My vitiligo is everywhere. Everyone can see it. Though I can camouflage some of it if I make the effort, it is harder to hide what happens inside of me. Since childhood, stares, comments, questions and worse have been sources of anxiety, fear, sadness and insecurity. As a seven-year-old, I did not understand what was happening to me or what to do with the feelings rushing over me.
Most people, including the many doctors my desperate parents visited, had never heard of vitiligo. It was 1971 – long before 24-hour television, WebMD and social media. Not many people in my world had ever seen someone like me. That fact created the lens through which I viewed my life for many years.
Despite that, I began to learn how to navigate the daily challenges of being different. Today, after living with vitiligo for forty-seven years, I have learned that five things give me the ability to be happy, healthy and at peace.
Get out of your head
It’s easy to nurse negative thoughts and emotions. Journaling gets those thoughts out of my head and gives me space to process my emotions. If I write down what is swirling around in my brain, I free my mind from dragging harmful thoughts around. At night, when I am too tired to journal, I keep a pad and pencil on my nightstand for “brain dumping.” I jot down my thoughts or feelings in no particular order or format. The goal is to quickly “dump” those things out of my head so I can sleep.
When I help people, I help myself. Serving others improves the lives of people who need help and shifts the way I see my challenges. Being aware that everyone is dealing with something also makes my issues less isolating. Volunteering in my kids’ classrooms when they were little forced me to conquer my fear of how kids would react to my skin. Though they had questions, a simple answer with a smile was all they needed. I poured myself into tutoring, talking and playing with the students. The joy and energy I got from them was freeing.
I have suffered from depression at different times in my life. I discovered that exercise does as much for my mind as it does for my body. Just fifteen minutes of walking, yoga or dancing improves my mood, clears my head and calms my anxiety. Group exercise classes have had an even bigger impact on my mental fitness. The positive energy of aerobics and yoga classes is like a reset button for my emotions.
I am a naturally social person. Sometimes, when I am feeling like my vitiligo makes me a freak or a victim, I want to hide out at home. Connecting daily with people who know and love me puts my fears in perspective. Those interactions have shown me over and over again that the less I focus on my vitiligo, the less others focus on it. Sharing my concerns with safe family members, a close friend or my therapist helps me remember that I am so much more than my vitiligo.
Prayer and meditation are my most potent weapons against fear, anxiety and depression. For me, having a daily morning “quiet time” with God helps me see how much bigger life is than my present struggles. It refreshes me and sets a positive tone for my day, no matter what I’m facing. Knowing that I am loved by God and my life has a purpose gives me strength and peace. However you connect with something bigger than yourself, nurturing that connection can make a difference in how you approach each day.
What gives you peace when it comes to your skin?
Karen Ruffin is a writer and interior decorator in Atlanta, GA. She has had non-segmental vitiligo for 47 years, starting when she was 7. As a contributor to Living Dappled, she shares her journey and perspective on how to live well with vitiligo.