At the age of 10, when I developed the first white patch on my body, I wish I’d known that life with Vitiligo was never going to be easy. Vitiligo is a skin condition where absence of melanin cells causes white patches on the skin and can increase at an alarming rate. Those affected may end up with a few small patches, while for some it can spread across their entire body, followed up by people’s taunts, stares and questions for life.
Chances are, many of us are already familiar with Vitiligo or the white spot condition you may say. So what forced me to take up the issue and write about it here? We are all well-educated, but do we always act responsibly? No. Vitiligo undoubtedly has a social stigma attached to it. In India, it gets worse because of innumerable religious beliefs and myths. Every other person I meet has an acquaintance suffering from Vitiligo and suggests me to check with the doctor known to them. Any advice is welcome but what makes me sulk is the overwhelming concern expressed about my future, like trying to convince me to the point that living with Vitiligo is a shame.
For me, it started from my face. My father took me to the doctor who prescribed some incredibly strong steroid creams, and two days later my skin was burning so much that I could not even wash and wipe my face. I had to skip school for a few weeks. Then, my parents took me to another doctor. The scars cleared gradually and I was fine in a few months. Being young, I was not aware of Vitiligo myself. Everywhere, everybody made their own assumptions. Some thought it was contagious and were afraid to touch me, others thought I’d been burnt in a fire. When I turned 12, Vitiligo started spreading. For me, it always started with a tiny spot and dispersed slowly. Medicines worked and almost cured me except a few stubborn patches remained. Vitiligo is curable but temporarily. White patches disappear and re-appear. I went to several doctors and tried various treatments, but everything failed in curing it permanently. Because honestly, it has no permanent cure.
Things were moderate during my high school and college, for I had no prominent patches visible anymore and I had also learned the art of covering the stubborn ones. I never experienced name-calling. For that, I must be grateful, as not everyone is so fortunate. Though I have often faced silly comments, coming from even educated people. Sometimes we do it unknowingly and sometimes we do it for fun, without comprehending its impact on the other person.
Having Vitiligo stopped me from expressing myself. I hated summer and wished it was December all year round so I didn’t feel so out of place. I’d wear anything that covered my skin as I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone catching a glimpse of my disease. My skin got worse near the end of college and beginning of office days. Stress is a contributing factor in making Vitiligo worse. I don’t recall going through a stressful period, but I recall watching as my skin went whiter over the course of six months. I decided to quit my job and give one shot at treatment by a new doctor. Results were good and recovery was better than the previous times.
Recently, Chantelle Winnie, who has a very prominent form of Vitiligo, made it on America’s Next Top Model. I was overwhelmed at seeing someone with Vitiligo being praised for her natural beauty. Aside from building awareness internationally, Chantelle became an inspiration and proven that those who are different are just as beautiful.
Everyone takes a journey in life and while times were hard, I wouldn’t change what I went through. I finally feel like I’ve reached the stage of acceptance and am more comfortable with who I am. If I were to speak to my ‘younger self’ now, I would say accept who you are and embrace what you were born with. See what you have as a blessing, there is a reason why you are unique and sometimes that makes for a slightly more interesting life! Don’t spend time worrying about those who try to make you feel inferior. People will stare and ask questions, but don’t feel as though you have something to hide. It’s not about people accepting you, it’s about you accepting yourself first and once you do, you’ll walk with an air of confidence that tells the world that ‘you just don’t care’.