It started about the 7th grade.
Just when I thought that things couldn't possibly get any worse for me as a freaked out junior higher -- they did.
I had spent the first several weeks (maybe months) of seventh grade with constant stomach aches and twistings (I was probably halfway to an ulcer in retrospect) as I tried to navigate the overwhelming world of changing classes, trying to keep afloat in my Algebra class (how did I even test into that thing?), dressing in front of other girls in P.E., and figuring out why all my elementary school friends had seemingly changed into these baffling creatures over the short summer.
Just when I seemed to settle into some sort of rhythm and felt more comfortable in my new location, I started to feel uncomfortable in my very own skin.
I was a late bloomer.
Without going into needless detail and information, let's just say I became a "woman" this year -- much later than most of my friends. And with that ginormous shift in hormones came something all-to-familiar to most women out there...acne.
I was unprepared for the angry red bumps smattered across from forehead, nose and chin. Even looking at the official school photo of myself from that year makes me sad for my 13-year-old self. I didn't ease into adolescence gracefully...I belly-flopped.
Thankfully, my parents were kind and got me into a dermatologist soon after. However, while it did help some, my acne never completely went away.
Nor has it to this day -- much to my chagrin.
I won't bore you with the other things...the addition of a palate spacer that created a Madonna-esque gap between my two front teeth (which she hadn't undergone at that point -- if she had, it would made my cool quotient become existent); braces complete with stretchy rubberbands; never-ending weight fluctuations and issues, etc.
You get the point.
Fastforward seven years later to when I was in my junior year at college. I had moved away from home and was attending a christian university four hours away. Once again...I freaked out with all the changes and cultural shifts that I was thrust into.
Another thing was eerily the same...my complexion was a disaster. Maybe it was yet another hormonal shift into "child-bearing woman years" or maybe all the inner turmoil and nerves I was feeling manifested itself on my face.
Whatever it was, thankfully once again, my parents found and sent me to a dermatologist in the area. This time things were pretty bad. I almost wished for those little clogged pore bumps. This time it was those huge pockets of pain that seemed to be buried deep into my skin. They were more like cysts than zits.
The dermatologist took one look at me and said the word I had hoped and dreaded to hear: "Accutane."
For those of you with flawless skin or who only get a pimple or two, you probably won't be familiar with the joy and agony that is Accutane. Clinicially shown to dramatically improve desperate acne issues, it also brings along a host of other issues while it's trying to murder your blemishes.
Flaking, peeling, cracked skin became the norm and the results of me trying to pancake make-up over the issue created a lose-lose situation. Either I got to expose everyone to the reality of my face of horrors, or they got to see it under a thick layer of foundation that really only made things worse.
In reality, I wasn't hiding anything.
I'm happy to say that Accutane worked and I got to walk across the stage to get my diploma pretty much acne free.
Things were good for a long time. Sure...I still had problems with my skin. I'm guessing that I always will. But nothing like I had before.
I even experienced times where my skin looked great (usually during or after pregnancy...those darn hormones again!)
I could live with it.
...the "R" word.
Once again, I was tossed into the tumultous sea of "skin conditions." What I thought was just a "pregnancy mask" with my third child -- and thereby ignored and didn't get diagnosed -- wasn't that at all.
With horror, I watched the right side of my face on my cheeks turn red...and then slowly spread across my nose and to the other side.
When I finally stumbled into the dermatologist office and got the diagnosis that I dreaded but expected, I was blown away. In my research on rosacea on Web M.D., I had discovered that it was a skin condition that the medical community still didn't fully understand. One thing they all agree upon is that there was no cure -- and once the condition has progressed, there was no going back to "clearer waters."
A Rosacea suffer can look forward to redness and heat on the face (as the blood vessels constrict), broken blood vessels, bumps and acne, and the best of all....a bulbous nose like W.C. Fields.
Who wouldn't want that last little gem...am I right?
In fact, it can be so bad that 74% of rosacea sufferers say they have cancelled events due to their appearance.
Causes are not limited to sun exposure, spicy foods, hot beverages, intense exercise...even avocados! This is pretty much the sum of my life and non-negotiable if I were to be honest. Who wants a life without trips to the beach, kick-butt salsa and guacamole, outings at Starbucks and running with my friends?
The treatments include: multiple expensive laser treatements; antibiotics (sometimes for the rest of your life!), facials and chemical peels, prescription topical gels and creams, and expensive cosmetics to counteract the redness and cover it.
With a family on one-income, and therefore money too tight for most of the treatments listed above, you can imagine that this is not a condition that any sane woman would sign up for.
Let's just be honest here.
We women struggle enough with self-esteem. We know all about feeling inadequate and like we don't measure up the world's standard of beauty.
Over my life, I have come to an honest self-assessment that I don't have a classically pretty or even necessarily cute features. My oval face can seem looong if I wear my hair in certain styles. My nose was confused as to whether it wanted to be a cute Hayley Mills upturned button, or a longer Julie Andrews type.
I've had someone study me for a minute and pronounce that I had "an interesting face" and then ask me if my people were from Scandinavia. (Which of course, I took as a compliment!)
At this point, the lack of, or addition of features that are looked on as beautiful doesn't really affect me. After all, I think we all come to the realization that we were given what we were given. There is beauty in every face...it's a compilation of our parents and our ancestors...right there in the mirror every day.
There was a long stretch of time where I would never ventured in public without "my face" on. Foundation covered up any imperfections or uneveness in my skin tone; eyeliner helped to somewhat define eyes that have a tendency to disappear (especially when I smile); lipstick helps bring some color to my face, etc. However, once children came along and sleep was few and far between, waking up early enough to "beautify" became less appealing. While I definitely feel more comfortable with makeup, I got to where I could venture out without it, if need be.
And, since I very much esteem inner beauty over the outer, I have become comfortable in my own face over the years (my body is another story for another day). So, at age 35 when I heard the "R-word" pronounced over me and my face, I really struggled.
Part of me wondered why I had to suffer yet another skin condition, after enduring a lifetime of it. I felt like I had given and was currently giving my dues in that area.
Why the face -- one of the epicenters of a woman's identity and sense of femaleness?
Would I really end up with Mr. Field's ginormous nose and how would I possibly not scare away my grandchildren (by the way, a wart condition on my nose would really seal the deal of terrifying)?
Mostly....I just felt sorry for myself.
I tried to cheer up by reading that many refer to rosacea as the "Irish skin disease" because it usually is found in those with a fair and/or red-headed complexion. Since I love Ireland and all things Irish, that was a plus...sorta.
I tried to convince myself that the guy at the gym who said, "dang! Your face is really red!", was actually concerned about me potentially passing out, rather than being dismayed at my sweaty blushed up face.
I tried to reassure myself that all the work I had tried to put into "beautifying the inside" would now be called into play.
I even gave myself a mental reality check -- listing all the other terrible diseases and fatal illnesses that I could have instead.
I know all of this.
Yet, honestly...it really sucks.
Just as I've gotten more comfortable going makeup free, I now have something else to cover up.
Rosacea is my "thorn in the flesh." I don't yet know why God allowed me to have it, and why He doesn't just heal me of it (I've asked). I'm definitely sure that it isn't to keep me from vanity about my looks -- because I honestly don't have that struggle.
Or, do I?
Hmmm...just because I am not "model flawless," doesn't mean that I don't struggle with vanity. The reality is that I think about myself altogether too much.
I do know that having rosacea makes me all-the-more determined to make sure that what's inside of me is what shines out of my rosy-cheeked face.
And maybe that's a thorn worth keeping embedded.
What's your thorn?
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