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If You Are a Teen with Vitiligo
From "A Handbook for Patients" by Judith Porter, Ph.D. and Ann Beuf, Ph.D.
You may also want to check out the book by Ann Beuf entitled "Beauty Is the Beast: Appearance Impaired Children in America"
If you have vitiligo, you are probably thinking about it right now...
Even if you've had the disease since you were a child, you may be more conscious of your depigmented spots now than you were before. You may be worried about other people noticing, and about how they will react to you.
This is completely normal, because people in your age group tend to be very concerned about their appearance. Everybody thinks they have something wrong with them. If you listen to conversations around school, you may hear things like, "I won't smile because I wear braces," "My skin is a mess," "I'm fat."
Between 10 and 16 years old, major changes are taking place in your life. Your body is beginning to change from a child's into the body of the man or woman you will become as an adult. For this reason, most people your age are very concerned with their appearance. We all wonder, "Will this new self be attractive, well-liked, admired?" In this concern with appearance, you can become overly critical of yourself and magnify your flaws. You may think that vitiligo is the first thing about you that other people notice. This is probably not so. Did you ever think that features your friends dislike about themselves are often things you never notice? For instance, one of your friends may complain that her nose is "horrible" when you always thought of her as having a perfectly normal nose. Other people may notice your eyes and your smile first, not your vitiligo.
Also, because of a concern with appearance, some people try to defend themselves against possible criticism by being mean. They try to make themselves look good by pointing out the flaws in other people's appearance. They may insult people or make tasteless jokes about how someone looks. If you come across somebody like this and that person mentions your vitiligo, remember that he or she must have some major worries about their own appearance or they wouldn't be striking out at others.
Another kind of change that occurs at your age is a change in schools. First, there is the move to junior high school and then there will come the change from junior high to senior high. After six or seven years of elementary school, you become comfortable and feel accepted. If your old friends know you have vitiligo, it has long since ceased to be of interest to them. When you enter junior high, you may wonder whether the new people will notice your spots. These concerns are heightened by the beginning of dating.
Frustration is at its worst when we feel we can't do anything about the situation in which we find ourselves. Here are some things you can do to lessen any concerns you may have about your vitiligo:
1) If you are not being treated, ask your physician to refer you to a dermatologist or Vitiligo Treatment Center (you can also find dermatologists with expertise in vitiligo on this website under Find a Physician). Many young people experience considerable repigmentation through treatment.
2) It is very important to be persistent in any treatment. If you are being treated, do not skip part of the treatment.
3) Stay out of the sun or wear good sunscreen. Vitiligo is most noticeable in white people when their normal skin is tanned. The contrast between the tan skin and the vitiligo makes it more visible.
4) Talk to a dermatologist about the use of cosmetics as a coverup. There are new, special cosmetics which can really hide vitiligo. This is not "for women only." Males can use coverups too.
5) Try to find a few close friends or relatives with whom you can talk easily and in whom you can confide some of your concerns about vitiligo. These should be people whose opinions you value. Just talking to someone can take the edge off anxiety.
6) Either by yourself or with your friends, discuss your best characteristics. Are you a great tennis or soccer player, a born comic, a kind person? Do you have nice features, a good build, expressive eyes? Make a list of these assets against your concern about vitiligo. You are probably a pretty cool person. Use this exercise to reassure yourself from time to time.
7) Research has shown that individuals with vitiligo who are achieving new skills are less worried than others. Think about something you would like to do that you cannot do now. At a rock concert, did you ever imagine yourself the drummer? Take some lessons! Do you want to help sick people? Volunteer to work at the local hospital or take a CPR course! Are you a fashion freak? Learn to sew and start designing and making your own clothes! All of these activities can give you a real sense of accomplishment. Vitiligo will seem pretty unimportant by comparison.
8) If you can't get yourself to stop worrying about vitiligo or you feel depressed, talk to your parents and your doctor about getting professional counseling. A psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker is trained to help you feel good about yourself.