Haunted By My Own Reflection
One thing has constantly haunted me throughout my experience of dealing with atopic dermatitis and TSW. That thing is my own reflection.
Fear of my own reflection
I grew up with atopic dermatitis at a very young age, and I never quite liked looking at myself. However, I didn’t become completely terrified of it until my experience with topical steroid withdrawal.
When I started TSW, I was a scary sight to be seen. I had to watch myself literally (and figuratively) fall apart – day in and day out. It got to the point that I became terrified to even look at my reflection. I was afraid of what I would see looking back at me. Would my face look red and completely mangled?
I still have trouble looking in the mirror
Truth be told, I still struggle with this now. Whenever my skin has a little patch of redness or dryness, I am terrified to look in the mirror or take a photo of myself. I am always expecting the worst.
Fear of exposure and being seen
That image of me when I went through the worst periods has never left my head, and I’m not sure if it ever will. It got to the point where I was afraid to go outside. If I did, I would completely cover myself. I would never wear short-sleeved shirts and would wear a hat and sunglasses to try to cover my face.
I was afraid to be seen, especially after experiencing rude comments and stares much of my life every time I did go outside.
One interaction can change everything
I will never forget one year, during some of the worst years. I was bald at the time, wearing a scarf and hat on my head to cover the fact I had no hair. But I couldn’t cover my face fully.
It was Christmas time, and I was excited even to be able to get out of the house. It’s usually tradition in my family for me and my dad to buy a tree together. I was excited to do that after being bedridden the previous few Christmases.
A hurtful reaction
When we walked into Home Depot, a man walked by us even though I did my best to keep my head down and not be noticed. As he did, he literally screamed at the sight of me. I’m certain my red face got even redder.
He said, “Did you know your face was really red?” and I replied, “Yes and that was not a very nice reaction to it.” But what I really wanted to do was crawl in a hole and cry.
I understand people not knowing how to react to such things and seeing things that are unfamiliar to them. However, that one incident ended up causing even more trauma for me. After that, I hardly left the house again. I did my best to avoid it and avoid any public interaction.
The healing is ongoing
It has taken years of inner work and therapy even to begin to heal these wounds. And while I have come a long way, I still have a ways to go. I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror, especially when through a small flare. I absolutely despise bright lighting and still use a night light in my bathroom. And I still get anxiety and a feeling of dread every time I have to leave the house.
Slowly, I have been working through it. Through hypnotherapy and CBT therapy, which includes exposure therapy, I am learning to be okay with these things again. But it hasn’t been easy, to say the least. It has been years of living in fear of my own reflection and what people will think or say. While I’d love to say it doesn’t bother me and I could care less what others think, that is still not the truth for me. I am still haunted by the comments, the stares, and the screams.
The power of the subconscious mind
It is amazing how just one memory, one experience, one interaction – can create a plethora of problems and triggers for us. I am looking forward to the day when there is no more stigma (or at least much less) around skin and health conditions. Until then, all we can do is keep sharing our stories, and allow ourselves to be heard and seen.
After all, that is the only way to heal anything – with awareness, acceptance, and understanding.
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