I recently wrote a post after seeing lots of content generated on Instagram for acne awareness month which I titled Part 1 – The Cost of 6 Years of Adult Acne: The Physical Price Paid which of course only tells half the story of having the skin condition which is where this post comes in. Having acne can be an emotional roller-coaster which is something I wanted to address, especially after seeing Instagram posts from the acne positive movement talking more openly and realising I’ve needed this validation for years. I’m keen to create this kind of content as I wish I’d found articles like this when I first developed acne at the age of 20. I’ve listed all the emotions I personally have felt over the years – not all are negative.
The See-Saw Of Hope / Disappointment
With every new product purchase or prescription or diet change or lifestyle adjustment came the feeling of hope thinking maybe this could be “the one” to change my life. It still does. More often than not I didn’t get the clear skin I wanted which has dealt some heavy blows of disappointment. If I count up all the things I’ve tried to clear my skin listed from my Part 1 post (one skincare brand is 1 count which is far less than a real total) I’ve stepped onto this seesaw 39 times. It can be exhausting. 3 or 4 out of the 39 provided notable positive results in the last 6 years. The rest came with feeling let down and like there was even more wrong with me as these “cures” were supposed to work.
Bravery & Determination
It takes guts to begin an acne-clearing journey as setbacks often go hand in hand like negative side effects from medication. I’ve had some medications leave me feeling so faint and sick that I had to take 2 weeks off work and a topical treatment that caused areas of my skin to swell, scab and weep painfully for about a week during which time I was constantly on the verge of tears. But it didn’t stop me. It takes serious determination to keep going when 1 thing doesn’t work. I admit this can be fueled by desperation but am choosing to see the positive. I have countless bizarre photos of angles of my face on my phone where one week my skin looked good, before inevitably breaking out again, to remind me it can get better and maybe isn’t always as bad as I think. I still look at the image below of my skin post 8 month antibiotic treatment in 2016. Sometimes it makes me sad that I don’t look like this anymore but it mostly comforts me that I won’t always have acne, that it can and will get better.
Frustration is a big one. When I first developed acne I was angry at how unfair it was given I was 20. Nowadays I can get frustrated that I’m 5 / 6 years down the line and still dealing with this. This has particularly affected me this year having embarked on a journey to clear my skin for the 2nd time. As mentioned in Part 1, I’m extremely grateful that in the UK we have the NHS but sometimes its tricky to find a GP who can understand the full impact of acne to ensure we get proper help. I appreciate they’re General Practitioners and not specialists but in the last 6 months I’ve been asked by different GPs if a medication that has cleared my skin so it is around 1/3rd better is “surely good enough?” if I’ve tried drinking more water or using Clearasil knowing I’ve twice been through lengthy antibiotic treatments in the past. I’ve been made to feel as though I’m an inconvenience for wanting to rid myself of my acne. I’ve even been told when medication I’d heavily researched and asked for GP advice on didn’t work “didn’t you think this one would work?”. My 2016 GP experience was brilliant in comparison. I’ve often said I just want someone to understand and fully help me so it can be frustrating when it doesn’t feel like this is happening.
Depression, Anxiety and some sort of acceptance
Both can go hand in hand with acne. When I first got acne the idea of anyone apart from relatives I lived with seeing me without make up terrified me almost to the point of physical pain. This was something I grew out of and I am far less concerned with now. I’ve cried more times than I could count over the state of my skin. I’ve often been sad wondering why this has happened to me because surely if I knew why I could fix it but try to take comfort that it isn’t life threatening, it won’t last forever and that people close to me appreciate me for my personality not whether my skin is clear or not. It sounds cliche – yes I have acne, but I am so much more than the condition of my skin which I’ve learnt to accept.
I really struggled with this when I first developed acne as I realised it was so misunderstood within society that people often assumed I was dirty. Unsolicited advice, although trying to be helpful, to me implied I was lazy and not trying enough to clear my skin which was ridiculous given the huge list compiled in Part 1. I can now see that if someone chooses to react negatively to me because of the appearance of my bare skin they’re not someone I need in my life. The acne positive community on Instagram is fantastic for rewriting this incorrect assumption and I only wish I’d found them in 2015.
In 2015/16 acne sadly did dictate a lot of my life in ways that I’m not sure clear-skinned people would ever realise. I obviously avoided photos and where this was impossible I insisted everyone pull silly faces so no one was supposed to look good in the pictures meaning I could cope with the end result. I’d cancel plans if I’d had really bad flare ups and throughout a day my mind would constantly revert back to wondering if my cover-up job was good enough or if people were staring at me. My biggest focus upon finishing university was to clear my skin so that I could graduate without feeling ugly as opposed to celebrating 3 years of academic achievement. The desperation lead to me quitting my favourite foods, I really concerned friends when they realised I’d given up cheese in a bid to have clear skin. This breaks my heart looking back but I could see myself slipping towards this again but in a less obsessive way if I were approaching a big life milestone.
Gratitude and Empathy
This was something I began to slowly experience with the rest of my body when my face was at its absolute worst in 2016. I was suddenly so relieved and thankful that other areas weren’t causing me grief on this level that it did help to somewhat even out my damaged my self-esteem. Whilst at the time I was made to feel like there was something “wrong” with my face I became less insecure about the rest of my appearance. For example although I had acne thanks to 2 years of braces I was really grateful for my smile and that was something that would stay with me for many years more than my blemishes. Acne made me more considerate to other people’s health journeys that I may previously have never been able to understand.
When To Get Help
It took me a long time to realise what options were available to me when over the counter products weren’t working and I was incredibly unhappy due to my skin. One day I came across the NHS website which outlines their suggested route to speak to a pharmacist, if this doesn’t prove successful book an appointment with a GP to discuss your options where you may be referred to a dermatologist. In 2016 this led to oral medication which helped me dramatically and I still rely on prescribed topical medications at present.
Sensitive comments welcome.