Once, when I was about 16, my paternal grandfather cupped my chin in his hands, looked into my eyes, and said, "One day, your skin is going to clear up, and some young man will see how beautiful you really are." Looking back, I kind of want to smack him, but that day those words felt like a ray of damn hope. One day, I might not have to feel like I should hide my face. One day, someone could look at my face like it was nice to see.
A couple of months later, I was no closer to being lovable, as far as I was concerned. One entire side of my face had become so infected with pimples that I woke up in pain if I rolled over while I was sleeping. Panicked, I went to the doctor, a young woman who must have only been about 10 years older than me. She grasped my hand in hers when I pulled back my curtain of hair to show her my purple left cheek.
"Who did this to you?" she said.
She lowered her voice and looked me in the eyes. "Was it a boyfriend?"
My pimples had bruised my face bad enough that a medical doctor thought I had been beaten up.
"What? NO. This is acne. It's gone all crazy."
When I told her that, she looked closer to see the zits through the bruising, and then she said the least reassuring thing I had ever heard from a doctor up to that point: "I have never seen anything like this."
She gave me a prescription for heavy antibiotics and a topical ointment that smelled like burnt match heads, wished me the best, and told me that there was nothing beyond this she could do without a specialist for acne vulgaris. That's right. I had acne vulgaris. It was literally vulgar, and my doctor didn't say it should get better within two weeks. She didn't say this is the first line of defense, and we'll try something else next time. She said things like who hurt you and good luck.
I spent the next two weeks nauseous from the antibiotics and smelling like hellfire, but it was worth it. Despite that doctor's noticeable horror and consternation, my face started to heal, and, thankfully, it never got quite that bad again. Phew.
This is where you might expect the story to take a positive turn. Now she's going to tell us she finally got that youthful glow! you're thinking. Sorry about that, but no. No can do. The breakouts never truly went away the way health pamphlets and well-meaning friends and family assured me they would.
As much as my skin issues have gotten better since I was 17, I have had only one or two days since elementary school when I did not have at least one zit somewhere on my face, but it's something I've adjusted to and learned to cover decently well when necessary. I even have phases during which I largely accept the skin I'm in and take little notice of my cycles of breakouts.
I still get those purple, angry cystic ones now and again, though, and when those take hold I know I've got to go to a doctor so I can beat them back with antibiotics. I do this about once a year, and it's the only thing that does the trick.
(I have to stop here for a very important aside. Please don't tell me about tea tree oil, witch hazel, birth control pills, crushed aspirin paste, benzoyl peroxide gel, salicylic acid cream, sulfur soap, toothpaste, green tea extract, detox diets, allergies, menstrual cycles, Retin-A, oil vs soap washes, etc., etc., etc. I'm 42. I've investigated all of it and I've done all of that. I'm good. I'm fine. I'm healthy. I just always have a zit or ten. I'M GOOD.)
I hate actually going to the doctor, though, because I end up having to sit in a mediclinic waiting room full of diseases, so I was thrilled to find out that you don't necessarily need to see your doctor for every little ailment.