Rosacea: sometimes, asking if I’m okay, only makes it worse

by Miriam Swallow Adler

Rosacea: Woman peep out behind blank white board

It’s okay, and I’m okay, I just hate my face sometimes. It’s hard to explain why it affects me so much, but on bad-skin days my confidence tends to bottom out.


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What’s wrong with your face?

It’s been a pretty dull couple of hours, sat outside my college with flyers and leaflets and course catalogs. I had volunteered for the open day because I loved giving the tours and chatting with the visitors. I had not volunteered to sit in an uncomfortable chair in the sun for three hours, handing out papers with an obnoxious twat. It had to be done, I guess. His chatter was becoming increasingly repulsive, but suddenly, he hit a new low—

‘What’s wrong with your face?’

‘I’m sorry, what? That’s just my face.’

‘But, your hands.’

‘What about my hands?’

‘Your hands are white. Your face, red. What’s wrong with your face?’

‘How do you know there isn’t something wrong with my hands?’

He went quiet for a bit.

‘That’s just my face. That’s what it looks like.’

I was sort of annoyed about being caught off guard. Another few minutes of awkward silence. He then piped up: ‘Well now I feel bad. I feel bad about saying that, then.’

‘Good, that’s an appropriate way to feel right now. I’ll just let you sit with that for a bit. You feel bad. I’m going to the loo.’ I switched shifts and went to talk to a Maths applicant. He was adorable.

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It was so infuriating. I feel meh about my face on the best of days, and am well aware that my skin sans makeup is a shocking crimson color. Yes, thank you, I can use a mirror.

Thank you for reminding me that I have a soviet-red revolution happening on my actual face. Do you not think that I know? It’s none of your business what’s going on, especially when you’re a stranger.

When I was a kid, my nickname was ‘Tomato face.’

Once, in sports class, my teacher asked me if I could stop for a bit, because he didn’t want me to collapse in his classroom. I was fine. I was just fat, and red-faced and kind of winded. Seconds in the sun turn me red, I blush easily, and sometimes I have flare-ups with tiny smatterings of spots; a lumpy, bumpy, red face.

I get embarrassed about it. I don’t like to go on dates without foundation but generally the people I’m seeing love it, they think it’s cute. Like I’m blushing. All the time. It must make them think that I think they’re really hot.

Part of it is just having what my mum would call a ‘rosy complexion,’ yep — the one I call ‘overcooked lobster.’ Mostly, it’s rosacea. A condition which affects loads of people, and has no clear treatment.

It’s okay, and I’m okay, I just hate my face sometimes. It’s hard to explain why it affects me so much, but on bad-skin days my confidence tends to bottom out. I’m on medication now, and it’s definitely helping.

Still, on the worst days I can count dozens of people who ask me if I’m okay, if it hurts, and ‘what’s wrong with your face?’

Yes, I’m okay. Yes, rosacea hurts.

Sometimes, your concern — whether real or fake — hurts more than the redness, the dryness, the soreness, the tiny clear pustules and the itchiness — god, the itchiness.

I know that people have the best of intentions, but when I’m going through a flare-up I struggle to leave the house, and despite my traffic-light-like appearance; I don’t want any extra attention. I’m lucky in that my skin issues aren’t severe, and don’t stop me from living a ‘normal’ life.

Most of the time, I can cover up with makeup, and usually, the pain isn’t bad. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people who have issues that are far more visible, and far more ‘out of the ordinary.’

Look, I know you mean well, but sometimes, asking if I’m okay only makes it worse.

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Miriam Swallow Adler - Bio Photo
Article by Miriam Swallow Adler

Miriam Swallow Adler is a tired young person who writes, sings, and illustrates things while moonlighting as an Oxford University student.



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