Had you shown me a photo last year of what my skin looks like now and told me I carried on and left the house every morning, I would never have believed you. I remember my first breakout, aged around twelve - it was nothing other than your ordinary garden variety acne.
Society places an awful lot of value on appearance
Over a decade later and my acne is by far the most severe and aggressive it’s ever been. And I’m more at peace with it than ever.
It might be hard to imagine that up until earlier this year my acne was only ever mild. I’m not sure acne severity is always proportional to the emotional distress it can cause, and anyone who’s battled with any kind of problematic skin knows how it chips away at your self esteem.
We occupy a society which places an awful lot of value on appearance and it's too easy to measure yourself against beauty standards and fall short.
As my acne got worse, my self-esteem got better
We spend a great deal of time absorbed in social media where images are doctored and lives edited to fit the shape of ideal, and our own shortcomings always feel worse by comparison. Rather ironically, it took my skin getting exponentially worse before I could start to work through years worth of the acne-shame I’d been harbouring.
For reasons I will probably never fully understand, February this year saw my mild acne evolve into cystic acne. This was new to me, and it was scary, and I could never have known back then that it was going to get much worse before getting better.
Cystic acne was a difficult adjustment to say the least
By April my face was swollen and throbbing, and home to cysts bigger than I previously knew possible. I didn’t at that point have access to Dermatologists and no medical professional I saw could offer any real insight into what was happening. The pain was, (and still is), constant. And the dramatic deterioration from a mostly acne-free face to a severely inflamed cystic nightmare was a difficult adjustment to say the least.
I didn’t know how to deal with the way others looked at me. People were asking about my face and I had no answers for them. I couldn’t look in the mirror without wanting to cry.
The daily anxiety that comes from having your body doing things out of your control was exhausting, and the shame that comes from having to walk around with a visible skin disorder felt heavy.
A diagnosis, at last
In May it was at its worst. An angry, swollen, and terribly painful mass of cystic acne had made itself a home where my skin used to be. I was able to start working with specialists and received a diagnosis for Acne Conglobata - a rare and highly inflammatory form of cystic acne characterized by cysts and abscesses that join up deep under the skin, ooze pretty much constantly, and need a good aggressive treatment to clear.
Alienation, Accutane & Acceptance
Since then I’ve started a course of Accutane - a medication used in the treatment of severe acne. I’ve also reached a point of being quite comfortable walking around in public, and really quite accepting of the way I currently look. (Which was not even in the realm of possibilities only a few months ago.) And I’ve started talking about it all honestly online.
It’s been an incredibly tough few months. It has given me a deeper understanding of alienation, and a greater insight into holistic care and all the ways a body and mind needs looking after. I’ve had to work on untangling the condition of my skin and my self esteem in order to function and step out the front door.
I’ve had to fully accept it for what it is - a painful and temporary skin condition that draws a lot of attention but is no measurement of my attractiveness or worth as a human being.
Coming to terms with my identity
I remember coming to terms with my queer identity, and how I was able to find comfort and solace in seeing people online who look and think and feel in ways I do. Seeing a representation of yourself can help you feel more at ease with the parts of you the world may have taught you are undesirable.
It almost feels like permission for you to exist in the ways you need to. I couldn’t really find the same level of representation with my acne, (which doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that I couldn’t find them.) Even on my worst days, I knew I would someday have clear skin again. Nobody has acne forever.
But I needed to know how to be ok right now in the midst of it. I needed to know how to love yourself when you can’t face your reflection in the mirror. I needed to know how to get through the day when people don’t always hold back on ignorant comments, rude questions, and unsolicited advice. Mostly, I needed to see evidence of someone living with severe acne and being ok anyway.
Being ok is not about never feeling anything bad
I still get stared at when I’m out in public, and I still experience days where the condition of my skin and the way others respond to it takes a real toll on my emotional wellbeing.
But being ok is not about never feeling anything bad. It’s about being able to feel those things and having enough faith in yourself to be able to work through them and enough hope that there are brighter days to come.
I still have Acne Conglobata, though I’m coming up to two months on Accutane and seeing hopeful improvement!
I love myself for who I am in the present
It took me a while to understand that you can want to better yourself - you can want to heal and work towards clearer skin- AND you can love yourself for exactly the way you are right now.
You can have seemingly opposing feelings that aren’t contradictions, they just kind of exist together and all at once.
I have an unpleasant, visible, temporary skin condition- one that's putting up a hell of a fight. I also have a huge amount of support and encouragement from loved ones, and great bosses, and access to healthcare, and the most beautiful partner whose love and optimism brightens any day.
This story was written by P. Follow P. on Instagram @mynameisjustp
Disclaimer: P has not been using the SA products to treat cystic acne. We value honesty at System Akvile - our products are not intended as a medical treatment, if you have acne that is proving difficult to heal/improve please seek the help of a medical professional for treatment.