I was ten years old when I discovered my face. It’s not like I didn’t know what a face was; I had just never once thought about my own face. Much like not being aware of your stomach until it hurts, I wasn’t aware of my face until there was something suddenly wrong with it. A small, white ball popped out of my right cheek and then, like magic, I realized I had a face. I stared at that little ball in the mirror and thought about my face for the first time and have not been able to stop thinking about my face since.
At that moment, I had no clue how much that little zit was going to change my life. I didn’t realize it was a pus-filled canary warn- ing me that a shitstorm of acne was on its way. My self-esteem was about to be ravaged. My identity was about to be transformed from a confident, plucky kid to an anxious, insecure adult. If you have never suffered the wrath of acne, you may think that this sounds a little extreme. It’s a nonfatal disease after all, and if you have always had clear skin, it’s almost impossible to understand what it really feels like to live with Cutibacterium acnes bacteria attacking your face all day and night.
It was as if some unseen force was making me wear a raw, red, swollen mask. The mask felt ugly and terrifying and people stared at it with disgust or, even worse, with pity. I didn’t know how the mask got on my face, but I knew I couldn’t take it off. After genocide, nuclear war, famine, slavery, and child abuse, acne is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a person. Okay, fine, maybe cancer is worse, and probably a bunch of other stuff, but acne is challenging, really challenging, and if you haven’t lived through it then . . . honestly, go fuck yourself.
Some people only have to wear that tragic acne mask for a few years, and then they get to rejoin society and rebuild their self-worth. I, however, have had to wear the mask for most of my life. I have had some form of acne from mild to Freddy Krueger for over twenty years, and I have the scars to prove it. Oddly enough, my childhood was filled with so many heartbreaking events that my obsession with the whole acne thing seems wildly vain and ridiculous in comparison. But that’s how psychologically impactful this skin disease is. Out of all the other tragedies of my childhood, the acne was the loudest and most obnoxious. It was constantly screaming at me, “You look different than everyone! You should kill yourself because of that!”
But as painful as this skin disease is, it ultimately saved my life. My winning combination of cystic acne and above-average narcissism forced me to seek help from doctors, dermatologists, psychologists, healers, hypnotherapists, inner child specialists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, Reiki masters, angel channels, and shamans. My numerous attempts to cure the skin condition made me look deeper and learn more about myself than I ever would have cared to otherwise. That first little white bastard that introduced me to the concept of hating myself was foreshadowing intense suffering and inevitable growth and transformation, but all I could do was stare at it in the mirror, like a goddamn moron.