This is a word I have struggled with throughout my adolescent and teenage years. This is a blog post that I was not only scared to write, but also scared to share with all of you. It has taken me a very long time to mentally get to the place I am today. While I still feel insecure in certain situations, I have started to develop a confidence in myself, the person I am, and my appearance. This blog focuses on the latter element: my inner-struggle regarding my physical appearance.
The main reason for my lack of confidence during high school and my first few semesters of college was due to my severe acne. I struggled with acne since I was 13 years old, and over the course of several years, I tried over twenty different prescription medications, went to dozens of dermatology appointments, read numerous articles about how to prevent acne/what causes it/how to cope with it, and cried many many times after seeing my reflection in the mirror. I have had horrible sunburns because of how sun-sensitive my medicine made me. I have had people look at me sympathetically, while silently being thankful for their healthy, clear skin. My parents have spent a fortune on all of the prescriptions and dermatology visits. The list of inconveniences and mental struggles goes on and on, but ultimately, there was one medication that treated my skin.
Accutane. I have such a love-hate relationship with this drug. I’m sure many of you have heard of it. It is the strongest form of acne medication currently available, and the list of side effects I experienced was never-ending. In fact, I still have to deal with some today. While on this medication, I had to take monthly pregnancy tests even though I told my doctor that I practice abstinence. This is because if a female becomes pregnant, there could be significant damage to the fetus, which demonstrates just how strong this prescription is. I also had to complete/pass online modules before I could pick up the medicine from the pharmacy to ensure I knew how dangerous it would be if I happened to become pregnant. In addition to all of that, I had to go to a lab every month and get blood tests done to check to make sure all of my insides, especially my liver, were handling the heavy dosages okay.
I started Accutane during my junior year of high school, but could not finish the treatment after my parents’ insurance changed. It was definitely a wake-up call when I went to pick up my medicine from CVS, and the pharmacist said the total was over $600! (Note: that was only for a 30-day term!) So, my skin was never fully treated, and it got bad again. I tried new medicines each month, and none of them were working. My dermatologist suggested blue light treatments in addition to the pills, but after spending $50 per treatment and not seeing any progress after 4, I opted out of those…
Several years passed and I was a freshman in college still struggling with acne. It was such an exhausting process to wake up and feel insecure about myself everyday. In high school, I would pray that my acne would be gone my the end of sophomore year… by prom… by junior year… in time for summer…. by the first day of college, but it never happened. I began losing all hope and started using my 11:11 wishes to wish that it would just go away by my wedding day. However, being in a new environment once I got to college in addition to stress, classes, hard water, and Pizza X breadsticks caused my acne to flare up like it never had before. I do not know how many times I cried to my best friend, Katie (my roommate at the time) about how horrible I felt about myself. I just thought it was so unfair. It killed me to see all of the beautiful girls walking around campus with their perfectly clear skin. My acne was something that made me feel like a dirty and unattractive person.
Eventually, I asked my mom if I could start Accutane again. We went to the dermatologist to find out that Accutane, the brand, did not even exist anymore because of all the generic brands that found a way to copy it. Thankfully, this meant that it was significantly cheaper. I got started and this meant that the side-effects, monthly pregnancy tests, blood work, and online modules would become part of my routine again. This second round of “Accutane” was rough. The side-effects were worse this time causing me to become temporarily depressed and even develop a dry eye disorder called MGD. (Apparently, I am one of the few teenagers who have this disorder as it is most commonly found in 80+ year-olds lol.)
Throughout this second round, I frequently took side-profile pictures of my face to document its progress or the lack of it. My dermatologist told me that it was common for my skin to get worse before it got better, which was not comforting to hear. However, this happened to be the case for me, and looking back at those pictures now is pretty horrifying.
Further than the medication though, I made some lifestyle changes during my freshman year at school. I began to eat much healthier, lost a lot of weight (from all of those Pizza X breadsticks), and chose to go against the norm in college by withdrawing myself from activities involving alcohol. With that being said, I still attend parties, but do not partake in any kind of drinking. These little changes began to make an impact in my overall health, and over the last couple of months of my second round of “Accutane,” I was starting to feel good about the progress of my skin.
I could actually wake up and not be afraid to look in the mirror. I could actually feel pretty again. I began to develop a confidence in myself again. While I still walked around campus a little insecure, I could walk with my head up (which was significant progress from before when I would only look at the ground to avoid people looking at my face). Even though being tan makes me the most comfortable because it hides my scars, I know that in the winter, I can still be happy with my appearance. I have come a long way, and am grateful to not have this burden constantly on my mind. While I know this may seem like a very superficial problem, it was something that I dealt with for many years and that had a great impact on my life.
I will close with something that made my day and left me feeling very content. The picture below is from an activity my Sigma Kappa sisters and I took part in at a meeting last week. Each girl had a piece of paper taped on her back and everyone went around the room and wrote anonymous comments. Once I got back to my seat and took the paper off of my back, I was shocked to read the comment written in red marker stating: Your skin is gorgeous! From people looking at me like I was some kind of alien to someone writing that on my paper, I realized that I truly have come so far. To whoever wrote that comment, thank you thank you THANK YOU! While this affirmation was something very meaningful, I know from this entire process, that I am not only more confident in myself, but also more than a reflection in the mirror.