Saturday, 21 December 2013

Skin

I am who I am mainly because of my skin. There's no two ways about it.

When someone is called 'tough skinned' it's usually because of the following reasons:
- They're not easily swayed
- They don't get upset easily
- They have a strong personality.

Those close to me, especially members of TGYM would say I'm 'tough skinned'. When it come's to the movement it's definitely run on a strict policy - If you ever waste my time I'll make sure you regret it. That's no threat, that's just how it is.

I often end up caring about people's future's more than they do which is why I can come accross as strict. I never like seeing someone throw their future away. I genuinely always want the best for people I work with and they know that, which is why my actions are rarely questioned.
I'm only 18 but I've been given Mothers day cards from people who appreciate and regard my affection and advice. As well as my biological younger brother I have several other spiritual younger brothers and sisters and I care for them deeply. I try to teach them the importance of having a tough skin because it breaks my heart to see any one of them upset.

Some say I have a tough personality skin but not many realise that I also actually have a tough physical skin. It wasn't until I started getting called out of classes that friends realised my medical condition was serious.
I'm an actress- you won't know something's up unless I either tell you or you catch me completely off guard, in this case I was caught off guard.

In terms of health, life hasn't exactly been straight forward. I can say that from the second I was born something has always seemed to go wrong.
I came out on the 26th November and instead of being one of the happiest days of my mothers life it turned out to be one of the most emotionally draining. Instead of hearing a babie's cry, my mother heard silence as she produced a blue, unconscious child.
She honestly thought that was it and my Father desperately tried to be strong for her. My mother was blessed with the most determined doctors and they successfully managed to get me to stability.

After that rollercoaster it was about skin. From the age of about 1 I was in and out of hospital, I would stay over for several nights at a time and the nurses would cover me in ointments and bandage me up. I looked like a walking egyptian mummy.
My parents were told I had Dermatitis herpetiformis, a form of eczema. I had serious rashes on my face, my neck, the creases of my arms, my elbows, behind my knees and on my knees. Somehow my scalp managed to be avoided by this rash and I was lucky enough to have really healthy hair, friends will know how much I love hair and how much I love wearing different hairstyles.
Some rashes were a bright red, some were borderline purple and others were a dark brown, close to black. Itching during the night was a nightmare and my mother was often visiting me during the night up until I was about 9.
Some studies suggest eczema is genetic but many scientists disagree and claim it can be provoked by bacteria, allergens or fungi. None of my preceding siblings had it and neither did my parents. I was also the first of all my cousins to have it too.

I was prescribed light treatments such as Oilatum and Aqueous cream to take baths with and was advised to use an array of ointments to stop my skin from flaking. I was told my eczema might go once I reached adolescance but for now it could only be tamed.
It only got worse from there..
A popular ointment amongst black people is Vaseline and so this is what I started to use. This only irritatated my skin further as it clogged pores and made me hot and sweaty. It was thought that I was being fussy but in the summer my eczema appeared to burn.
That's when my parents realised that Vaseline is basically thick oil and it was causing the sun to practically fry my skin.
By this time I looked like a mess. My skin was tired and looked like it wasn't going to heal any time soon.

Everyday was a regime of Oilatum and Aqueous cream and a whole new host of prescribed ointments including Diprobase, Doublebase, E45, sometimes Epaderm and the rare Hydrocortisone tube.
I would then put on a special camoflage kit of thick natural foundations for sensitive skins, several shades darker to hide the eczema. I would then apply a thin layer of a cooling Vitamin C facial spray. As a young girl I loved putting this on, I was so happy that I could hide behind a mask and it gave me confidence.

Once my parents and I started to understand my condition more, the journey became easier. I was now an expert in applying my masque and the itching had gone down.

For several years I was alright. There was minor itching, the eczema was still extremely visible but I was no longer scratching furiously at my arms.
It wasn't until I was about 13 that it came back in full force. I entered my teenage years an insecure wreck and was convinced no one would look twice at me.

In comes Abi. I met Abi and we instantly clicked as she had a skin condition too. It felt so relieving to have someone outside of the family to talk to and I poured out my life to her. I was getting to the age where an interest in boys was growing and I wanted a cure, I wanted to look good and wearing the masque was becoming tiresome.

Being 13, Abi & myself weren't very wise. My skin was patchy beyond description and we somehow thought it'd be wise for me to go to a tanning booth and even it out. I saved up £15 and we both went to book me in. They told me I was being silly, that it would only make my skin worse and that they couldn't even book me in as I had no guardian with me.
I was furious and thought they were being racist.
It was then that Abisola and myself came up with the idea of 'vaseline tanning' due to my previous experience. In the summer every lunch time we would walk by the science block and I would take off my tights, roll up my shirt and cover every bit of visible skin in vaseline and lay down on the grass.
I always couldnt wait for summer and I remember pretending to be a patient at a tanning booth and Abi being the sales assistant. I would pay imaginary money and then lay down on the grass.
Even when we had dance rehearsals I would run by the science block with Abi for a last minute grab at the sun. Other girls would pass by and give questioning looks but I didnt care, I was 'curing' myself.
It wasn't until a science teacher shouted outside the window for me to 'put my clothes on and come inside RIGHT NOW' that everything turned sour.
I explained to the teacher what I was doing and she suggested I seek a treatment instead of 'cooking' myself.
I went home crying to my parents that this teacher was being an enemy of progress and that she didnt want me to be healed.
They took a look at my skin and almost screamed. I had apparently made it 10 times worse.

I was instantly booked in to see my dermatologist and was put on my most serious ointments to date, I was put on a course of the well known 'vats', corticosteroids.
Initially I was frightened to death as the side effects of these can be a thinning of the skin and a loss of pigmentation but in the end it was decided that the clearing would be worth it.
It was tricky application, having to come out of class to apply it and hands had to be washed before and after application- it was all very stressful.
I was treated and later booked in for several peels, prescribed mild face and body washes, bandages and soaps.
I also often had to have treatments outside of the NHS with specialists, costing my parents a lot of money but the results were worth it.

At times my skin would be so inflamed that I would be bed bound. My good friend Grace would always come round with cards and flowers and tell me that I'd be better soon. She was my support at a time where I felt that my skin would ruin my life and I love and respect her so much. She is honestly one of the best things in my life.

I couldn't understand why they hadn't put me on these ointments in the first place but I was told they were very powerful and only for the most serious cases.
They were right when they said my condition would significantly improve as I reached adolescance, my skin began to clear dramatically, leaving only small eczema scaring below my eyes and below my knees.
I'm still on medication and occasionally have to be booked in for treatments but for now, my skin's at the healthiest it's ever been.

I look back and laugh at my stupidity but words can't describe how convinced Abi and myself were that we were doing the right thing.
I put myself in serious danger without having the slightest clue I was doing it.
I'm glad however that we did it as I went onto the right treatment and In doing so Abi found out more about her condition and was moved onto more suitable medicines.

Abi and myself are practically sisters now and words can't explain how much I love her. We've been through so much together and I see us being great friends for life. She was there in my lowest of times and has been there when I turned my life around and started a youth movement. To say I have the greatest friend's in the world would be an understatement.

In my case, it seems to have been triggered off by an allergen so I'm glad that I won't be passing it on to any future children.
I know several people with eczema and know their struggle. It's seen as something you should just deal with and get over but it can have damaging effects to ones confidence and self esteem.

My face is dressed in tears as I write this. The term 'comfortable in my own skin' is taken lightly but it's something that a lot of people feel they can't be.
It's torn at me emotionally but it's also made me stronger.
I have a thick personality skin because of my physical skin. I won't be pushed around or told I'm not good enough because I know that I'm better than anyone who puts me down.

some of the things I still have to regularly use, until it's all cleared up :)

Sticks and stones may break a bone
but my skin will tear for no one.
Even when I feel so low and alone
I won't let anyone take me off my throne.

Stay confident and ambitious.

Lots of love.

@CillaCasey xxxx