Life Before My Vitiligo Diagnosis
“Before my vitiligo diagnosis, I was your average tan-skinned, playful child with a passion for playing dress-up, singing, dancing, and drinking strawberry milk. I enjoyed going swimming in the ocean and summer was my favorite season; much of this changed with the onset of my vitiligo.
By my middle school years, my hobbies included playing the flute, playing basketball with my cousins, going to school (I was the ‘teacher’s pet’ type of student for quite some time), and crushing on boys. I had a decent-sized friend group, and, for the most part, I’d say the beginning of my adolescent years served me well.
I was 12 years old when I noticed a tiny white spot on my knuckle and another on my collarbone. Since I was always climbing trees, riding bikes, and doing other outdoor activities with my cousins, I figured it was a scar. I shrugged it off and thought, ‘Eh, nothin’ to worry about.’ Little did I know what the future would hold.
Early Signs Of Vitiligo
Shortly after this a few more patches appeared (on my fingers, arms, and face, to be exact), so I told my aunt, who scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist.
I remember certain aspects of the visit, like how it felt cold and lifeless. The women who worked there weren’t inviting or welcoming, and the walls were white and bare.
I remember barely even seeing the doctor; he didn’t do a skin biopsy or any other procedures. He kind of just examined my spots with his eyes and asked a few questions. He left the room, returning shortly after with a few pamphlets and my diagnosis.
I remember him telling us that there was no cure, but there were some treatment options that may or may not work. I’m pretty sure all we left there with was a prescription for some topical ointment, some pamphlets, and a bunch of confusion as to what the hell the doctor was just talking about.
Even still, I didn’t worry too much about it. In my head, I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll get another little spot or two here or there, and I can just say it’s another scar!’ Man was I wrong!
Not much time had passed when the vitiligo began taking over my skin (this is the best way for me to describe my experience, and I’ll come back to it shortly). However, my classmates were quick to notice these changes in my skin, and this was when people’s opinions of me began to control my life.
It was hard to accept the vitiligo on my hands and face; this was where it spread most rapidly, leaving my face and hands a milky white tone. However, as it was spreading, the kids at school were quick to notice and even quicker to comment on it.
They would ask me if I burned myself or if I bleached my skin, and the ‘popular’ boys in my grade would bark at me and call me a pit bull.
One time a boy made a rhyme about me and one of the lines was about the ‘sh*t’ around my lips (meaning the vitiligo that surrounded my lip area). These were all factors that led me to decide that I would never wear a short-sleeve shirt or tank top to school.
Even just getting asked ‘What happened?’ would trigger me. I didn’t understand exactly what it was (I place some blame on the dermatologist I saw), but I also didn’t want to acknowledge it.
I wanted to worry about how my hair looked, what cute outfit I was going to wear the next day, or who swiped up with heart eyes under my Snapchat post. I really, really just wanted to fit in. But instead, I had vitiligo.
Declining Mental Health
I can say, without shame, that it wasn’t until my recent years that I’ve been able to get a grasp on my identity and my mental well-being.
For almost a decade of my life, I dealt with feeling insecure, self-conscious, depressed, anxious, and, most of the time, like I had no idea who I even was anymore. It felt like this invader was taking over my body and that there was nothing I could do.
As it progressed more and more, I became less and less of who I was. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t know the person I saw staring back at me. So, I tried to ignore it.
I went my entire high school career and most of my college years covering up my skin with clothing, regardless of the heat.
I remember this outdoor event we used to have at school called Junior/Senior Day, which consisted of an entire day full of fun competitions between the two grade levels. Nobody knew how hard it was for me to attend.
With vitiligo, the affected skin has no pigment or melanin, and essentially no protection from the sun’s rays, so I would always get super burned from the sun on the back of my legs. I would wear a long sleeve shirt to cover up my arms and I’d be on the verge of passing out all day long. Yet still, I would have rather dealt with that than to have everyone judge me for just being me.
College was different, yet internally I felt the same. People tell me how ‘kids are mean,’ and ‘kids can be bullies,’ like it’s something to be expected and like it makes my experience any easier… it doesn’t. They would tell me to just be myself and wear what I want, and that ‘nobody cares,’ but this felt impossible for me. How could I expect other people not to think I’m weird and ugly when I felt that I am? Boy, was I my worst enemy!
The thoughts that intruded my mind daily truly debilitated me. After 3 years of college, I was experiencing so much anxiety about showing up to class, about going to the dining hall to eat alone, and about being seen and perceived by my peers.
Overthinking and I had become so acquainted that it felt like my brain couldn’t even function how it needed to, and I was constantly envisioning myself walking in front of a bus or a car, and the thought didn’t scare me; that scared me.
I did counseling through my school for a few weeks, but what ultimately set me free was moving back home to focus on my well-being and to heal.
Through my struggles with mental health and accepting myself, I’ve learned that it is completely normal to have feelings and emotions. I turned into the biggest people pleaser, and I realized that was because I wanted to be accepted and wanted in any way, shape, or form.
I felt that I needed this validation and approval from other people when all I had been lacking was that validation from myself. So, I began to pour whatever I had left back into myself. This was when I began to grow.
Moving home is something I would compare to a spiritual awakening. My mom is my best friend and has always supported me, so being able to come back home to my mother and my sister and to feel that safety again made me feel on top of the world. I began painting in college, and it was a way for me to get out of my own head, but when I moved back home I started to really accept and embrace myself.
One of the first days being back home, I took some of my paint that I was using for my canvas art (10/10 would not recommend) and I remember just letting my creativity run wild. I used pinks, blues, greens, yellows, etc. and just painted brush strokes all over my vitiligo. For that project I had my little sister’s assistance (it took about 3 and a half hours).
I remember looking into the mirror in a state of awe; I couldn’t believe I was looking at myself! I felt like a living, breathing piece of art, and I saw myself in a completely new light. This symbolized a transformation for me.
I was over the moon and wasted no time in writing a heartfelt caption and sharing these photos on my Instagram account; the love and support I received was overwhelming! I didn’t know what reaction to expect, especially after not posting a photo for years, but mostly because social media just gave me so much anxiety.
I was always seeing photos of girls I would never look like, or a life I wanted so badly and when I was in my negative spaces, this would only make it worse. I feared people’s judgement for years, so this was out of my character, but it set in motion a whole new level of self-confidence.
I began making TikTok vides of some of my projects which received amazing engagement and support. I began to connect with people from different countries, hearing their stories and seeing the similarities/differences we share. I realized how passionate I felt about using my platform to promote self-love and just feeling comfortable in your skin. I didn’t feel the need to compare myself with anyone because I had finally felt what it feels like to show yourself some love.
While I can’t do these projects everyday (between trying to finish college, working, maintaining a social life, etc.) I can confidently say that whenever I sit down and paint my body, it’s like therapy.
Sometimes it takes me 4 hours of painting, and I don’t share every single project I have done. But nonetheless, I always feel amazing when I see the final product.
Doing this has somehow led me to feel confident even without the paint. It allowed me to see how wonderful it is to have something so unique and special, almost like natural tattoos! And I realized I didn’t want to waste any more priceless moments on bashing myself and what I looked like.
Every day we’re presented with a different set of challenges, and sometimes it is just not easy to think positive or to be happy. However, on my hard days, I think back on my past and I remember how far I have come. I allow myself to feel proud of all that I’ve achieved, and I practice gratitude for how my mindset has evolved.
I mean, there was a time where I felt literal disgust for myself, and today I don’t anymore. That is growth, my friend! I try to hold faith that the sun is going to come out again, and that would be my advice to anyone struggling with their self-esteem or self-image.
This is the only body we get, and we deserve to enjoy and experience all that this life has to offer.
I still have a lot of healing and growing to do, and I will never be a perfect person, however I have made it my mission to keep this love I’ve found for myself and to cherish it, always. I will continue to spread love to those who need it and even those who may think they don’t, and I’ll always be a listening ear for someone who just needs to vent.”
This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Carmen Garcia, from Ellenville, New York. You can follow her journey on her Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
Read more stories like this:
Do you know someone who could benefit from reading this? SHARE this story on social media with family and friends.