It's more terrible to deal with vitiligo when you have already developed your whole personality, and then you suddenly start losing your pigmentation. For some young adults, their body is an inalienable part of who they are.
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By the time I finished high school I had kissed a total of two girls. Both times I was really drunk; full of liquor courage. I had been on a number dates when I didn’t kiss a girl. While sober, I didn’t have the confidence that alcohol seemed to give me. I was self-conscious about my vitiligo, and in my mind at least, the dates were always awkwardly embarrassing.
I felt really out of character on the dates. I knew I was fun to be around with girls when they were my friends, but I thought they couldn’t never like me in a way that was more than friendly. And I blamed my skin for that, of course. Fortunately, most of my male friends weren’t really successful with girls either back then, so there wasn’t significant peer pressure to lose my virginity (or even come close). I always had people to hang out with, and other than this dating-girl-problem, my life was still much pretty okay. I got into college I wanted, found a part-time job during the summer, and had a decent social circle.
It started getting worse in college
When college started, this minor high-school problem with girls and confidence began to grow. Unlike high school, where there was not a lot of people in my class, I was suddenly in a group of a 100 people, and that was really challenging for me. There were way more guys also. A lecture room full of strong male egos vying for the attention of a small number of female students. I felt threatened and exposed when I was in a group with so many people.
This was mainly the case when there were girls around, with whom I had very little interaction. As people in college usually form into cliques, I naturally found myself with a group of guys who were also pretty incompetent and insecure with girls. That year we played video games a lot outside of college. The cycle continued.
I had decent grades; passed my exams, had a social circle of guys and zero prospects of a girlfriend. Since I wanted that to change, I started to really consider a thought that has been formulating in my head for a while, but I didn’t dare to really pursue.
The hope that vitiligo would disappear
As a child, I had gone to the Dead Sea to receive treatment, and it had partially worked. So the thought swirling was to go to back to Israel to reduce the amount of vitiligo I had. I felt if I went back, I would return with less vitiligo and more confidence. And the truth was I was secretly hoping it would go away entirely and it was in every single daydream. Maybe dreams can become true. Maybe.
But the only problem, to realize my dream, as I imagined it in my head, was money. It was somewhat expensive to go to Israel and spend a month in a hotel at the Dead Sea. The solution: ask my parents for the money. But this would mean admitting to them my vitiligo was bothering me. I pretty much kept all my problems and fears to myself; no one, not even my parents, knew what was going on in my head. I wasn’t sure I could ever broach the topic: too uncomfortable for all of us.
It took me over two months to muster the courage to tell them. When I finally did, it came as a surprise to them, and to me. One day it just came out of my mouth, the rehearsal became real. They had no idea I was feeling these thoughts. Any of them. I was their kid, and in their mind, me having vitiligo was normal. They didn’t really think that it could really be a problem; they thought I was like every other kid. But I wasn’t, and after some tears, they saw what I saw, or said they did. I knew what I was feeling. My parents agreed to help me, so they gave me the money to go to Israel. And so I did.
“If someone's condition was worse than mine, was I disrespecting their situation by focusing on my needs?”
Another month under the hot Israeli sun
The same hotel, the same doctors, the same rooftop, from my teenage years ten years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This time, instead of my mum, I went there with Tomislav, a guy from my hometown, who had psoriasis – another skin diseases. We stayed together because it was cheaper for us to share a room than to stay by ourselves.
He was a great guy, in his late 30s. Tomislav had way more life experience than me, helping me a psychologically with my how I felt about my body. Telling me from day one, vitiligo was not that terrible and that his condition is worse. He was right, in the sense that psoriasis can be itchy and painful, while vitiligo is only a color change of the skin. But this view played on my mind. If someone’s condition was worse than mine, was I disrespecting their situation by focusing on my needs?
Although the hotel, and everything else, including the hummus, was the same as a decade ago, I felt different this time around there. I was there on my, apart from Tomislav. Hanging out with other people with skin conditions, able to talk about it for the first time openly with others, in the same predicament I was in, was life-changing.
When I was there for the first couple of times as a kid, I wasn’t really aware of skin disorders being such a problem for people. In those days: I just enjoyed the hotel pool, played my Gameboy, and behaved like any other kid. Which was good, in a way, because if I suddenly got 35 percent of my skin covered with vitiligo, as an adult, I would have freaked out.
Finally I was no longer a virgin
This was precisely what happened to this one girl I met in the present. She got vitiligo during college, and because she is light-skinned like me, she didn’t really grasp the amount of her skin that became white. When she got there, and when the contrast kicked in, she realized how much vitiligo she has and cried for a week. It’s more terrible to deal with vitiligo when you have already developed your whole personality, and then you suddenly start losing your pigmentation. For some young adults, their body is an inalienable part of who they are.
I, on the other hand, don’t remember not having vitiligo. While we were there, I got way more confident speaking in groups and with women. A lot of people there had some kind of skin condition, and I just felt more normal and comfortable around people like me. I lost my virginity there to a beautiful girl from Israel, we became friends and kissed just a couple of days before I got back home. I finally wasn’t a virgin anymore, and I felt good for the first time in a while. Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last long, as I entered the darkest period of my life.
Israel didn’t help me this time
When I returned home, I pretty much realized that much of the vitiligo I have was going to stay. It is who I am, and I can’t do much about it. Apparently, most of the results you can achieve with the treatment at the Dead Sea happens during your first or second stay there, and after that, the improvements are minimal when it comes to vitiligo.
This was the experience of several other people I met in Israel, and it turned out the same for me. Some spots got a little bit smaller, and some pigmentation ”came alive,” but it really wasn’t worth spending several thousand euros, and torturing myself in the temperature of 50 degrees like a human steak for a month.
As you can imagine, I didn’t really receive that information well. For the last couple of years, I was dreaming about going to Israel and having the same result that I had when I went as a kid. And that much of my vitiligo will be gone, and that if maybe, I go two or three times more it would disappear altogether. When this didn’t happen, I really lost all hope. All my problems regarding women and social gatherings suddenly got three times worse, as I was again back in the real world where pretty much nobody had skin conditions except me. People asking about my trip to Israel also didn’t help, as I really didn’t want to talk about my problems with vitiligo with anybody. I told most people that I went as a tourist, not mentioning vitiligo at all.
The worst period of my life
The college started again, all too soon, and I was in the second year. I remember being at a party at some guys house, with pretty much the whole college group there. During the entire party I said maybe 15 words and left early. I couldn’t really socialize anymore. I started hanging out less and less with my friends from high school, and my once relatively social circle became minuscule. Ultimately I turned away from any social gatherings and became somewhat of a recluse. I started failing exams in college, as I couldn’t really concentrate on anything.
I didn’t really care about college at all at that point. All I was thinking about is how I’m going to have vitiligo forever, and how awful this is, and how nobody really understands this. I felt I was going to be alone for the rest of my life. Nobody would love me, and that the only time I can have sexual intimacy is the place where everybody has a skin condition (the girl – who has a place in my heart – had a little bit of psoriasis herself, in case you were wondering).
I couldn’t hold a conversation with anybody for more than two minutes, and I was wandering the streets of my city almost every night by myself, listening to music and thinking sad, sad, thoughts. I used to sneak out and walk five to ten kilometers every night, walking on empty streets. The streets were as empty as my life.
I thought to myself: I have no girl, I was slowly losing my friends, and was failing almost every class at college. I talked less with my parents too, so I had nothing in my life that was worth it. Suicidal thoughts were creeping into my mind, slowly but surely. I kept thinking that if I died all my problems would go away. I was a victim, and I relished bathing in my own negative thoughts. I hated everybody because they couldn’t understand me.
It never really got to the point where I was seriously considering suicide, thankfully. But it was in my head. I never really bought a gun, or a bunch of pills, or considered jumping off a bridge. I was still sane enough. And the fate would have it that it never got that bad and that soon my vitiligo infected thoughts disappeared almost entirely, and I slowly regained my mental health. How did it happen? I still ask myself. Time will tell.