As a young woman living with vitiligo, I can unequivocally say: mental health is no joke.
I’ve had vitiligo for eight years. When I was first diagnosed with the condition, I hid. I wore long sleeves despite the hot Floridian sun and never left the house without makeup. I carried shame and embarrassment every day, and it prevented me from living a healthy and wholesome life. After a long – and still evolving – journey to self-love, I’ve found a few practices that have allowed me to become and remain mentally healthy.
The first patches of vitiligo appeared on my eyelids. I literally ignored them. I thought that if I didn’t acknowledge the discoloration, the spots would naturally disappear. So for months I refused to look at myself in the mirror. I slowly began to realize how damaging denial was, especially as a coping mechanism. Although it was a process, my first step in healing was recognizing my own worth and beauty.
The power of self-affirmation was the mental and emotional breakthrough I needed. It was extremely liberating to wake up, look at my reflection, and appreciate all of me. To this day, I often look in my mirror and say, “you are worthy, beautiful, and strong.” I take these positive thoughts with me throughout my day and I use them to negate and combat any negative internal feelings or ideas. By practicing consistent self-affirmation, I’ve been able to feel self-validated and comfortable in my own skin.
Keep a Journal
Opening up to yourself is important. I began journaling a couple years back and it has been life-changing. There’s something peaceful about reflecting on your feelings. Every time I sit down to journal, I allow myself to process all the hardships of the day.
I usually structure my journal entries into three parts: what I feel, why I feel this way, and what can I do to overcome this challenge. Through this style of goal-oriented writing, I have overcome deep emotional blockages and fears that have helped me deal with anxiety and stress in relation to living with vitiligo. When we suppress our emotions, we deny ourselves the right to heal and properly process what it means to live with vitiligo. So find a pen, notebook, and a designated time to sincerely reflect your thoughts and emotions.
Go to Therapy Regularly
I often joke that my therapist is my best friend. There is some truth to it. Finding a therapist that I connected with has been a key component of my mental health journey. In addition to being able to vent, engaging in honest and productive conversation provided me with clarity on many complicated issues.
The beauty of therapy is the accountability aspect. You and your therapist can create tangible goals that you will aim to conquer. Your therapist will also hold you accountable to those goals because your success is a mutual achievement. Aside from these benefits, your therapist is also a trained professional who can give you advice on how to remain mentally healthy for a lifetime.
Find Community Online
For me, living with vitiligo means dealing with continual change. From one day to the next, my patterns constantly differ. The emotions that come with this change are often difficult to process alone. That’s why I turned to the vitiligo community online. A simple Instagram search of #vitiligo will fill your feed with photographs of beautiful people living great lives with the condition.
Beyond Instagram, there are online support groups like VitFriends that can connect you to local support groups in the states and beyond. Personally, the online community and body positivity movement have broadened my comfort in the digital world in a way that translates into real-world confidence. Today, I have absolutely no problem in showing my spots to the world via the gram or in person.
Unplug When Needed
Although social media can draw some much-needed inspiration, too much of a good thing can turn into something bad. In comparing your likes and adventures to others online you may feel envy or sadness. If you ever experience these negative feelings, unplug! I have gone through countless cycles of deactivating a social media account in the name of sanity. In these moments, I try to find an adventure of my own, whether it’s a 30-minute yoga session or journaling at a nearby park.
All in all, it’s important to be in tune with your body, mind, and mental capacities. Your mental health matters. You matter. Take the time to invest in yourself by paying attention to your psychological and emotional needs. Your future self will thank you.
How do you practice mental health? Tell us in the comments below.
Simone Girma is an LA-based communications graduate working for NBC. She’s lived with vitiligo for ten years and has learned how to appreciate the story of her skin – something she aims to share with readers.