Think it is safe to say my life hasn’t been plain sailing, yet from the outside looking in people seem to think otherwise, that is why it is so important to truly use that saying you learnt when you were a kid – don’t judge a book by its cover.
I have been through a lot, break up of parents, both my parents are cancer survivors and two of my friends passed away before I even hit 18. These ‘issues’ or ‘bumps in the road’ took a big toll on my mental health and caused me to rebel a lot as an adolescent, however as big as these factors are there is an even bigger factor that affected me and still affects me now. My skin.
“If this isn’t your outlet please don’t feel alone, there are numbers to call if you are feeling low. There is more to life than skin I know that now.”
I have suffered from acne since I was around 14 but it got really bad when I was 16 and I am now 21. It is still weird to say I ‘suffer’ with ‘acne’ because it sounds like I have a disease but that is precisely how I feel and one of the reasons it has affected my mental health so much! As an acne sufferer (yes I did say it again) I have seen copious amounts of doctors, dermatologists, used drugstore products, prescription products, prescription drugs and yes I have stuck turmeric on my face which made me go yellow for two days, yes I have done those natural masks of lemon, papaya, rubbed sudacrem all over my face, which btw is nappy rash cream oh and I put so much toothpaste on my face I basically burnt my skin, no joke.
While you are reading this you are probably thinking why haven’t you just gone on that really strong drug everyone else who has acne goes on and their skin gets cleared or why haven’t you gone on the contraceptive pill like a lot of women do, even women who don’t have acne. Well I went to the doctor about my acne the first time and was put on antibiotics for 8 months (I only know now how bad that is for your body as it strips all the bacteria, even the good bacteria, I should have gone on probiotics but no one told me then) that did help calm my acne down and was pretty easy, just one pill a day, in addition to a retinol cream. The retinol cream did hurt though as it dries your skin out so much it feels so tight, itchy and oh my god it is flake city on your face, very hard to cover with makeup! I then left it for a bit but yes it did get bad again so yes I went back on another course of antibiotics, this time for 6 months and this time it really did help my acne but it wasn’t clear, yet when I was seeing these doctors I did ask to go on the contraceptive pill but no doctor will give it to me because my mother is a breast cancer survivor and taking the pill increases your risk for breast cancer, that should now answer your question on the pill and why through all of this my mental state suffered.
My skin did seem pretty clear for around a year and a half after the last course of antibiotics, then I went on a TV program which was all about modelling, therefore all about your looks, skin, blah blah blah, oh and what happened, literally first day of filming, first day, my acne starts getting bad and the first challenge was to go MAKEUP FREE. I was back in my shell of insecurity, sadness and ashamed, all these girls had amazing skin and I didn’t. My acne got considerably worse throughout the course of the filming, I locked myself in the bathroom a few times and cried, I also refused to be filmed when they took off my makeup and I just cried and cried and cried about my skin. I felt so ugly, so angry and not in a good mental state. What made it even worse was you weren’t allowed contact with the ‘outside’ world so I couldn’t call my boyfriend, or go to a doctor or the pharmacy etc.
When I came out I was crushed, not because I left but because of what I left with, spots, spots everywhere on my face and they were soooo painful (another thing people who don’t suffer with acne don’t understand, it isn’t just about the spot looking red on our face it is actually the severe pain some spots cause). Back to the doctor I went and this time I begged and begged for Isotretinoin (Roaccutane), that really strong drug I was talking about which btw is not an easy ride, these are some of the side effects: skin becoming more sensitive to sunlight, dry eyes, dry throat, dry nose and nosebleeds, headaches and general aches and pains and even more severe ones: anxiety, aggression and violence, changes in mood, or suicidal thoughts – these can be signs of depression or other mental health problems, severe pain in your tummy with or without bloody diarrhoea, feeling sick, and vomiting – these can be signs of a serious problem called pancreatitis, a serious skin rash that peels or has blisters – the skin rash may come with eye infections, ulcers, a fever, and headaches, difficulty moving your arms or legs, and painful, swollen or bruised areas of the body, or dark pee – these can be signs of muscle weakness, yellow skin or eyes, difficulty peeing, or feeling very tired – these are signs of liver or kidney problems, a bad headache that doesn’t go away and makes you feel sick or vomit, sudden changes in eyesight, including not seeing as well at night.
Oh and you have to sign a document saying that if you get pregnant you will have an abortion as it can cause birth defects to the baby and also you have to have a blood test every month and also a pregnancy test. This really shows what I mean about feeling like you have a disease. Going on Roaccutane ‘privately’ is extremely expensive and then if you want to do it through the NHS there is a 3-6 month waiting list.. I went back on antibiotics, this time for 3 months!
During this period of my life I really wasn’t ok, I cried everyday, sometimes more than one, I just wanted to sleep, I didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t want to see anyone I even felt ashamed that my boyfriend had to see me like this even though he has been with me through this whole journey. If we had no food in I wouldn’t go to the shops, which I kid you not is only a 2-minute walk down the road as I definitely wouldn’t go without makeup and I didn’t want to put makeup on to just go to minutes down the road, therefore I wouldn’t eat until my boyfriend came home from work. Every time I stared at myself in the mirror I just cried. I was ugly, felt lost and alone and depressed. I also went to the doctor to see if I had PCO disease: PCO stands for PolyCystic Ovarian. PCO disease is a hormonal problem that causes women various symptoms including: Irregular or no periods, Acne and more – that scared me so much because all I could think of was what if I couldn’t have children. Thankfully the results were negative. In addition, I became a vegan for 7 months to see if that would help. It didn’t.
Months passed and my acne was still bad, was still painful and my mental health was not good, but it was time for the first episode of the show to air which I knew featured my acne, all I could think of is what if the press wrote an article about it that wasn’t correct or someone else said something about me. I had to do something. I did. I posted a makeup free selfie on October 2017 wearing a hoodie saying free the pimple and wrote my story in my words. That may not seem like a huge deal to some but suddenly I removed a mask I had on for over 5 years, I exposed my biggest insecurity to strangers, I shook myself out of a state of extremely bad mental health and #freethepimple was born.
I truly thought I would get horrible comments, I would get ‘trolled’ etc, yet to this day I haven’t and all I have had is positivity, people telling me I am an inspiration and I have found a community. By being brave and taking charge of my own feelings and posting that makeup free selfie I got to change my mental state and how I define myself and acne. Social media has given me opportunity to connect with other people who suffer with acne, share notes, tips, feelings, updates etc and just relate to each other and not feel alone or let anyone feel like acne has taken over and changed their emotions to be negative.
I also decided I was done with the GP, well for now atleast, I have been working with a clinic in London called SK:N that have helped me on my journey to clear my skin and gain more confidence in myself, in addition to educating me on my skin and acne and also showing the people who follow me my journey too. I have had chemical peels and laser and seen a huge improvement to my skin that it is nearly cleared just some scarring left but that will go over time.
Having acne has been a rollercoaster journey for me and the journey still isn’t over, I don’t know if I will every have completely clear skin. Acne affected my mental health so much I wasn’t living my life I was in a hole trying to escape the world and I really hated myself even to the extent of contemplating what was the point of living anymore. Yes it did get that extreme all because of skin. We live in a world that is consumed with media and ‘perfect’ looking people along with Instagram now being consumed with dolled up girls that seem to have no blemishes in sight, I really did feel like where is my place in this world?
I still have bad days but now I will go out without makeup freeing the pimple because my skin does not define me and doesn’t make me ugly I have chosen to take charge of my emotions and make a positive out of a negative.
Anyone else suffering with acne I totally know how you feel and I know how it consumes you and makes you feel ugly but you are not, you are beautiful even with the acne, it doesn’t define you. Advice I would give you is to actually go onto social media, social media may be a dark place but it can also be a positive place, there are people out there like you and me suffering with acne and going through the struggles, we are here to talk, you are not alone.
If this isn’t your outlet please don’t feel alone, there are numbers to call if you are feeling low. There is more to life than skin I know that now.
As you can see I have had a very long up and down, and not easy ride with acne, next time you see someone with acne I hope this article makes you think before you judge or say anything because they probably aren’t in the best place or are dealing with their own demons in their head. Mental health awareness is so important for this issue as I believe many don’t know the huge mental affects acne has on people. I am not ashamed to tell my story or openly admit I suffer with mental health instead I want to use my suffering to help someone else like me.