OK, so I may have my previously problematic skin under relative control now, but the emotional scars of that horrific period still remain etched into my brain and probably always will be.
If you too have gone through something like a bout of cystic acne at any stage of your life then you’ll know what I mean; if not, read on to learn a wee bit about it and what you can do to help someone who’s most likely on a major Debbie-Downer right now due to their skin woes.
Habits of acne sufferers:
- Constantly looking in a mirror. I still do this, even though I know there’s nothing on my face! It’s a paranoia/insecurity. I developed this habit when my skin started to get bad because the spread of acne was so rapid, I could nearly stare at my face and watch a boil form. Awful! I know I may seem vain when I pull out my little compact but believe me, I’m not looking at my reflection in admiration – more looking for reassurance that the acne isn’t coming back.
- Spending ages in chemists. I’ve spent hours of my time and money trawling through chemist shelves studying spot creams, makeup, cleansers, washes… basically ANY magic potion that I prayed would do what it promised on the label and cure my awful skin – which none of them did. What a waste!
- Wearing too much makeup. Yes I know that caked-on look is definitely not flattering, but when you need to practically trowel it on to cover up the pumping red bumps, it’s hard not to overdo it. I believed it was better to rock the thick mask look than have anyone see what was really going on underneath.
- Shying away from cameras. I don’t think there is a single picture in existence of my face when it was at it’s worst, which is a shame really because it would have made a good before/after comparison now that it’s improved. I loathed my appearance, I knew my skin and makeup looked horrible and I didn’t need any reminder on Facebook of the fact.
- Withdrawal. This is probably the most dangerous side effect of bad acne and needs to be kept an eye on. When my cystic acne progressed and it started to sink in that this was something that would take a long time to fix, I got really depressed. I had suffered depression for other reasons in the past and the familiar old feeling of wanting to hide and remove myself from any social interaction reared it’s ugly head. It didn’t help I was living alone at the time so it was super easy to avoid people for long periods of time. On top of that, every time I saw a doctor or dermatologist about it they really couldn’t help me, leaving me so disappointed and feeling like I was never going to see the end. Confidence levels: ZERO.
The aesthetics of acne is one thing to deal with, but people don’t realise just how painful it is too. I mean PAIN. There were times I couldn’t even open my mouth to put food in because the swelling and pain around my lips was so bad. I used to have to hold cold glass jars I kept in the freezer to my skin to try and relieve the heat and swelling. A person with acne can cover up mirrors and try to pretend their skin is perfect, but when you’re in that much discomfort, it’s hard to forget what’s going on. As I said, you just want to hide away, cover your face with a cool blanket and never reappear until it has all gone away.
What NOT to say to someone suffering acne:
- It’s not that bad, what’s the big deal? Yes it IS that bad and to me it IS a big deal! Your face is the first thing a person sees when they meet you and the thing a person (should be!) looking at when talking to you. If you don’t feel confident and want to hide your face – Goodbye social engagement, Hello depression, low self-esteem and insecurity. Don’t trivialise my problems!
- You’ve probably got acne because you’ve too much makeup on. No… I have too much makeup on BECAUSE I have acne. It didn’t begin the other way around! In fact, before I developed acne I would barely wear more than tinted moisturiser on my face. So I knew makeup had nothing to do with it.
- You should wash your face less/more. I’m not stupid. I have the Internet so of course I’ve tried the whole not washing/washing three times a day routine. Again, it doesn’t matter! Cystic acne is caused internally. You can aggravate it with washing too much and bad products but that’s about it.
- You’ll not get an interview with a face like that! I know this is a bad example but my dad actually said this to me when I told him I was thinking of applying for a second job in a pharmacy leading up to Xmas. Yes, I did cry on the way back to my flat and no I didn’t apply for the job through sheer embarrassment. More fool me!
What you can say/do:
- Nothing at all! If you notice someone has suddenly developed really bad skin, carry on talking to them as if nothing is different. Only talk about it if the person brings it up first. Which – if they’re like me – will. Pretend you didn’t really notice it before they’d pointed it out, so it’ll make the person feel a little less insecure about it, but don’t pretend you still can’t see it once they have because they’ll know you’re lying and feel even worse. Really listen to them if they open up about how bad it’s making them feel. Appreciate and sympathise with their situation, because I know I felt really ashamed and disgusting when I was going through it, like I had brought the acne on myself. I felt dirty too and chronically embarrassed. Ask them now and again how a doctors appointment went if you know they’ve had one, or if they’re on medication ask them how they feel on it etc. Believe me, that little support will go a LOOOONG way to helping that person to get back on track.