I've always struggled with my skin. It feels like a battleground with visible wounds and scars and ghosts. My stress displayed through my psoriasis- manifesting in angry rose patches, barnacles on the bottoms of my feet, the occasional sprinkling of snow in my hair. I've had this autoimmune disease my entire life; I remember feeling the burn of saltwater on my knees as a child, painfully attempting to heal the spots. I used to imagine my cells aggressively shifting around to make way for little grains of salt, trying to suck up all of the ugly. I used to come up with fun stories to tell people when they'd ask about it. "Oh my god! What happened to your legs?!" This summer I was attacked by an octopus while I was swimming and it tore off parts of my skin. Or Someone dropped a bucket of acid at my feet. Or I was skateboarding and was dragged across the pavement in a bizarre way. Anything that made it sound cooler, or more interesting than it actually is.
It's a vicious cycle. I get stressed or depressed, little flower beds of red skin pop up, get more stressed and I'll neglect my skin or dig at unaltered spots, creating new wounds. I've always hated it. It's ugly and painful and has started to affect my joints. Some mornings I can feel the presence of every joint in my body; my thumbs swell up, my toes struggle to bend, my elbows and knees and hips ache with every move.
It's not just a cosmetic issue any more. It made work feel impossible. Can you open this for me? I begged my coworker in the middle of a rush at Starbucks. I refused to put my drink in the back room because sometimes it was excruciating to walk just ten steps to get a sip of water if I do. I'm irritable because of it- and because I'm too prideful to really admit to people just how much pain I'm in, I oftentimes seem lazy.
"Why don't you ever want to go on walks with me?" My toes are so swollen I can't bend them and my knees feel like someone shoved a hot poker between my bones, my body is screaming out. But instead I say, I just don't want to. I don't feel like it.
I used to be silent in the morning at work, leaning against the bar silently staring off into the distance. I'm just tired, I used to mumble. But really my whole body feels like a big wad of hardening clay, each movement cracking me apart. Most mornings it gets more bearable as the day goes on, but sometimes it doesn't and I find myself in my car biting a wadded up head scarf screaming at the air. I'm hoping maybe I can expel all of the pain and stress and frustration in one guttural sound. I've always felt like some sort of alien had latched itself onto my body and I was constantly fighting to push it off and out of my system.
But like I said, it's also ugly. I used to hide my legs, the area most affected by it. Even in the summer I'd wear pants. People always look so cool in jeans in the summer, I tried to convince myself. But really it was because I was scared of the glances people would send my way. They'd see me, look at my face and then immediately go to my legs, then immediately to the floor, then to something else. And because I eventually got used to this routine, I wondered how I could ever expect anyone to get close to me, or even touch me if people couldn't even bare to look at it. I felt like I needed to find a way to heal my skin and I'd in turn be able to heal my mental health because of it.
"Can I touch it?" Maggie sat at the edge of my bed, her back a little hunched, her eyes wide and the corners of her mouth pulled slightly upward. I laughed and nodded. "Whoaaaaa... Can I put lotion on it?"
I was shocked. It seemed stupid and kind of gross to have someone else do that for me, but internally I wanted to sob and grab Maggie by her big beautiful head and hold her in a desperate hug. But instead I smiled and nodded and she gently put lotion on the splotches on my knees. Not only was she not afraid of my skin, but she wanted to try and help me. She still tries to help me, suggesting different lotions from Lush and comforting me when I complain about it. I don't think she realized how much she was healing me by just outwardly showing she cared.
My cousin's daughter sat on my lap once, touching my bare knees with her little fingers and noticing the spots on my legs. "They're like... polka dots," she said as her eyes locked onto one of the little white ghosts.
"Looks weird, huh?" I bounced my knees a little, her head bobbing but her eyes still locked onto the spot. I was hoping to alleviate the possible fear that could've formed in her head.
She suddenly reached out gently and touched my leg. "I think it looks pretty," she said. For the first time, I saw it was possible for someone as young as her to be unafraid of the unfamiliar thing that wrapped itself around me.
I was at a shoot once with a company I frequently work with (shameless plug here- check out Capri Design's bags; they're gorgeous!). After I'd changed out of pants and into shorts, the company owner, Brit, remarked that my legs were looking better. I un-tucked one leg from behind the other and I thanked her for noticing. It took me a second, but as I thought about the shoots we'd done together in the past (including our photographer friend, Jen) I realized Jen hadn't Photoshopped my psoriasis out in any of the photos.
"Thank you for not Photoshopping my legs." I hadn't realized how significant this was until then- all of the other shoots I'd done had either covered my legs, cut the photo above my legs, or had decided to Photoshop them.
"Oh of course!" Brit responded grinning, "It's a part of you! And we don't want to change any part of you! We think you're beautiful just how you are." It was a no-brainer for Brit but I slid my sunglasses onto my face to hide my swelling eyes. It was a part of me. And if those moments with Amber and Maggie hadn't happened previously I don't know if I would've responded in the same way I had. But Brit reminded me I was beautiful; psoriasis and all.
And my dear Randall; I want to be able to recite all of the loving, beautiful things he's said about my skin but if I'm being honest I can't remember exactly what he said. And I know that sounds bad, but the reason why I can't remember what he's said is because he has said so many things my mind can't land on just one specific set of words.
I thought I'd have to physically heal my skin- to take a pill, or an injection, or receive enough salt water and sun to pull my skin taught over those rose patches. But some of the most beautiful people in my life had to lead me to water; to show me that I didn't have to eliminate something that was a part of me in order to feel beautiful and worthy of being loved. Needless to say, my mental health has moved past the superficial concerning the ghosts on my legs. My joints still ache in the mornings, it's hard to walk down stairs to go to the bathroom but it's bearable. I do eventually need to seek treatment to help the arthritis, but I don't feel like I need my skin to clear up.
Like Brit said, it's a part of me and it's beautiful. Nobody else's legs show the places they've been like mine have.