to keep the skin you've grown used to. It's ludicrous, but this is how my mind works with regards to my skin. Then I'm thinking maybe I'm getting pigment spots because I'm NOT stressed. Maybe, for once in my life, I'm at peace, I'm even possibly... happy? 

But then if happiness means no stress... and no stress means more pigment... and more pigment patches means I stress out about it... and stressing about it reverses the pigment patches (in my head)... but then I'm stressed out, so I can't feel at peace or happy...

It's a vicious cycle going on in my head right now.

I just wanted you to know that I still worry about these things too. My skin is 99% one colour and my life isn't any more perfect or my mind any calmer than when I was a overcompensating teen with patches. The spots on my face remind me that I still have Vitiligo, I'm not out of the woods yet. Not knowing when or where the next spot will show up is beginning to threaten the identity that I finally managed to accept.

I am scared too. But India Arie goes on to say:

But I learned to love myself unconditionally
Because I am a queen

Yes, indeed.