Living with vitiligo is hard, but summers – although we don’t like to admit it – can make us squirm the most. After months of long sleeves and pants, we’re forced into the sun with spots on full display and staring eyes around every corner. It’s enough to make us want to crawl back into bed.
If that’s you, you aren’t alone. Summertime can be the toughest time of the year for girls with vitiligo. It’s not only physically taxing because of the sun’s strong rays, but emotionally draining. Every single day becomes an emotional roller coaster and you’re never sure when or where the ride is going to stop. Getting dressed becomes a mental game, stepping out your door can make your heart quicken and one pair of staring eyes can bring you to tears. Worst of all, you feel like you’re the only person not looking forward to the long summer months of pool days and bikini weather.
We’re with you. But here’s the thing – the first step to having a better summer is to understand that it’s okay to struggle. You don’t have to keep up with everyone else. You can make your own rules for summer. And we’ll make them with you.
Here are seven little life hacks that you can use to design a summer experience that is as easy breezy as you’ve always wanted it to be:
1. Start with a gratitude attitude.
You might not be able to control your skin, but you can control your attitude and that starts with perspective. A happiness or gratitude journal is a tool that can help you build a daily habit of positivity during the more difficult summer months. Keep a journal and pen next to your bed and write down three things you are grateful for or happy about each night. This simple exercise will train your brain to look for the good in your day, even when it seems hard to find. You’ll end your day on a positive note and have a list of things to lift you up when you’re feeling blue.
2. Take control by playing hostess.
Keeping up with your family and friends can be difficult in the summer when activities always seems to involve sun, beach and pools. To avoid having to fit into everyone else’s plans, take control by playing hostess. By setting the agenda and inviting friends, you can make the activity work for you. Plan outdoor events for early morning or late afternoon to minimize sun exposure or skip the outdoors and try visiting a museum, hosting a dinner party or going to the movies. Need a break from staring eyes? Plan the event at your house or in your own backyard. You’ll have something to look forward to and an event that’s designed around your needs and comfort zone.
3. Go for SPF 50.
We’ll chat more about this later in the summer, but for now you can rest assured that SPF 50 is your go-to for suntan lotion that’s approved by the experts. According to Dr. Steven Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at a cancer center in New Jersey, you want stay between SPF 30 and SPF 50 for maximum coverage. And don’t forget protective clothing!
4. Put intention into social.
Mindless time spent scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram accounts can quickly lead to comparison and feelings of inadequacy, especially when social feeds are filled with summer photos flaunting spotless skin. Minimize the time you spend mindlessly looking through social feeds and instead put intention into your time on social by following body-positive magazines and role models, especially other girls with vitiligo.
5. Wear what makes you happy.
Start with cleaning out your closet – and then only replace discarded items with pieces you absolutely love, even if that means you only have three things to wear. Yes, that’s right – you have permission to wear the same clothes repeatedly this summer. Clothes have the power to help boost confidence and share who we are when our skin is telling a different story. So wear that favorite pair of shorts every single day if it helps you stand taller and feel better.
6. Dive into a new project.
Take your mind off of your fears by pouring your energy into something you love. A hobby or project can give you renewed energy and focus your mind on a specific task instead of letting it linger on the things that worry you. Sign up for a volunteer program, create a scrapbook, take a class or set a fun goal like learning one new recipe a week. Even better – ask a friend to join you and make it a weekly social event.
7. Create your own retreat.
Let’s face it – between the summer heat and staring eyes, you’re going to need a physical and emotional break this summer. It’s okay to feel upset and overwhelmed when your spots are on constant display in the summer – it happens to all of us. Give yourself the space you need to recoup and breathe by creating a safe haven in your house that’s a relaxing retreat from staring eyes. Fill the space with lamps for soft lighting and plants for fresh air, and add cozy blankets or throw rugs. Looking for more ideas? You can find them here.
Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. Her first spots appeared on her spine when she was seven years old and today vitiligo covers her entire body. Based just south of Washington, D.C., Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.