It must have been around the time my folks broke up – I was about 14 – when I first experienced acne. This has been such a routine problem with teenagers, that adults can often forget how devastating it can be to a teen’s psyche – the emotional toll on one’s self-esteem.
And, I’m sure if I had grown up with my mom, this affliction would not have been allowed to spread to the point that it did over the years. My father thought that this would go away all by itself and wouldn’t listen to her concerns that my particular situation was becoming so advanced that professional intervention was required.
As the acne festered and started to disfigure my face I started an odyssey that would extend long into my teenage years. Weekly trips to the skin surgeon’s office included a regime of aggressive intervention of direct facial injections of antibiotics; and deliberate skin burning sessions under a sunlamp to make my skin peel off layers of damaged tissue.
“And those of us with ravaged faces, Lacking in the social graces…” – At Seventeen by Janis Ian
It all sounds pretty barbaric to me now, but this was (pre) Accutane… the miracle drug (or its generic versions) that cleared up most acne within months, instead of years. Plus, I had to work hard to negate my emotional scars.
It was all I could do to walk down the school halls and know that kids were talking about you. Some laughed. Some ridiculed me in public. I keenly remember enduring the verbal venom of an individual who nicked named me “bath” because he thought my acne meant a lack of personal hygiene – a common enough fallacy at the time. So, I became a-sort-of ‘elephant man.’ Like him I wanted to scream out from my own depths of my despair… I’m a person! I’m a person! Mercifully, cyber-bullying wasn’t possible. But, despite my flaws, I found a real beauty in them: empathy.
I got to appreciate those rare individuals who – in a non-judgmental manner – looked people straight in the eye… bypassing social disabilities to find the real person inside. They were the ones who offered a cup of kindness to those of us who thirsted for acceptance. And, because of those experiences, I could ‘pay it forward.’
My mechanic of many years has a son who, in his teenage years, suffered like I did when I was his age. A shy kid, I could tell by the way he had his long hair draped over his face, that he was suffering from embarrassment. I felt familiar enough with the family to suggest that his son try ‘Accutane’ therapy. He did and his son’s condition vastly improved.
And, now he – as a dad himself – can relate to what I did on his behalf. And, I can tell by the way he treats me and our family, a heighten level of appreciation that still exists.
Would I have wanted to never have had this disability? Yes. Do I regret it? No. With it, I felt and found the beauty of flaws… the beauty of love!