Coping with acne - Karen's story
My name is Karen Thomas and I appeared on the documentary “The Unluckiest Faces in Britain” in 2003 on ITV1. For several years I suffered with acne in its most extreme form on the face only. Psychologically, I faced great challenges, which I then had to deal with. I was depressed. I know because my mother told me that is where I was. I realise that probably doesn’t make sense. Living on my own as I do, you get used to feeling a certain way and you don’t always register what those moods are when you are in them. Whenever I spoke on the phone to family, it was in a monotone voice. That was normal to me. Everything about my life and environment seemed to continue as normal. The world seemed less bright; there was a lot of negativity around, not just from me, but others about me. It was driving down my emotions and moods.
My life was carrying on as normal. I still took myself out to the pub to socialise, on my own as usual. I travelled near and far to see friends routinely. In that sense I didn’t feel affected in any shape or form. In fact everything in that way seemed OK at least for the time being.
It wasn’t until later on, I began to realise a number of things about myself. I was permanently tense. I felt wary of how others were responding to my presence, so, I had my guard up all the time. Being like this in public was exhausting. As time went on I felt a greater need to return to my sanctuary, which was my home, where I could “re-charge” my batteries ready for the next trip outdoors. Naturally, while this was occurring in my life, the depression deepened.
In time, I found myself spending more time at home. In turn that meant I was watching more television. I caught an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show and found out my depression was reactive to my circumstances. That meant I was experiencing reactive depression. It all began to make sense to me. The depression is a symptom of my situation not a cause. Funnily enough, that made me feel somewhat better.
The depression had symptoms I can best describe as having a heavy heart, many sighs and the feeling of being unloved. In some ways, I fell out of love with myself and the public fell out of love with me too. It just compounded all the darkness within.
The way the world treated me had a deep impact on my life. There is one episode when I went shopping and an event which stood out in my mind. I took myself out to the supermarket one day, and upon entering the store a young child ran up to me and stood toe to toe, looking at my face. For what felt like an age, the child and I looked at each other. The people around us were carrying on with their business as if nothing was happening. This occurred at a time when adults were sensitive to paedophilia and I was conscious of these issues too. All I could do was freeze on the spot and not do anything regarding the child. I didn’t even dare to speak to them. After what felt like forever, the child suddenly left me. I was so relieved that that the moment had passed with no further backlash. I continued on into the supermarket and did the shopping.
There were similar behaviours I picked up on around me, while in public spaces. Whenever I was queuing at the supermarket till orwalking about the store, I always had a massive empty space about me. It was like having a force field where people feared to cross and get near to me. I found it disconcerting at first, but in time grew used to it. There were occasions when I felt like telling the people around me they could not catch the skin condition. It was like being an alien on your own planet!
I also felt constant stares in my direction. Sometimes people took three or four takes of me. I had a method of dealing with these manners. It is such a simple trick I learnt. Whenever, I was being looked at, I smiled at the person responding to my presence. More often than not the other person was forced to smile back, rather more out of courtesy than anything else. I found this defused the situation. This meant that I spent most of the time smiling when going about my business. This aspect of being outdoors drained me emotionally, but it was what I had to do to survive the day. By the time I returned home, I could guarantee you, I felt tired.
In between going outside, sporadically, I spent my time re-charging my emotional energy batteries. There were days when I needed to go out and my energies were not quite 100%; this added to my challenges, but there were occasions when I felt like I was Apollo holding planet Earth over my head comfortably. At this time however my strength within me increased and began to grow. I was basically getting stronger!
I lived as a recluse for just over a year, until my money ran out, by which time I was ready to deal with the world again. Since 2004, I’ve provided emotional support for anyone who is suffering with acne, their family and friends. You can contact me at the following, should you want someone to talk to.
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