I was on the cusp of a time I wanted more than anything: the teenage years. But with no warning, my coming of age quickly turned into more of a teenage nightmare.
I was getting ready for my thirteenth birthday party. All my friends and family were coming; I was going to be the center of the night. But somewhere between choosing a chocolate frosting and the perfect outfit, I saw it: a huge pimple. There was no hiding it. This was a mountain, and everyone would see it. The horror!
I didn’t know then that this pimple would hardly be my last.
My self-conscious teenage self arduously looked for an answer to what had become full-on acne. I saw numerous doctors, tried multiple medications, applied countless topical remedies—but nothing improved. One product I tried seemed to make my acne ten times worse.
After years with little to no improvement, I came to what I thought would bring some intellectual and epidermal clarity: college. Everyone said I’d outgrow my acne; I figured college would finally be the time for that outgrowth. Not so. If anything, the stress of classes and a new environment exacerbated my condition.
It’s been fifteen years since that birthday party, and guess what: I still have acne. I am still on the long road to healing my skin. After fifteen years of searching, I have come to discover that the primary trigger for my acne is my diet. Now my skin is healthier than it was in high school and college, but I have acne scars that may never go away. But you know what? I am grateful. It has been a painful road for me, but my experience with acne has taught me three major things.
Dealing with a chronic condition taught me never to quit and to follow what I knew was right. I was told again and again that my teenage acne was totally normal, just a phase, everyone gets it, and it would soon pass. But I remember thinking: If all these statements are true, then why don’t any of my friends suffer from acne as I do?
One time I asked my doctor the cause of acne, and she replied, “I think acne causes acne.” I was never satisfied with that answer, so I tried countless products in an attempt to heal my skin. I finally realized that many of the topical creams were temporarily treating symptoms but were not cures. So I tried to search for the root cause and discovered food as a major culprit. Now, my diet brings me clarity, and I simply use water to clean my face.
Dealing with years of acne taught me to keep pushing, follow my instincts, and never give up out of frustration. Oftentimes the worst mistakes we can make in life are when we follow someone’s advice out of pressure while knowing that our conscience is telling us otherwise.
Living in skin that I was embarrassed about taught me to have more compassion. Children, peers, and adults would comment on the condition of my skin. Although they weren’t trying to be mean, I was mortified. So many times I wanted to hide: under makeup, under my scarf, under a rock. Eventually, I was able to see acne as a flaw that did not define me as a person.
My battle with acne reminded me that no one is perfect, and we all suffer to one degree or another, be it physically, emotionally, spiritually, or all three. So I came to appreciate that there are others in the world who suffer far more than I have suffered with acne. Does that truth negate my feelings? Not a bit. But it does put things in perspective. Now I can empathize more deeply with others who are struggling. I know how my own imperfections have made me feel. I always felt like the only thing people saw in me was my acne. So I try to see others in a light brighter than their flaws and follies.
I’ve had countless days of feeling pretty worthless. But dealing with chronic acne for fifteen-plus years has taught me that one’s worth is more than skin deep. Otherwise, there’d be no hope for me!
This lesson is connected to learning compassion: If I have compassion for others, I’d have to go easy on myself, too. My acne did not, and does not, define who I am. It certainly took me a while to learn these things, but my closest friends were instrumental in getting me there. I’m not sure they even knew what I was experiencing internally, but their love and affirmation drew me to understand that qualities of the heart are far more valuable than the quality of my complexion.
So, do I still try to resolve my acne? Of course. I have changed my diet and lifestyle dramatically from when I was in college; I use little to no products on my face, and I don’t wear makeup. But I also don’t obsess or experience anxiety over my skin as I once did because I have learned that virtue instills beauty more than any product or facial feature.
Oftentimes in life, the greatest lessons we learn are born from suffering. Am I glad I have had to live with severe acne for more than half my life? I wouldn’t say that; however, I am grateful for what I’ve come to learn through dealing with it. Suffering is never something we are glad or grateful for—rather the fruit that is born from suffering and the use of that fruit can inspire gratitude. This doesn’t mean I never would have learned these lessons without acne, but my trials revealed my strengths to me in a deep and real way. For that, I am grateful.
Photo Credit: Tina Sosna