I was diagnosed with vitiligo when I was three, so my spotted skin is all I’ve ever known. My first 13 years of living with vitiligo were spent in complete denial as I kept my true emotions to myself. I grew up trying to find my place in friend groups and desperately wanting to feel normal, but I failed to ever process or acknowledge my skin. Finally, at 16, I felt lost and realized that I needed to figure myself out. I wasn’t “happy” and I didn’t “love” my spots as I had always claimed. To find happiness, I knew I needed to change, but I also knew that I couldn’t change my body – only my mindset.
Living with vitiligo is ultimately about perspective, because that’s the only way you can gain control of a skin condition that does what it wants. Changing your perspective isn’t easy, but it is possible. These are some of the things I had to face when I started changing my own outlook one year ago.
Embrace the fact that you aren’t “normal.”
When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be “normal” that I often acted like I didn’t have vitiligo. I spent 13 years hiding my skin – people only knew about my skin if they had to. But looking back, I realize that I wasted 13 years because I didn’t love who I was. I was rejecting my own self, instead of facing reality. Accepting yourself the way you are is hard, but not as hard as trying to be someone else. I started by finding other girls with vitiligo on social media and watching Winnie Harlow’s season of America’s Next Top Model. Seeing other girls like me helped me feel more “normal.”
Don’t throw away your chance at confidence just because it’s hard.
For most of my life, I put on an air of confidence because I felt like I had to. I thought that if people saw that I was confident, they wouldn’t think twice about my spots. I felt like it was my responsibility to make people comfortable with my skin, and I didn’t want anyone to know how embarrassed I was. But in the end, it left me feeling empty and like I was trying to be proud of someone that I’m not. To be happy, I needed to find true confidence – because you shouldn’t have to fake it. Finding real confidence takes work. Remind yourself of all of the love and support you have from those around you and wear that love on your sleeve to give you the confidence you deserve.
Remember that you are strong enough to live with vitiligo.
How do I know you’re strong enough to live with vitiligo? Because you are already doing it. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and you were given vitiligo – in whatever way you believe – because you can handle it. It doesn’t mean it’s easy for you. But it means that you can do it, because you already are. You have strength that most people don’t have and it makes you who you are. People might be fascinated by our spots, but I think they should be fascinated by our strength – the strength to deal with stares, to love our bodies the way they are and to hold our heads high when it’s the hardest.
Appreciate your unique perspective.
While vitiligo really only affects how we look, the physical change holds so much weight mentally. We have a different perspective than the vast majority of the world because of our skin. Vitiligo has affected everything about me and the way I see the world. I can see things with the understanding of someone who knows what it’s like to be different. And that’s value that we can bring to the people around us. We need tolerance, strength and love – and we can give that to others who need it too.
Talk about living with vitiligo.
I always thought that the best way to handle my vitiligo was to ignore it – to not handle it all. I thought no one would understand how I felt so I just didn’t talk about it at all. Then I started to discover vitiligo support groups on social media and slowly realized that I wasn’t alone. There was an entire community of people with vitiligo just like me. I started reaching out to other people with vitiligo to talk about what it’s like to live with spots. The more I talked about my skin, the more comfortable I began to feel. It didn’t always mean that my friends and family could understand what it was like, but it helped me heal inside. Talking about my skin helped me acknowledge and finally accept the skin I’m in.
Sarah Olmstead is a student who is just as comfortable in the big city as she is in the stands of the local high school football game. The Georgia girl loves to spend time with her family and corgi.