or does spring bring new hope?
March is over. The long Easter weekend is already a memory. Here in the UK we have put our clocks forward an hour, since we no longer need that vital extra hour in the mornings to let the sun struggle high enough to get us out of bed. The first blossom is starting to appear on the trees, daffodils are blooming in glowing profusion and images of long, sunny days and lazy, warm evenings are already taking shape in my imagination. (Of course, this being northern Britain, that is where they may well stay but there is no harm in being optimistic.) I can feel a growing sense of impatience for spring to get under way in earnest and for summer to appear on the shimmering horizon in all her golden glory.
But, before I get too carried away with poetic fervour, I have to remind myself that I have not always looked forward to warm weather as I do now. The very prospect of summer and all it entails used to fill me with anxiety and despondency because I knew that I was about to have most of my coping strategies stretched to breaking point on a daily basis. I knew that, for the coming several months, I would be forced to confront the “thing” that I had been reasonably successful in pushing to the back of my mind all winter long. I would no longer have the reassurance of long sleeves, opaque tights, high necks and scarves. I would soon be flushed out from behind the relative safety of grey days and artificially lit evenings into the unforgiving clarity of the sun, making it that much harder to make my patchy skin appear normal. Not only that, but I knew the hours I would have to spend painstakingly painting out my intricately patterned #vitiligo patches with self-tan. I knew that this exercise would require me to focus all of my concentration on the very condition I so much wanted to forget. And I knew that if, God forbid, the weather was hot enough to make me perspire all that effort would be undone in no time and my face and body (not to mention my clothes) would all end up various mottled shades of white, brown and orange. All these considerations – and many more that vitiligo sufferers the world over will instantly recognise – meant that the very season most people greet with such enthusiasm was the most depressing one of all for me, daffodils or no daffodils.
I can remember how much I loved warm weather when I was a little girl, long before I knew what the little penny-sized area of white skin on my ankle bone would eventually lead to. I was a real Tomboy back then and spent the seemingly endless, sunny days of childhood either in my brother's hand-me-down cotton shorts and T-shirts, climbing trees with the rest of the gang, in a swim suit digging sand castles on the beach or daintily dressed in cool, floral-print frocks and sandals with my hair tied up in a pony tail. Like most children, I loved the feeling of freedom that being in the open air and wearing the lightest of clothes brings. And by the end of the summer the only effect of that small ankle patch was to show off how bronzed the rest of me had become.
As my vitiligo spread in later childhood and into adulthood I often looked back wistfully on those carefree summers and envied my younger self. I also had to try hard not to feel jealous of all the people around me whose enjoyment of the season had remained undiminished and whose perfect skin seemed to look healthier and more beautiful, the hotter the sun became, whilst mine did the complete opposite. I can't honestly say that I always succeeded in keeping that envy at bay but most of the time I simply hid my negative feelings and turned them inward, which was probably just as destructive. I do wish now that I had known my vitiligo would not be a life sentence (which is how it felt). I think that, if I had known I would regain virtually all my lost skin colour later in life and that I would, once again, view summer as a relaxing and happy season I might have coped better psychologically because I would not have felt so hopeless.
I realise that many people with vitiligo today have a much more constructive attitude towards it than I did. They don't obsess over it and they don't let it spoil their fun, whatever the time of year. As it is, I am just very grateful to have been given a second chance to enjoy the simple pleasures that this time of year promises without the mental baggage that used to come along with it. And, thrilled as I am to be rid of my white patches, I don't regret any of my experiences. I can honestly say that I don't wish I had never had vitiligo because I think it taught me compassion. I do wish there was no such thing as vitiligo because then no one would have it! But, given that it does exist, I know that it has ultimately made me a stronger, more empathetic and more appreciative person than I would otherwise have been. And, all things considered, I think that those characteristics are far more important to me – and, I hope to others I come into contact with - than having perfect skin :)
My name is Caroline.