December 5, 2023

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Vitiligo and Me

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I was 45 when I noticed the first onset on vitiligo. According to the literature, that’s a delayed start. I guess I’m a late bloomer. The first patches were on my forehead, of all places. You know … right there for everyone to see. The next patches were on my forearms. You know … right there for everyone to see. There was no way of escaping it, and it spread fairly quickly.

There’s Always A Reaction

My first response was to go to war. There had to be a treatment, right? First, I scoured the Internet. Nearly all of the websites claiming to hold cures looked sketchy, so I started to believe the “medical” people who reported vitiligo was chronic and (at least thus far) incurable. Nevertheless, I made a visit to a local dermatologist at the referral of my primary care physician. That sentence tells you everything you need to know about the depth of vitiligo knowledge possessed by my primary care physician.

Of course, the dermatologist wasn’t any better. He hemmed and hawed about some topical creams he heard might help. Creams, by the way, I tried for about a week before deciding the dermatologist simply wanted to give me some kind of answer, regardless of how stupid it was.

The thing about being affected by something so visible is that it becomes everything. There’s no way to escape it. And since there’s no way to escape it, it’s in your thoughts all the time. It’s natural to think about how others are seeing you.

Like anything else that has some level of negative impact, I went through the classic stages of grief. This could not be happening, and even if it was there was no way I wasn’t going to find a solution. Then, why me? From there, I started wondering if this was the result of too much sun exposure or not taking better care of my health. After that, I wondered how badly this was going to affect my life going forward. Eventually, of course, those of us with vitiligo or any other chronic disease are forced to deal with it. How best to manage this new situation?

Moving Forward

There came a day when I knew there was no going back. Vitiligo was part of me. It contributed to the new me, I suppose. At some point, I stopped thinking of it every moment of every day. In fact, for the most part, I consider it mainly in two situations.

Firstly (and probably most importantly), I know that the exposed parts of my vitiligo need sunscreen. It used to be that forgetting sunscreen on a long sunny day typically meant a day or so of mild discomfort. Now, forgetting sunscreen if I’m outside for more than a couple hours means a nasty sunburn.

I also realize that there are times when my vitiligo is a problem for others. In conversations, I’ll frequently catch a person distractedly watching my hands and arms as I absentmindedly gesticulate to emphasize a point (something I’ve done all my life). I know some people avoid this problem by wearing long-sleeved shirts, but I hate sleeves. What’s a guy to do?

The spread of my vitiligo has continued through the years, although it has greatly slowed. It’s impossible to know if it will stop at some point or continue its advance for as long as I walk this planet. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. It is what it is. And I’m determined to not let it prevent me from chasing my dreams.

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