I have Vitiligo which means that I'm losing my skin pigment. If you have met me in real life, you've probably heard me talking about losing my skin colour. I'm pretty OK with the whole thing now. I'm a teacher and I usually tell my classes about it at the beginning of the year so they don't have to feel awkward about asking.
While I have been asked "What's wrong with your face?" it is a rather rare occurrence. Though I do sometimes wonder if that's what people are thinking.
Thinking about how people see me is actually something that I’ve wondered about for decades.
Growing up as one of the few brown people in a predominantly white community - Steinbach’s demographics have shifted dramatically within my lifetime here - I never saw myself as an Indian (even though I was born in India...but that’s another story). I just thought I was like everyone else. And while I was like everyone else - I did look different. I had fantastic friends who never made me feel different.
It was only when I started university that I began to acknowledge my brown skin. As I walked through the halls of the faculty of science, I saw more Indians than ever before and, at first, I saw them as different. It took a bit of time to realize that was how others may perceive me as well. And I had to actually come to terms with that in a new way. I had to see myself as both a Canadian and an Indian. It was a piece of shaping my identity. Looking back on it now, I think that was an important part of my journey.
I first noticed the small white patches emerging on my elbows in my mid-twenties but it really didn't bother me. Nani (my grandma) had lost all her pigment when I was little and I was used to having a white grandma! It was an interesting conversational item that I could bring up, something unique that would generate conversation. At the time, I think I was okay with the prospect of losing my colour, but I hadn’t thought a lot about the length of time or patchy complexion that would accompany it.
Once the first spots showed up on my face, it was a little harder to come to terms with. I used to hide the spots with make-up. And, as a non make-up wearer, this took a lot of getting used to and I didn’t really feel like myself. I tried to limit the make-up wearing so that I wouldn’t feel tied to it though. I got to a point where I wanted to actually be officially diagnosed so that when people would ask about the spots I could give a definitive answer.
I was referred to a dermatologist who told me that it was vitiligo and that there was a form of UVB light therapy that could reverse the color loss. I remember thinking that the treatment would be beneficial but I also remember wondering if this was just another form of hiding, like the make-up.
I went for the UVB light therapy for awhile. It was horrible. I could only do it in Winnipeg and it meant standing in a tanning booth like structure for a few minutes. It was frustrating to drive for hours for such a short treatment and I was alway miserable for the rest of the evening as I always had some kind of reaction to it. Ultimately, this wasn't a good long term plan since there are always new spots developing.
I finally just made the decision to accept and embrace the spots. I still remember standing in my classroom making the phone call to cancel my treatment appointment. I was filled with a sense of peace and empowerment in embracing who I am. That was almost 4 years ago.
When I think back on this whole journey and reflect on how it has changed me, I realize that I’ve gained so much in accepting my appearance as God has made me. I don’t need to live up to the ideals laid out by society. I don’t need to fit the mold. I am unique in my appearance and character and I am okay with that. I hope that when people see that peace and acceptance in me that they can also embrace the quirks in themselves.
About the Author:
Sarah is a high school teacher, a piano player, a tech-lover, an aspiring world-traveller, and an overall fidgeter. Sarah and her husband spend countless hours volunteering in the worship ministry at their church. She also wins every NFL playoff pool she enters.
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