Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone

I have never considered myself to be pretty. I don't say this for an onslaught of compliments to be sent my way, I won't believe them anyway. I grew up being tall and painfully thin, with the kind of face that could never be considered cute but apparently I've grown into.

When I look in the mirror, I don't see the same thing that others see. I see the awkwardly unattractive girl I was when I was thirteen. There was a time I refused to pose for pictures and even now I delete a majority of the photos that I am in. I am always genuinely surprised when I complimented on my looks. I'm not good at accepting it. I always relied on my personality to be my most attractive feature-I'm funny, smart and kind. I'm not pretty.

My mother used to say to me that she hoped I'd never know what it was like to be ugly. That i was so lucky and didn't even know it. That one day something would make me appreciate myself from an aesthetic standpoint. She told me I was beautiful and exquisite and that many people would love to look like me. I rolled my eyes. I never realized she was right. That one day I'd wish i could look like the old me.

I woke up in December with these weird red bumps in my arms. I, being the hypochondriac, googled every possibility, and diagnosed myself with ridiculous ailments. I figured it was either some crazy disease or an allergic reaction. I couldn't have predicted the truth.

I went home for Christmas and got blood tests, convinced for some insane reason that it was syphilis. (There is NO REASON at all I should've suspected this, it would actually be impossible. I have not engaged in any precarious activities-or non precarious for that matter...but it's what came up when I googled "small red bumps on arms") Not surprisingly, I tested negative for it and everything else. I waited for my appointment with my superstar dermatologist, convinced that he'd be able to tell me what was wrong. Why an allergic reaction wouldn't go away. He took a quick look at me and delivered the news: I have psoriasis. A lifelong skin condition that covers one with unattractive scales and flares up for seemingly no reason at all. He gave me some cream and told me to get moderate sunlight and that I'd be ok.

I left the doctor feeling very happy, knowing what was wrong with me. I stupidly didn't understand the implication. I had no idea that the red bumps would disappear and be replaced with BIG WHITE SPLOTCHES that cover my arms and part of my legs. That the cream would do nothing to alleviate the unsightly condition that had developed on my arms and part of my body. That I'd have to rethink short sleeve shirts, that when I looked in the mirror I'd see a leopard standing back at me. That I finally had a legitimate reason to complain about what I looked like. That my mother was justified in her prior disdain for my cries of being ugly. I can't help feel like I've gotten what I deserve. And I have to deal with it for the rest of my life. There is no cure for psoriasis. I will constantly have to battle this, feel self conscious, and hate myself for being such a idiot before.

I know I am supposed to be better than this. That beauty is only skin deep. That there is more to life than looking good. I know I sound like a whiny superficial bitch for writing this post. That there are people with actual problems, serious health problems that they are battling, and my situation is pathetic in comparison. of course I know that, but it doesn't make it any easier.

This weekend it was gorgeous sunny weather, and I wore a tank top and saw people staring at my arms, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I tried on many different outfits for my birthday party and opted out of the one I wanted to wear because it would expose the spots. I can't bear the idea of going out exposed because it'll evoke stares and add to my my already increased self consciousness.

I don't know how I am supposed to stop feeling embarrassed about this. How to stop caring. How to rise above it. How to look in the mirror and not see the stark contrast between my skin color and these patches. How I am supposed to tell myself to stop crying because I've lost whatever confidence in my looks that i was somewhat starting to gain. How can anyone possibly think I am pretty now? I certainly can't imagine how they could, because I certainly don't. I can't help feel that this is going to be what everyone notices about me when they first see me.

I really dislike that I am so upset about looking bad. I had always prided myself on not being vain but the truth is, everyone, I don't care who they are, wants to feel attractive. No one wants to feel like a freak or stand out for having some kind of physical aberration. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are, or how in touch with your inner self you claim you are, no one is immune to physical beauty-not just admiring it but wanting to feel that they, in some way, possess it.

I am not saying I'm ugly. Or that all I have to offer is the way I look. All I am saying is that for 26 3/4 of my life, i didn't appreciate what I had. I wasn't perfect but I had no real problems regarding my looks. Yeah I was gangly, my hair was a frizzy mess and people called me big forehead but I had nothing that made my physically different. I didn't have to think about covering my arms for fear of stares. I was a stupid self conscious girl without any justifiable reason (unless you want to blame Hollywood)

But now I do. Now I have an affliction that I have no real control over that I will never be able to get rid of. The only thing I can try and do is take whatever they recommend to alleviate symptoms (which, as I said, hasn't worked for me) and try and convince myself to get over it. That I should appreciate the other beauty I possess. That I am luckier than most.

I'll try and do those things. but until I have that down, I'll wear long sleeves and have the occasional sobfest in my bedroom.


  1. Dear Alice,

    Your skin covers your whole body, it is natural that you feel aware of this! Having said that please don't let it get to you as stress will only make this worse.

    I suggest you get some neem oil and neem soap. Put the oil on your skin after a shower and I guess the soap speaks for itself. Also find some real relaxation methods that work for you, as I say stress makes these things worse. All the best!

  2. Okay this looks like a situation for HonestVietMan the dream terminator.

    Is that a plane? Is that a rocket? NO ! ITS HONESTVIETMAN COMING TO RESCUE US ALL!

    *cool face* My rude sense is tingling...

    Look lady dude, me and da boys care not if ya have giant mushrooms under your armpits and stuff. As long as you got boobs and breathing, that is fine for us.

    *Bah dump - pshhh. *

    On a serious note though, I find your condition worsening at such a rapid rate. Do you want some medications? I don't know if we can find them in Vietnam. Well, billions pills a day that dull your senses, or just a quick trip away, far from the problem.

  3. Thanks Chillseeker. I am working on de-stressing all aspects of my life.

    Viet, once again you are delightful. make yourself useful and get me a good dermo

  4. Hi Alice,
    You don't know me!

    I have a friend in Hanoi who has the same thing... but she has had it for about 10 years I think. And to be honest, the white blotches have spread to her entire body, her face, neck, arms, legs, etc. Though, every time I see her, I think she is a beautiful woman... and she is a runner and has a killer body that most women would envy... and her blue eyes are mesmerizing and her smile brightens the room...

    Yet everyday she still struggles with the way people look at her... She gets so frustrated about the stares... She gets frustrated if friends just ignore her difference as if it was all normal or nothing..., and she get frustrated if strangers and friends pity her or stare at her in dismay... it is a fine line... I don't think it will get any easier... but I do think that it is a situation that forces her and you, to be stronger... stronger than most of us!

    Learning not to care about what others think will save you a lot of grief! And learning to rethink your own conditioning and assumptions around 'beauty norms' will also help you I think...

    Good luck! Be strong!

    Sev. (-just another expat traveling the world and whose heart, or at least part of it, is still in Vietnam)

    P.S. If you want me to put you in contact with my friend, let me know... it might help you to talk with her... my email is severineminot[at]gmail[dot]com

  5. Alice i follow your blog because i can live vicariously through your experiences and i love VN!! Psoriosis...i have lived with it for more than 30 years.I was diagnosed during HS--the worst possible time! it sucks but there is treatment. i have done it all.. uvb light treatments, creams, ointments, you name it. be careful with the sun. too much sun will cause rebound flare ups. if you really want clear skin the only thing that has worked for me over the long haul is low doses of methotrexate every week. my skin has been clear for 3 years now. the md will usually only prescribe for moderate to severe psoriosis. stop all scented lotions etc and use only mild soap--unscented dove or cetaphil are the best. hope this helps. Keep up the good work. Love your blog. Lisa

  6. Psoriasis is best treated with coal tar solution, which can be bought online. It's best if you only apply it during night time. Also make sure to wash it off during daytime and avoid direct contact with sunlight. You don't want to go out with it on anyway. The stuff smells pretty dank.
    As for the white blotches on your skin: they're most likely fungal infection, a common occurence in hot and humid environ. Over the counter fungicide is the cheaper alternative to a visit to your local dermatologist.