“My name is Neo Charlotte Kgomo and I was born on February 21, 2001. I also happen to have an autoimmune disease called vitiligo.
A little about me: I have always been a very quiet person who lacked a lot of confidence. In my primary school years I was teased for my masculine features because I had no breasts, no hips, and no butt. I also felt my skin was too dark and ugly. How was I supposed to believe in myself when my ‘ugliness’ was visible to other people?
I am the first-born in my family, which meant I had no source of guidance from a person much more experienced and older than me. I was my own responsibility, as my mom never really invested her time into molding our self-esteem and life knowledge so I was prepared for the future. Everyone around used to compliment my little sisters with lighter skin, but never me, and that developed into me feeling like an invisible child.
My mother was a very strict woman. We were not allowed to have friends or boyfriends. We couldn’t go out, not even to the park, and she never bought us phones. Even worse, she took us to an all-girls school, which makes it hard to communicate with boys.
This basically forced us into anti-social living. Having friends was not an issue, but keeping them was difficult. My mother would discourage us and wouldn’t let us have quality time together. Years passed, and it became harder to socialize because the older we grew, the sterner she became.
We were a family of five. We were all girls to a single parent. All our fathers never played a role in bringing us up, but our mother did it with the help from my grandmother. My father left my mother when I was three years old.
When I reached 18, I started questioning my mother about my father because seeing other children with their fathers really affected me in years prior. She never gave me a straight answer. I had no source of information about his whereabouts until my grandmother died in November 12, 2021.
Needless to say, my childhood was not easy.
Early Signs Of Vitiligo
Then, life took its turn on me for the worst.
On January 4, 2022, my eyes started having a burning sensation. They suddenly started becoming extremely sensitive to everything, even my own touching them.
Days later, I developed a skin rash around my eyes, but I had no money for medication. I applied a lotion that was given to me by a local clinic by the name of Hillbrow when I began to develop eczema patches around my armpits. It was a cream mixed with ten Allergex pills in it.
The skin rash healed after two days, but it left my skin very dark and dry. Soon, the skin started peeling off. And I had pink patches around my eyes.
At the beginning, I had no issue about the change around my eyes because I believed that it was a temporary thing. But when I saw the pink patches becoming bigger and forming round, pink circles around my eyes, I started suffering from anxiety. I started asking myself what was wrong.
‘Will my boyfriend ever love me again if he sees me this way? What will my mother say? How will everyone react to this? Will it ever go away?’
When I got back to Johannesburg, I started by going to my boyfriend’s place to show him what had happened and his reaction surprised me. He looked disgusted. I was crushed.
I have never felt so unloved and depressed. I could not eat that evening because my mind was all over the place. I could not go to my mother’s house because she told me not to come back.
It hurt even more when he came back the following morning to ask me to go buy sunglasses, or any sort of glasses, to wear over my patches because he hated how everyone was looking and talking about me on the streets.
Depression and anxiety started kicking in even more at the thought of losing someone that loved me. As the patches were becoming lighter in color, I was also losing my appetite and, consequently, weight. Soon, my boyfriend started being distant and rude towards me. At this point, I decided to go to Mafikeng, South Africa to stay with my mother’s family because I did not want to go to my mother’s place.
When I arrived there, everyone looked very sad. It made me even more upset because all they felt was pity. They started showing me pictures of my great grandmother who had this skin condition. She started losing skin pigmentation after her 50’s with her sisters.
They felt so much pain for me because they knew all the emotional trauma and distress this condition brought my great grandmother. I had arrived there on February 5, 2022, and not a single day did I go out of the yard until I decided to go to my mother in March.
I stopped at the salon in town in Mafikeng to fix my hair before going back to Johannesburg. EVERYONE was looking at me in town, and all of them discussed how I looked. I held back my tears until arrived at the salon.
When the hairdresser asked me what happened, I just burst into tears because I was too overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by the stares, the laughs, the bad comments, and the questions. I just wished to be invisible. I wished to kill myself.
On my ways to Johannesburg, I went on to my Instagram and deleted all my pictures because I knew I would never be the same again. After all, even the people in the bus feared sitting next to me.
Journey To Self-Love
When I arrived at Hillbrow, I went to my mother’s place and she welcomed me back with a huge smile and tears in her eyes. That’s when I burst into tears too, because I remembered her words telling me not to go.
I felt some sort of connection because it seemed she began to understand what I was going through. The weight loss and the darkened skin complexion broke her down. She gave me a hug and told me everything would be okay.
I locked myself in my room for days without eating or drinking water. All I did was cry all day in my bed. I suffered from the heartbreak of seeing my boyfriend with somebody else, from blaming the white patches for messing things up, and from what these patches did to my social life.
I suffered a lot mentally and emotionally, but I got support from my family. They tried helping me gain my confidence back, but it was difficult because even before experiencing the onset of vitiligo, I already had no confidence.
Until one day I met a woman, my ex-boyfriends aunt. I always used to see her when she paid a visit to my boyfriends’ place, but I always used to hide because she was very intimidating. She is the one who helped me find confidence.
She helped me learn to accept people for the way they are and adjust to change. What I was most thankful for though is how she taught me not to care about WHAT PEOPLE SAY!
She even styled my hair and bought me clothes to help me boost my confidence even more, which helped me a lot to feel better about myself. Then, she took me out to the world for people to see me. And guess what happened? The world wasn’t as scary as I’d anticipated.
I started realizing that it was all in my head, that I am actually a normal human being, just like any other person. And I realized the power I’m carrying around. The power of uniqueness and extraordinary beauty. There is no human, all over the world, that looks like me, and that is what makes me proud of the way I look.
People can now laugh, talk, and have bad comments about me, but I have learned not to care. They can also stare as much as they like; it only make me feel like a celebrity.
To all the young girls out there living with vitiligo, here is a quote from my role model, Winnie Harlow:
“I have my flaws, but I embrace them and I love them because they are mine.”
Acceptance is a huge step if you want be happy in your life. Take a lot of pictures to remind yourself how beautiful you are.
Time, time, TIME. Give it time. Everything will fall into place. Accept what you can’t change.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Neo Kgomo (PANDA eyes) of Johannesburg, South Africa. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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