Body Image: My Story – The Good, the Bad, and, of course, the Ugly (pt. 2)

Part of me didn’t want to write part 2 of this series. There are a lot of feelings wrapped up in writing it. Part of me didn’t want to revisit those feelings. Part of me is worried about being judged or made fun of. Maybe you’ll find me extremely shallow and superficial, or perhaps you’ll notice all those flaws that just you didn’t see before.

I know some of these fears are irrational – but despite that, I am still anxious about posting this. I think there is value to doing it – for me as well as for others. In the past, it has been healing for me to write about hard issues, and it has also been healing to share them publicly as well. So, here we go…

This post is dedicated to my struggle with acne – and the scars, both physical and emotional, that it has left me with. 

It all started around junior high – such glorious times, eh? I remember being somewhere around 5th grade when I got my first pimple. It wasn’t a huge deal. It felt more like a right-of-passage to becoming a woman. A few years of some spots here and there, no big deal. 

Unfortunately, it became a much bigger deal. As the years went on, it just got worse and worse. In high school my face was completely covered with acne, hardly a clear inch of skin to be seen. Perhaps it was not really that bad, but in my memories it is. I don’t have many pictures to confirm or deny this either – during those years I avoided pictures like the plague. Thank goodness selfies didn’t exist back then!

To my dismay, almost everything I tried made no difference to my skin. You name it I probably tried it. 

Proactive? Yes – and it burned so bad that I had to stop using it!

Over the counter medicines? – Salicylic acid (check!), benzoyl peroxide (check!)… made no difference. 

Prescribed antibiotics? – those tetracyclines did nothing for my skin.

Birth control (the pill)? – yep, started on it during high school and it also made no difference. 

The waiting was always the hardest. You’d go to the dermatologist and they’d be like, “well, let’s try this (insert whatever new medicine you like) now. Come back and see me in 2 weeks.” So then you’d wait the 2 weeks, hoping and praying that this would FINALLY be the miracle-working medicine you’d been hoping for… and 2 weeks later the doctor would be wracking her brain again to think of what else to try. 

Meanwhile, all those weeks you’re avoiding looking at your face in the mirror because you can’t stand to look at yourself. Acne is one of those conditions that people don’t seem to have much grace for. People assume you’re just not taking care of yourself – you’re not washing your face enough or drinking enough water or whatever else. I once had a classmate with near-perfect skin in high school tell me that having clear skin was easy enough – as long as you exfoliated a few times a week. 

I’ll never forget her saying that – it made me so angry. If that was all it took, I would have done that by now. If it was really that easy, why would I choose to not do that and look the way I did? Acne’s a hard condition because you can’t hide it – you can’t just cover your face with a paper bag all day. You feel exposed and ashamed all the time – and there’s that constant “reassurance” from others that it probably is your fault.

So, when the doctors had tried just about everything they could think of, they decided to pull out the big guns: Accutane. Accutane is a big, scary drug that has such high levels of vitamin A that it can cause severe birth defects. So much so that for every pill you take, you have to tear through a silhouette of a pregnant woman with a “NO” sign on it.

This drug is so intense that every month I had to have my blood taken so they could make sure my liver was still functioning properly.

The first time my doctor suggested Accutane, I refused. I was scared to take it and I thought maybe my skin would just get better on its own. I remember going home and crying because nothing else was working and I was afraid to take it because of the intense side-effects. After another year with no skin improvements, I decided to try it – this was around my junior year in high school.

I will say, if you are having severe acne problems, this may just work for you. Each month my skin improved and I felt almost normal again. People started telling me my skin looked good and it was such a relief.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the story ended right there? “And Erica lived happily ever after!”

My young and naive self thought that after taking that medicine that I would probably just have clear skin for life after that. I thought it would be a permanent solution. As you have probably inferred by now, that was not the case. Thankfully it never again got as bad as it was during the worst years, but it has still been enough of an issue that even to this day, as a 31-year-old, I have to decide how to deal with it. 

At this point, I feel like there’s really two ways I could take this story – two different paths we could continue on:

One path would be to tell you about how after getting the major acne issue taken care of, I soon had to deal with the reality of having some permanent scarring on my face – a related but entirely new issue. As a woman in her late teens and early 20’s, this definitely messed with my image of myself, and caused an internal struggle to be able to accept myself and find beauty in my obvious flaws.

The second path would be to talk to you about how I decided to combat the residual acne that still popped up post-Accutane. About how I became obsessed with every single spot that appeared on my face; about how I was determined that I would “beat” acne and how it became the main guiding force in my life for years; about the extreme things I tried because there was a minuscule chance that it could “cure” me. 

I think those are stories worth writing, however, we’re at almost 1100 words at this point, so I think I’ll stop here for now. Until next time, friends… 


2 thoughts on “Body Image: My Story – The Good, the Bad, and, of course, the Ugly (pt. 2)

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