I do not know why I choose this night out of all nights to unburden myself on this page but here I am. Knowing I will regret baring myself to the world almost as soon as I press the post button.
And yet, here I am. Unable to stop writing because keeping these words inside will hurt more than letting them out.
When I was in grade five or class five as we call it in Fiji, I got diagnosed with psoriasis. It started in one spot. On the back of my upper arm. I had no idea what it meant and why the doctor looked so sombre when he told my dad what that spot was. I didn’t understand what incurable meant.
That December, (in Fiji we get our summer holidays in December), the government cut off the water supply intermittently so my family was often at the river to do laundry. I spent a lot of time outside in the sun and just before school started, all these bumps appeared all over my skin. I still had no idea what lay in wait for me.
In the following months I had the first outbreak of the skin disease. I was given strong pills that I needed weekly blood tests for; I spent countless hours in the dimly lit corridors in the hospital in Lautoka with either my mom or dad waiting for some blank faced doctor to call my name. And school? I couldn’t go; I was a girl on the way to becoming a monster and refused to show my face in public.
I started grade six late but managed to have a wonderful year despite the fact that I wasn’t a prefect and all my friends were. The psoriasis had retreated to some extent and I could go back to being a kid. I think I almost forgot about it as busy as I was sprouting breasts, studying for exams, and memorizing oratory speeches.
Then high school started and with it the psoriasis returned. It was still okay; the school uniform allowed for long sleeves and a scarf was obligatory so I could pretend I was normal. That I had skin.
Have you ever imagined longing to wear short sleeves with the kind of desperation one has for water on hot days? A time when your greatest desire was to wear your hair up with your neck bared–a luxury. When everyone had skin and yours just didn’t work the same way and you didn’t know why.
When I was in form four or grade ten, the disease ravaged my face. That year I learned never to raise my eyes, to never meet anyone else’s gaze because I couldn’t handle the disgust, pity or a mixture of both I was sure I’d find there. I fielded questions with a determined smile and a flippant attitude while inside I shriveled.
I remember when the dermatologist said in perhaps what he thought was a kindly tone that I must be worried about marriage with my skin disease. My world screeched to a halt. Until he told me so, I had never considered that I was undesirable even with my skin a mess. I was smart. I was funny. I was sixteen.
I still can’t meet my eyes in the mirror and having someone else take pictures of me feels like violence is being done to me. In this age of selfies, I can manipulate camera angles until the image reflected satisfies me and I can pretend for a little while that I look like that.
I know that a lot of people who don’t suffer from intense form of psoriasis will not be able to understand the trauma of it. Who will reduce its impact or trivialize the effect it had on me.
I speak about it right now because as I grew up, I learned to like myself despite my skin. My journey isn’t complete and I won’t lie that there aren’t times when I don’t feel more monster than girl.
But I can’t be the only person in the world who feels this way so this is for the girls who hate looking in mirrors because the reflection feels like a lie. You may not feel it but you are beautiful.
You are smart. You are brave. You matter. I matter. No matter the skin you wear.