It must have been the hottest day in summer, and as usual, I was wearing my long sleeve black sweater. Heading down into the subway, I was hesitant to take it off. But I walked into the subway and into the train car. Of course there is no air conditioning. I had to take it off. As I began to take my sweater off, I felt one stare. In a matter of seconds, I felt four.
Pretending not to notice, I sat down, counting down the stops. Not a minute after sitting, a woman leaned over to me and said, “Why are you bleaching your skin? Are you not proud of your skin? You young girls need to embrace who you are.”
What was I supposed to say? I didn’t even understand what was going on with me. How could she know that years ago, I had been diagnosed with vitiligo, an uncontrollable and non-contagious chronic skin disorder? So I sat quietly fighting back tears and anger. How could someone just assume these things about me? Did everyone in the car think the same thing? That day, it was very clear to me that I would never fit in, and people would never accept me or my vitiligo.
I was diagnosed at the age of 10. It started out as a small spot on my back. It quickly grew into spots on my forearm and legs, covering about 40% of my body. From my pre teens into my early adulthood, I suffered from severe depression and struggled with suicidal behavior.
Most people just see vitiligo as a cosmetic disorder, but it’s so much more. Imagine having a secret you don’t
want to share with anyone, and one day you’re forced to wear it everyday. You can’t hide it, and you can’t escape it. That’s just a small idea as to what a person with vitiligo has to deal with every day. That plays on a person’s mind. For me, it played frequently.
I couldn’t accept the fact that vitiligo was going to change me. Everyday felt harder then the last — looking in the mirror and seeing myself disappear. How do you cope? How do you silence the negative thoughts that run through you mind? How do you ignore the stares?
One day, I Googled the word “vitiligo.” I must have been 17 or 18 at the time. I came across an article about a young man from the Bronx who had committed suicide. The article talked about his struggle with accepting his vitiligo. As I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but realize that this could easily have been written about me. Although he took his life, there were so many accomplishments he made prior to vitiligo and after it. It was at that moment that I knew the only way I would come out of this depression was to fight. I had to fight for my life.
The day I embraced my vitiligo, my whole life changed. I saw the world and people differently. Vitiligo is a part of me; when I go to sleep, I’ll have it, and when I wake up, I’ll still have it. I’ve realized that there will be many obstacles in my life, and vitiligo is just one of many. I can allow it to drag me down, or I can use it to drive me. I can share my story with everyone, encouraging them to embrace life’s uncontrollable obstacles and live.
If I could speak to my 10 year old self, I would let her know that what you’re experiencing is the beginning of something life changing. You will have dark days; those are guaranteed. But you will persevere. Look to your family for support; they love you and are fighting with and for you.