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What it's like to be me



I have been on Accutane twice, and my severe acne has returned, yet again.

Severe acne. It sounds awful to say aloud. Right now, my face burns—I’m on Day 2, only Day 2, of yet another eight-week period of “trying something new.†Only this isn’t new to me; none of it is. It’s been this way—chronic—since I was 16. I remember my first dermatologist, in Dallas: He was an old man even then, with a kind, bloodhound face. His eyes turned down, something that always makes a person look kind. He went to Harvard, I just read today as I popped online to see if he was still practicing. He is.

I wonder what he’d say if he knew the same girl he treated as a teen was still suffering to this degree.

Thankfully, my skin has been perfect—even for several months at a time—in between breakouts. I don’t understand it; I’m all good for a year or so, then poof, I look like I did pre-Accutane (I’ve been on it twice already, which is virtually unheard of). Unlike a broken bone or deviated septum, I can fix my acne for a time, but it just…breaks again. There is so much I could write about what it’s like to ache like this at 29. And frankly, I don’t give a shit that “It doesn’t matter to the people who love you†and “It’s not as bad as you think it is.â€

Would you say that to someone with chronic depression?

I’ve kept many “skin diaries†over the years; I still have one online that no one sees but the other people on the forum, and no one knows that broken out jawline is mine. Thing is, I’m a pretty girl—I know that like anyone who’s pretty knows that. My husband thinks I’m hot and sexy and so on, and I wish I could say that matters as much as what I think about myself, but it doesn’t.

To this day, I cannot understand how my family/friends, past boyfriends and work colleagues have looked at my face at its worst, and not thought it was absolutely off-putting. That’s what I think when I see myself, and when I see others with acne. Why would they be different?

Am I a terrible, shallow person? I certainly don’t feel that way. I’m not ashamed to be ashamed of how I look.

The trouble with acne is that, for people with only mild conditions, you can’t help them see what it’s like to be severe. And fuck all when it comes to people with clear skin—it’s not something you’d ever discuss with them, ever. That would be like moaning to my best friend (a size 0) about my flabby belly. It would just make her feel bad for me, self-conscious in the same way I did when a girl next to me on a flight to Omaha said, “Can you not put that armrest down, please? Sorry. It’s just that I’m kind of fat.â€

So yeah, “Look at my disgusting breakout†isn’t cocktail conversation. Even among my caring, sweet family, there’s always the pushback—the overtones of, “Why is this affecting you SO much?â€

I’ve tried describing it to them. It feels like a mask you can’t take off. You can’t swim or else your makeup will run; you can’t camp because, when you have acne, there’s no such thing as rolling out of bed. You have to stay out of the sun or everything, including old acne scars that take a year to fade, will get even worse. Naps are tough; your makeup comes off on the pillow. Working out is difficult—it takes 20 minutes of concealer application to feel comfortable leaving the house, not to mention it feels terrible to work out with foundation caked on.

And then there’s lighting and seating to think about. Which side of my face is least broken out? That’s the side of you I’ll be sitting on, thank you. And it goes without saying that whichever room of your house party has the lowest lighting, that’s the one I’ll be drinking in.

I DON’T KNOW HOW TO NOT CARE. I don’t even WANT to not care. Do obese people just “not care� Do people with body odor just “not care� My face is marred. Scars are everywhere, and nothing will cover it.

Further, acne hurts physically: The best I can come up with is ant bites. Ant bites all over your face, a stingy tingle that only subsides if you pop said pimple, a temporary solution we all know only creates a bigger breakout.

It’s disgusting, I know. And this is just a glimpse into how I feel when I wash off my makeup at night, and look into the mirror seeing that which—yes, the world doesn’t notice—when I’m covered up. That’s why no one thinks you have bad skin when you do. That’s why my hair is long, that’s why I never wear ponytails.

I never, ever feel sorry for myself about it; I just loathe myself for it, and I loathe even more the idea of paying a shrink to try and get me not to care about how I look.

There is no cure for acne, and I am proof. My face is marred.


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