One thing that's really helped me cope with pain is Buddha's story of the two arrows. When we experience physical pain, it's like being struck by an arrow. It hurts! We feel that it hurts, and then we start feeling things about it hurting. We might cry over the pain. We might worry about how long the pain is going to last. We might feel guilty for having the pain. We might feel sad or angry that this has happened to us. This is the second arrow. Buddha taught that, with practice, it's possible to just feel the first arrow, and not the second.
When it comes to acne, I think of acne as the first arrow. It doesn't really hurt physically, but it strikes visually. Then when I look in the mirror and see it (or feel it on my face erupting) and I get the second arrow. I'm overwhelmed with feelings. I feel frustrated that I have yet more acne. I worry over how long it will last. I feel fear over how many more spots will come up. I feel guilty for touching my face, or not being gentle enough when I washed it, or using the wrong products on it. I feel shame and self-hatred. A torrent of feelings. This is less like a second arrow, more like an entire volley of arrows.
Then there are yet more arrows, as anger towards myself kicks in. I feel frustrated that I'm wasting so much time worrying over something so trivial. I berate myself for being so shallow when I have much much bigger things to worry about. I feel dislike towards myself for being so silly. I judge myself.
It still amazes me how powerful my feelings can sometimes be in relation to my acne. My appearance is something I have more negative feelings over, more suffering, than perhaps anything else.
How to deal with this second arrow? Well, I'll examine different techniques in later posts. But an important first step is to recognise the process - the first arrow (the acne) and the second arrow (the thoughts and feelings about the acne). Being able to observe my thoughts and feelings as this process happens is the first step in lessening the pain of that second arrow. It means I'm stepping back slightly from the river of emotion - instead of being dragged under by the torrent, I can swim with the tide. And hopefully one day I'll be able to just sit on the shore and watch it go past. I'll take that first arrow, but I won't strike myself with a second one.
I'm in my late 20s, and I've had acne since I was a pre-teen. I also have a lot of blackheads. Over the years, I've tried all kinds of cleansers, toners, moisturisers, exfoliants, spot creams and home remedies, but have been unable to prevent it.
I got frustrated a month ago when I had a massive breakout one morning, just hours before some friends were due to come over. After sitting through an embarrassing afternoon tea and reluctantly posing for photos that all too clearly showed my acne, I decided to do some real research and start some proper treatment. This is the first time I've been able to do this in years. I have an immune illness, and the last few years I've been too sick to treat my acne (or even to shower regulary). Finally this year my health has improved and I've been well enough to cleanse my face every day again.
Funnily enough, when I was really sick my appearance came to mean more to me than it ever had before, and I became discouraged with all the evidence of my illness on my face and body. I got overly-focused on tiny details. Now, learning to manage my acne successfully feels like a chance to have control over something. I don't have a lot of control over the course of my illness, but if I can manage my acne it will give me a sense that change is possible.
I've tested out a few treatments so far (more on that later), but I'm coming to realise the biggest challenge is not treating the acne, but dealing with the emotional and mental pain it creates. All of my suffering comes not from the acne itself (which generally doesn't hurt), but from thoughts and feelings I have about the acne. The frustration, anxiety, self-loathing, worry, obsession, embarrassment and shame inflict much greater scars than acne itself does.
Fortunately, while coping with my illness I've learned many Buddhist contemplative practices. (I'm not actually a Buddhist, but damn they have some great tools for dealing with life). Reading over the forums the last month, and considering my own reactions as I embarked on treatment, I realised that they could really come in handy in dealing with my acne.
So basically, I'm hoping that my regimen will be holistic - cleansing and treating my face, and caring for my troubled mind.