I noticed something was wrong with me when I was 11 years old. I started growing stomach and chest hair. I never told anyone because I was embarrassed. I was around 12 when some kid came up to me, looked under my neck and said, “You have a beard!” I never noticed it until he said something.
I used to call my older sister pizza face when I was younger. Little did I know I would soon be the newest addition to the pizza face gang. I started having a few spots when I was 13. Then it just all came at once. By the time I was 15 I had hard painful spots all over my face and back. The doctor called it cystic acne and prescribed me medication. Something simple like washing my face was painful so when I used the medicated solution on my face the pain was something shocking.
I guess my insecurities started in my early teens just as I started into secondary school. Not every teen goes through puberty easily and I unfortunately was one of them. My body started to change so quickly, that as a result my skin couldn’t keep up and so resulted in a severe case of stretch marks. A small few I could cope with but I ended up with them all over the majority of my body. Everywhere from my stomach, hips, arms, chest and thighs.
In 2008 I was climbing with my friends. I was belaying my climbing partner. When he was about 50 feet up, he accidentally dislodged a cinder block sized rock that fell the 50 feet, landed on the back of my head, fractured the part of the skull that protects the brain and knocked me unconscious immediately.
A few days later, a group of girls looked under my neck and said, “Oh My God, you DO have a beard!” It was humiliating. I started shaving my face every day when I was diagnosed with hirsutism. It was very uncomfortable and irritated my skin so I would go to school everyday with a red, blotchy neck. I had horrible self-esteem and was convinced I was a guy.
Even when I was on tablets to get rid of it they were still there lurking away. Going to school was horrible. I would get up early to slap on heavy foundation and concealer to try and cover it. Most of the time it just made it more obvious but I felt comfortable with it on. It was my mask that I wore so no one could see my imperfections. I feared that I would get bullied because of my acne so covering it was the only option for me. People would say to me, “you need to wash your face more” and “it’s because you eat sweets”. And I am there trying to hold back the urge to scream at them “It doesn’t work that way!”
It was so hard for me, especially around my friends who were all skinny minnies. P.E class used to be torture for me. We had a communal changing room where everyone changed in front of one another. I was so self-conscious in case any of the girls saw my body that I would change in a toilet cubical.
After heaps of surgeries and a ten-day coma, I beat the odds; surprised my family and the doctors and woke up. When I was ready to leave the neuro ICU, I was discharged to a Rehabilitation Center where I relearned how to walk and talk and be a functioning person
For years I would spend hours shaving everything to try and feel normal. It stops me from having any relationships because I can’t handle any more rejection and judgment.
When I was in Transition Year we put on a musical and there was a make up artist hired to do our make up. She took my make up off to reapply more and I remember the looks and giggles when my classmates saw my red bumpy skin. I felt so insecure and embarrassed. Even though they probably knew I had bad acne before this I felt like I had let myself down by taking of my mask.
I ended up being bullied about my weight and appearance. Still to this day I remember being told by a guy that I needed to join Weight Watchers. I began to shy away from socialising. My friends would all be heading to the teenage disco, whereas I would be staying home. No confidence and afraid what new nasty comment would be said.
I am scared to accept how close I was to death. I see the huge dent in my head where the temporalis muscle atrophied, that even reconstructive surgery could not fix, and sometimes I get nostalgic, wishing my head were still fully shaped. I also see the huge scar that goes from my forehead to the back of my head where hair won’t ever grow again and when my hair is wet, is visible and looks a little frightening. Little kids often look at the tracheotomy scar on my neck, point to it, and ask, “What’s that thing on your neck? It looks like you were stabbed there.” So I explain that I couldn’t breath so the doctors needed to put a hole in my throat so that I could breath.
Multiple people, including my brother, have told me I look like a man. However, because of it I am learning to be strong. I inform other girls, that despite what society or your peers say, as long as you love you, that’s all that matters.
Eventually the medication started to work and the pain of the acne went away. It comes back every now and then but I don’t mind because it will never be as bad as it was. I still put on my make up before I see my parents in the morning just so they won’t comment on how bad my skin looks.
When I left school and started college I left that part of my life behind me. I began to feel good about myself again. I used to think that nobody would ever accept me for the way I am. That was until I met a boy who accepted my insecurities and flaws and saw me for me when nobody else did. I couldn’t understand how he could find me attractive, especially my body. I would flinch whenever he would go to touch my stomach in fear he would see or feel the marks. He told me that in his eyes I was perfect, that my personality was what really attracted him and that everything else was just a bonus.
I started climbing outside again at the end of March 2010. It was a huge risk, but I finally went. I lived the climber’s dream of living on the road in my van. I climbed at various climbing destinations across the country for the next nine months. But, before I climb with anyone new, I have to give a disclaimer. I tell them about my accident and explain that because of my injury, I am at serious risk if I get hit again. If something does happen, all my brain scans are in a flash drive that lives in my pocket.
The traumatic brain injury almost killed me. Even though it happened six and a half years ago, I deal with the effects of that accident everyday. Accidents happen. And what happened to me does not have to happen to you.
I honestly would not trade my imperfections for anything. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Sometimes you have to look on the bright side of things and say it could be worse.
I’m now at a point in my life where I’ve accepted my insecurities. Appearance isn’t always everything. It’s what’s underneath that counts.