How gratitude can promote health and beauty
How many times in your life have you wished – and been wished in return – a happy, healthy and prosperous new year?
I know that, for some people – and I used to be one of them – such wishes can seem irrelevant when all you really want is to feel comfortable in your own skin. During the decades before my recovery, I can remember thinking that I would be willing to trade every one of my new year hopes, dreams and wishes for just a single one: to be able to look at myself in the mirror and see a whole human being, not the vitiligo “jigsaw puzzle person” that I had become.
Vitiligo had turned me into a jigsaw puzzle version of myself
I didn’t constantly dwell on such thoughts, of course. Usually, I pushed them to the back of my mind and got on with life as most of us do when we are faced with no alternative. I have always been a predominantly positive thinker and I tried to maintain a cheerful attitude, reminding myself that there are very many worse afflictions in life than having vitiligo. And whenever I found my mood at odds with this logic (and, let’s face it, depression has precious little to do with logic) I looked for strategies to avoid sinking into a pit of self-pity. One of the most helpful and uplifting of these was to keep a “gratitude journal” in which I wrote down 5 things every night before going to sleep for which I felt truly grateful. This helped a lot, and it is a discipline I can heartily recommend to everyone, whether they are depressed or not and whether they have vitiligo or not. It restores some much-needed perspective, feeds the spirit and, in the process, lets our inner beauty shine through. This, of course, is far more important than the colour of our skin, be it black, white, patchy or turquoise with yellow polka-dots.
How an attitude of gratitude changed my outlook
The lessons I learned from keeping my journal and counting my blessings were priceless (and, of course, I dutifully added these to my journal too). They improved my outlook on life and, I believe, made me a better and healthier person, but I still longed for a vitiligo cure. You see, I believe that, whilst it is both admirable and practical to accept the adversities of life that we cannot change, it is only natural to want to change them if it is at all within our power. And, as it turned out, reversing vitiligo was within my power. It just took me 50 years to find that out.
In spite of the general mood of pessimism and hopelessness that so often seems to surround vitiligo, I always believed that a #cure would one day be found. And, until that day came, I sometimes fantasised (and occasionally, literally, dreamed) that I would wake up one morning to find my skin restored to its original, even colour. Well, no absolute cure has emerged yet (although I am still convinced it is only a matter of time) but my fantasies did eventually come true. I didn’t wake up one morning to find my vitiligo patches gone. It took 18 months or so. But, strangely enough, seeing my pigment return gradually was probably even more exciting than if it had happened overnight.
The first few freckles would have looked insignificant to anyone else but, to me, they were nothing short of miraculous. In fact, I didn’t believe they were real at first. I thought they must have been the remains of a self-tanning cream that I sometimes used to use for camouflage. So I applied an exfoliating scrub (which I don’t recommend, by the way, as any kind of abrasion can aggravate vitiligo) in a fruitless attempt to remove the little brown dots. Then it dawned on me that the marks were, in fact, pigment! That realisation is a moment I shall never forget and the whole process of #re-pigmentation that followed was a journey that thrilled and energised me in a way that no one else could possibly understand unless they also had vitiligo or maybe a comparable condition. The emotions I experienced during that time – and which I still feel today – would fill a whole library of gratitude journals :)
You never know what new hope tomorrow will bring
It’s strange to think, writing this now in January 2018, that this time 8 years ago I was wishing – and being wished – a happy, healthy and prosperous new year at a time when my vitiligo covered 80% of my body. I don’t remember if I was feeling particularly despondent at the time. I don’t think I was any more than usual. But it would have been on my mind, off and on, as it was for most of my life. And I certainly would not have been expecting the year 2010 to bring about any change in my skin, unless it was for the worse. (This had been my whole experience up to that point.) But, the fact is that 4 or 5 months later I stumbled upon the particular combination of lifestyle changes that would trigger a completely unexpected and marvellous reversal of my de-pigmentation. And, by the time the following new year came around, I had regained roughly 70% of my lost colour and was confidently looking forward to recovering the rest.
I won’t bore you here with the story of how this came about because you may already know it (and, if not, you can read it here). But, what I particularly want to share with you in this post is two of the most precious lessons that life has so far taught me through my vitiligo – and for which I will always be immensely grateful: firstly, that we don’t always get to choose the hand that life deals us but that finding and appreciating the many good aspects of that life is something that enriches us and those around us; and secondly, it is always too soon to give up hope that a skin condition like vitiligo can be reversed.
I have noticed that nurturing a sense of gratitude brings with it a host of positive consequences beyond the obvious ones and renewed hope for the future is one of them. So, since it is early January now – and even if you are reading this at any other time of the year - what better time could there possibly be to start a gratitude journal? I promise you that, if you do, you won’t regret it.
My name is Caroline.