I reckon this entry will be entirely acne related but don’t let that put you off – it’s going to be really positive, I promise!
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a really bad place mentally and I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Suddenly, I was just feeling very down and low on energy. My face started breaking out and I let my mood influence how I approached my skin. The result of of that was pretty much a week-long pick-fest and I made such a mess of my face. I got angry at the results and actually carried it on to the end of last week as a result. So much so that I had intending on missing a concert on Saturday I’ve never missed a concert before, no matter what my skin was like, which perhaps goes to illustrate how low I was feeling. I’d paid for the ticket and would have been throwing away my money, but that seemed like a better option than going out in public. I virtually had to push myself out of the house but I did end up going to the show. I guess it was meant to happen because, even though I was late for the doors opening, I arrived just as a second entrance to the venue was opened up, allowing me to walk straight inside and take a place in the front row. I had a good night, let off some steam and escaped in the music for about one and a half hours. I never should have doubted that because music and live bands have always been the things I can rely on as an escape. So I will take note of that and never ever even consider missing a concert in future. Never underestimate the power of music, people!
I attended my second group therapy session for depression last week and we were given the task of thinking about the things we do in life which hold us back; any actions, thoughts, feelings or behaviours which prevent us from doing things we might like, ultimately contributing to depression. In most cases, the things which hold us back actually start out as a coping mechanism, but the over-use of that can eventually have a negative impact and be bad for you. For me, almost everything I ever do or think is directly influenced by my skin. The coping mechanisms were put in place thirteen years ago in order to get away from school bullies. They stayed in place and, although they’ve been adapted slightly over the years, I still avoid things and essentially have a fear of people and how they may view me and my skin. So I got to grips with the first part of the task and instantly knew what I needed to focus on. The second part of the task was to find alternative coping mechanisms which don’t hold us back. In order to get the most out of the exercise, I tweaked things a little and decided that there is no alternative for me, in terms of another way of coping, because I was not coping at all. As you may have guessed, picking my skin and popping pimples is a major problem for me. I’ve done it for thirteen years straight. It’s self-harming and essentially an addiction; something I feel I simply have to do. So to break the cycle and to clear up my skin, there are no alternatives. I just have to stop picking. I’m currently at the end of day three without picking and it’s going well. Hopefully, my skin will thank me eventually.
The third group session was today and I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to share my story and tell the group about my struggles with my skin over the years. That was something I had never done before. I’ve never talked to anyone at length about my skin and I’ve certainly never had an audience. So after a little recap of last weeks session, Annie, one of the therapists, asked if anyone wanted to talk about the barrier they had decided to try and break down and the alternative coping mechanisms they had started to put in place. I was in there straight away, “I’d like to share my story please.” So off I went, explaining that I’d started getting acne at thirteen and was bullied for the next five years because of it; how that was made harder because I was always the youngest person in the school year so I always felt behind and inferior in relation to everyone anyway; how, upon leaving school, I hid away and pretty much stayed at home for three years straight, suffering with what I now believe was a severe case of depression; how I lost all my friends, social skills, confidence and self esteem in the process; how my paranoia about my skin had me believing I was ungly and that everyone thought so, too; how all my anxieties about my skin and dislike of myself ultimately caused me to screw up and get fired from my job; how I was basically at rock bottom and now I'm trying to find my way back up.
Fair play, maybe that last part is depressing, but there's a point to this bit so we can let it slide...
Following what I suppose may have been a moving five minute account of my life story, I actually caused our other therapist, Sarah, to burst into tears! I stayed behind to talk to Sarah after the session and she thanked me for sharing what I did. That was nice. She said that even though we’d only met three times, she thought I seemed like a good person and that I’d already offered a lot of support within the group compared to most people who have taken part before. She’d apparently noticed that I walked into the session today looking noticeably happier and more open to initiating conversation, and that her observation made perfect sense to her when I had explained how my skin’s improvement also improves me mood. Perhaps that’s when the real me starts to come out. Hopefully that will happen more and more if I can keep working on my skin. Sarah described the thought that I’d suffered with acne for so long and indeed that I’d suffered with the emotional side of things in total silence all this time without talking as “heart breaking”, and that it was “unthinkable” that people who mattered would ever dislike me because my “qualities as a person blatantly outweigh a skin condition”. I was pretty happy with what I heard and certainly very pleased that I accomplished what I set out to. Plus, the responses were good and there was a lot of understanding everyone nobody could actually relate to these specific issues. That restores a bit of my faith in the outside world and it's no doubt going to be my first step towards seeing myself and others in a new light. I faced a fear and it really paid off. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure. I’ve a fair way to go yet and more fears to face, but perhaps they will pay off as well.
The way I've held myself back has certainly been the focus of my attention this year, to the point where it consumed me and I couldn't actualy find the strength to fix things instead of freaking out about them. Hitting that half way point - 13 years out of my 26, bothered by acne and denying myself pretty much everything as a result - really pulled me down. I never imagined all this would last so long. It was out into perspective even further a couple of weeks ago by one of our fellow bloggers who had talked with a friend about these things and they had both agreed without doubt that they would never allow their skin problems to hold them back and they couldn't see how anyone could do that. By contrast, I was reading that and thinking, 'I don't understand how you can not let it hold you back! I have no idea how it would even be possible not to be consumed by it!' It's taken people who post on these boards to show me that I went so very wrong for such a long time. It's also taken me most of this year to process all that stuff going back thirteen years. I'm pretty much there so now it's time to act, learn who I am, learn how to be happy being me, learn to live and love life. If we don't do that, it passes us by. To get to the end and have more regrets than memories would be a terrible thing.
As far as my skin and my regimen are concerned, it’s time for a new approach. I’m going to try and avoid looking at my skin at every opportunity. It’s a big problem and because I’m not working at the moment, I could easily clock up a few hours each day in front of the mirror, causing crazy amounts of damage to my face in the process. So that’s out. No strategies, I’m just going to walk away. Nice and simple. I shaved yesterday and afterwards, I walked away. That is the first time ever that I haven’t stayed in front of the mirror after shaving, under harsh bathroom lighting, and picked my face to shreds. Go me! I will pick my skin or pop the odd pimple at some point, no doubt. Perhaps it will happen in the next few days. If so, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. If I pop a pimple, I’ll do it right, clean it properly and treat it. Then, most importantly as a skin picker, I will walk away. Over time, I hope that the less I pick, the less my skin breaks out, then the less it breaks out, the less there will be to pick so it will continue to get easier and easier. Swapping those negative cycles for positive ones.
My core regimen is the same, I’m not changing any of that stuff because I know it works if I actually let it: Doxycycline, Isotretinoin gel as topical, and I use a wash in the morning and Manuka honey to cleanse at night. I recently started taking a Beta Carotene supplement and also added vitamin B5, vitamin D and fish oil into the mix. The extra dose of vitamin A from the Beta Carotene really dried my skin out and I was actually experiencing what I believe to be low-dose Accutane-like side effects. But that’s calmed down and I’m taking the recommended dosage so I’ve no great concerns. I’ll just keep and eye on it and see how I go.
I’ve also arranged to take an intolerance test next week because I’m certain that there are things in my diet which my body doesn’t process properly and causes my skin to flip out. I’m actually quite excited to take that and I'm looking forward to seeing what the results will be. As long as I can still treat myself to a pizza and a curry on the weekends, I’ll be happy.
So, that’s me for this week. I’ll see you in my next POSITIVE blog entry!