I'm starting a blog b/c I have nowhere else to turn to at the mo. If I moan and sob to the (very lovely) people I have in my life, I can't help but feel as though I'm bothering them. It also usually ends in getting a tonne of completely well-meaning but completely unhelpful acne fighting tips. (sorry Aunt Clara, but that post-BBQ zit you dried out with toothpaste isn't even in the same ballpark as inflammatory cystic acne.) Like I said though, lovely people.
A bit of back ground:
Long term sufferer of your typical run of the mill acne. It was always moderate at worst, mainly just persistent. Started around 12years old. Currently 22years old. A decade has seen me through good patches and bad batches, every brand of cleanser and toner and moisturiser and scrub and 48-hour-zap-that-zit serum possibly ever made. I'm not convinced fifteen year old me wasn't trying to buy shares from Clearasil. Every honey and oatmeal, green tea, lemon, and random botanical extract tea/smoothie/facemask you can find on home remedy websites. Every moderation of gluten free/vegan/low GI diets and superfoods recommended. As far as prescriptions go, I had the good old BP alongside me most of the journey, tried oxy and doxy a handful of times over the years. Then there's Duac and something beginning with Z I don't bother remembering because it was so useless. Nothing *really* got me clear, like 'sit close to me in direct sunlight' clear but I learned if I kept to a strict skincare routine and avoided certain foods, I'd mostly be ok. And as I got older I felt more and more ok with achieving 80-90% clear skin knowing that was still far better off than when it was at it's worst. I had mostly made peace with acne, though just for the challenge, the skin Gods would throw a handful of cysts my way every now and again. During these outbreaks I learned the long and hard way that you should never ever mess with a cyst, even if it's teasing you with a convincing poppable appearance. I also learned I still had a lot of emotional baggage and shame surrounding my skin. But a few weeks would go by and the (very much untouched) cyst would dissipate and I would promise myself never to feel bad about having a bog -standard outbreak of teeny pimples again.
More recent back ground:
As well as bad foods and hormones and skipping skincare, stress tends to be a trigger too. Last summer I was under a good amount of stress. My skin didn't worsen too badly during that time. Ironically when my stress began to lessen and things in life were seemingly back on track and *then* my acne decided to make itself known. Nothing too major, more outbreaks than usual, still mainly 'zits', and then a cyst. Then another when that first one finally left. Oh and a couple more too in time for Christmas. They weren't massive and weren't problematic and I didn't get into too much worry over them. In January I got an abscess under my ear. I'd never had one before and still have no idea why it came about, but it hurt like nothing ever hurt before and I dragged myself off to the doctor's. Flucloxacillin for the infection and instruction to return in a week's time. The abscess left. The acne remained unchanged. I see my doc again who asks when the last time I was prescribed anything for acne was. A while I said, nothing really seems effective enough to warrant taking it and I've pretty much learned to live with it. "well, you are twenty two, and so if you were going to grow out of it, you probably would have by now. I recommend a course of antibiotics to see if it clears up the acne." Ok I say. Why not. I haven't tried antibiotics in years, my skin is playing up right now, I may aswell give it a go. Not a day goes by now where I don't wonder what I'd look like today had I said no. I was prescribed Lymecycline 408mg, once daily. I took them as instructed, not feeling too hopeful, just kind of decided it'd be a nice surprise if they did work for a few months. No change for a couple of weeks and then, out of nowhere, I get that all too familiar itchy tightness that says there's a cyst brewing you can't yet see. Sure enough 24hours later there's a ghastly beast on my cheekbone, protruding and red and throbbing. Two days later it explodes when I'm in the shower and largest amount of oozing white shit comes out. I was genuinely shocked how much was being kept in there. Mostly I was relieved this eruption lead to less pain. In no time at all it's gone and nothing but a dark purple patch of skin remains. I was amazed at how quickly this process was. That had to be down to the antibiotics right? Usually these things last weeks. Quickly after another gigantic red cyst pops up on my cheek. And then another the day later near where the first one was. These two also 'pop' on their own and drain (and drain and drain and draiiiin), and flatten. And then another, and another. And then the first dark purple patch swells up for round two. By this point my right cheek is taking a battering. It's red and inflamed and where one disappears, another will pop up. But the 'turnover' time between when it first appears and flattens after self-explosion is still ridiculously quick. So I'm telling myself this is the antibiotics. Maybe purging and clearing out old infections. Meanwhile my left cheek is looking clearer than it ever has done and my usual break outs have disappeared which is keeping me inclined to stick with the pills for the 3 month course. A couple more of these devil cysts pop up. I see my right cheek in a photo someone took - only now it's not only my cheek, but also areas I've never had acne before like my temple, eyebrow, and right by my ear. Seeing that photo was hard. One side of my face is now covered in red and purple lumps and scars where it wasn't before. Around 6 weeks in I get a very painful and larger than usual cyst - biggest I've ever had (at the time). The whole side of my face hurts. A few days later this cyst is still growing. I look like I have a golf ball on my face. Emotionally it's taking its toll. I'm about to throw the towel in with the antibiotics but I'm endlessly searching through forums any spare moment I get and seeing so many hopeful "it took a few months but it worked a dream in the end" claims. And I guess by this point I feel invested. Committed. As if not sticking it out for three months would make all the struggle obsolete. The earlier mentioned ear abscess comes back. I'm back with the doctor. Flucloxacillin for the abscess. I ask about Lymecycline, raise concerns how it feels like it's getting worse. (Different doctor to the one who originally prescribed them so he has no point of reference.) He assures me antibiotics don't make acne worse and I just need to wait it out, they will kick in soon, and my skin will 'settle down'. I believe it because why wouldn't I? But for two weeks I'm off lymecyclin for the fluclox. Towards the end of the two weeks - and I remember this very specifically because I was off to see my long distance girlfriend (who I don't know where I'd be without her undeniable love and support)- I felt like my skin was getting better. Two days before I left to see her this was confirmed when someone told me my skin looks a lot better. (He also said it looked raw and sore before but I'm trying to manually forget that part of the comment.) My girlfriend too confirmed this, though the previous couple of months had left my self-esteem and confidence in ruins so I was a self concious and anxious wreck still. I finish the fluc, back on the lyme and I get two cysts that put the previous golf ball I mentioned to shame. One on my left cheek first. I know already it's going to be a bad one. Then a smaller cyst beside it kind of merges with it. It's beyond painful. Next one is on my chin. I feel it for days before it's visible. I can feel the circumference under the skin and it's terrifyingly big. It's the most painful acne related thing I've ever experienced. By far the biggest too. I'm talking 5cm+. I'm back with my gf again and I can't smile it hurts so badly. I can't brush my teeth without whimpering. I can't open my mouth to eat food. The whole experience is nothing but miserable. It gradually starts to shrink but here's the real killer: the first golf ball cyst is still there. It flattened for the odd week here and there but always came back. The one on my left cheek is still there. The one on my chin is still there. And they are all weeping and oozing pus. Randomly, without warning, throughout the day. My life quickly becomes centred around how to minimise this happening in front of other people. Awful. Truly.
By this point I am exhausted. My face is awful. As well as the three big ones which are showing no signs of going anywhere, I'm still getting the smaller (but not at all small) cysts popping up all over the place. My whole face hurts. It wakes me up every night. I can barely eat or laugh or smile or pull a t shirt over my face.My anxiety levels are sky high and my self esteem is at an all time low. I can't usually make a day without a panic attack. I cry a lot because I don't really feel human at the mo. Customers at work keep asking me what I've done to my face or what's wrong with my face. I completely avoid looking in the mirror if I can help it. I've cancelled everything possible. I'm pretty isolated. Just leaving the house feels daunting. I came off Lymecycline recently and saw a doctor today who agreed it probably "wasn't having the desired effect". I had my face photographed to send off with a referral to a dermatologist. (A referral may take many months and I can't afford a private one.) I was told I have severe inflammatory cystic acne. This hurt to hear. Acne has always been a presence, always a niggling voice in the back of my head, but never would I have ever called it severe before now.
It's all feeling kind of endless and hopeless and painful and itchy and unsightly. The past few months have been nothing like I've ever experienced. I am very low. I wanted to write it all out because it needs to go somewhere. Best wishes to all who are struggling right now.