I had just turned 13 years old the summer before. It was normal for me to gaze at my reflection in the mirror because I felt I was a pretty good-looking girl. A pageant was coming up and I had given my name to enter the competition. My confidence was high because I had won a previous pageant in first form. When I saw my mouth, it was not so shocking, I thought to myself in a couple of days the white patches would simply disappear.>
Months passed and they did not. The condition worsened. The comment from adults was that I liked too much pepper in my food. I believed that explanation and repeated it for a long time. The day came two years later when that was not a sufficient explanation for me. Everyone I knew had "normal" skin and was prettier than I was. I withdrew into myself. I stopped desiring to be the centre of attention. I wanted to hide from everyone and myself. I secretly hoped that one day I would wake up from this horrible nightmare.
It took me three years to see a dermatologist who explained that the skin discoloration was vitiligo (the American Academy of Dermatology defines vitiligo as a skin condition resulting from loss of pigment which produces white patches). There is no known cure. I was told to prepare for the possibility of the condition getting worse or the pigment reappearing. In the meanwhile I could use treatments to control the loss of pigment. I was shattered and I started to hope and internalise my feelings about my appearance.
Families who have children with Vitiligo should encourage dialogue about their feelings on the disease. Never neglect to ask your child his/her feelings about the change they are undergoing. If the parent is unable to get the child to open up then seek the help of your Dermatologist or a child psychiatrist to encourage dialogue.
It is crucial that whatever feelings your child has toward Vitiligo be dealt with at an early stage. Many of the internal emotional conflicts that I experienced with Vitiligo built up over the years and may have contributed to my struggle with depression.
The process of getting your child to open up to you as a parent will depend on whether or not he/ she feels comfortable to do so. A loving and secure family environment could assist.
Parents should look out for the following behavioural changes in a child with vitiligo;
1 Sibling rivalry; Does your child complain about being left out or ignored by a sibling?
2 Withdrawal often mistaken for shyness
3 Inferiority complex
4 Anger or rage expressed when punished
5 Bullying at school;
These signs could suggest that your child is having trouble coping with the condition and is acting up. He or she may need help to get past this.
Prepare your child to answer questions about vitiligo if asked by strangers or if he/she has to move to a new place or environment. A lack of information about the illness can lead to exclusion from peer group activities especially in elementary school.
There is a great concern for the lack of information about vitiligo. I remember how as a child / pre-teen neither my classmates nor teachers had any knowledge of why my complexion was changing. Let us become knowledgeable about vitiligo and the impact that it has emotionally on persons who have to live with it.
Clordene Lloyd is the founder of the Jamaica Vitiligo Support Foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org