When I was growing up, I never had a problem with acne. While my peers were struggling with painful pimples and blackheads, I was only occasionally bothered by a small bump and considered myself lucky. I was extremely thankful I didn’t have to worry about my skin like most of my friends did.
Everything changed when I turned 19.
In the blink of an eye, horrible and painful cystic acne caused by a hormonal imbalance I didn’t yet know about started appearing on my face, and I was utterly shocked and unprepared to deal with it. At that point, my friends were recovering from their acne, so all of a sudden I was alone.
The pimples concentrated on my cheeks and left visible red scars instead of healing. I tried everything in my power to stop the acne: a healthy diet, complex skin care, even antibiotics, but nothing worked. New breakouts appeared daily and each one was worse than the last.
As months passed, I became obsessed with my skin, and acne was the only thing I saw when I looked at myself in the mirror. I inspected how many new pimples I had and how many scars were left and calculated how many weeks had to pass for my skin to look normal again.
My friends and family would tell me my acne wasn’t that bad, that I was all in my head and being dramatic.
“You are making a big deal out of this, it’s not that obvious,” my mom would say when she caught me staring at myself in the mirror.
I knew that she was probably right, but I couldn’t stop obsessing over my skin. Her encouragement only made me feel alone because it invalidated my feelings and made me feel like I was vain for focusing on my appearance.
Regardless of what others said, acne was the first thing on my mind when I woke up in the morning. I tried different makeup products to cover the blemishes — even though my dermatologist told me not to use items like foundation or concealer — but no matter how hard I tried, the redness and texture were always noticeable.
I started canceling plans with my friends because I didn’t want to leave my house with my face covered in acne, and I completely stopped taking pictures because I didn’t want the red marks memorialized in images that would last forever.
I started mixing strong acids that shouldn’t be used together and applying an unhealthy amount of skincare products every morning and night. I wished my desperate attempt to aggressively attack the problem would clear my skin.
However, I was only damaging it further. Last Christmas, I tried to make a massive blemish disappear overnight before my family’s holiday dinner by applying excessive skin care. It did not work, and I ended up burning my face.
The burn was painful and left a huge red spot right next to the corner of my mouth. It was so dry that it hurt every time I said something, and it looked worse than any breakout I ever had. The severe burn finally forced me to understand I needed to be patient and take a step back if I really wanted to heal.
I promised myself I would stop picking at my skin and stick to the skincare regimen my doctors recommended instead of mixing products on my own. It was time to let the medication do its job and give my skin enough time to heal.
It was harder than I thought, and I found myself staring at my reflection multiple times throughout the day. I continued to feel the urge to pop every single bump and slather my face with the strongest cream I could find in my skincare bag.
However, I stopped this cycle by continuously reminding myself that acne was not the first thing people would notice about me, and I couldn’t let it control my life. After my wake-up call from the burn, this became my mantra.
I was able to control my frustration by reducing the importance I gave to my skin’s appearance. I didn’t magically forget about my acne, but now I’m able to look past it and it’s no longer something that defines my self-image and actions.
Some days, I’m able to completely forget about the appearance of my skin. I’m okay with the scars, cysts and bumps. Other days are harder, and I need to remind myself of all the things I’ve learned. I’ve made peace with the fact that results are not going to show up immediately and I can’t stop living my life while I wait.
I still struggle with acne, and I still feel an overwhelming need to get rid of it overnight, but my two-year journey has taught me sometimes all I can do is wait. I haven’t fully embraced my acne, as I still feel discouraged when I wake up and see new bumps on my face, but I understand that the person who notices my acne the most is me and I need to grant myself the time to heal.