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Rosacea…When Bad Skin Is A Sign of Mental Illness

Rosacea…When Bad Skin Is A Sign of Mental Illness

“Do you have a good dermatologist? I mean a really good dermatologist?”

A female co-worker had pulled me aside, peered grimly at my face and waited for a response. Pride died quietly inside the caverns of my being.

My answer was short. “Yes, I do.”

I continued to work, hoping the subject would drop.

She pushed ahead. “I mean, how long is this going to go on?”

For a moment, I blinked in disbelief. A generous portion of tactless, insensitive gruel had been dropped on my plate.

This woman was unaware of the struggles I faced; antibiotics, gels, creams, and endless doctors’ visits. She assumed a horrendous case of acne was to blame.

It was Rosacea; the manifestation of a deeper, more serious condition…Complex-PTSD.

The National Rosacea Society states that “emotional stress is reported to be one of the most common rosacea triggers.” (emotional stress |

My psyche had raged against my dermis. I was shocked.

I had managed to hide the emotional turmoil for more than a year. Buried deep inside an internal, seemingly dormant volcano, lava had quite literally bubbled to the surface.  Eruption was imminent.

I remained polite, yet tight lipped, when my co-worker pushed the name and number of her “qualified” dermatologist into my hand. I saved the tears for later.

This was not the first uncomfortable and intrusive encounter involving the state of my skin.

A previous visit with my drycleaner had left me embarrassed and deflated. The clerk suggested numerous homemade remedies for my imperfect complexion.  I wanted clean clothes, not unsolicited medical advice.

Complex-PTSD is an illness that can have numerous physical side effects. While outwardly battling visible symptoms, I secretly fought impalpable demons.

Rosacea caused embarrassment. I felt conspicuous and unsightly, especially when my job brought me into public view. I found it difficult to socialize and concentrate as people indiscreetly stared at the lumps and bumps on my fiery red cheeks.

While my pores continued to burst forth one heinous creation after another, my employer prepared for a company-wide award ceremony.

Annual sales ratios had been calculated. My department head called to inform me that I ranked as a “top performer” in the Retail Division.

Forever the master of disguise, I excelled in the workplace. My personal life was an insufferable closet of secret skeletons.

Sales Representatives, belonging to this elite category, would be honored at dinner party in a function hall. An appointment had been scheduled for a head shot, so my photo could be projected on a jumbo screen while I was presented with an award from the CEO.

To quote Alanis Morissette, “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”

Raw, red, covered in painful pustules, cysts, blotches and burst veins, I begged to be excused. I was mortified and refused all photographs. I looked like I had gone ten rounds with a meat grinder.

Although I was allowed to provide my own “pre-rosacea” photograph, the ceremony was obligatory. I showed up, faced my co-workers, gracefully smiled and accepted the award.

Years of denial along with unmanaged, untreated symptoms were finally catching up. Other health problems quickly presented and it became even harder to maintain normal daily routines.  Mentally and physically, I struggled to keep up the charade.

A month later, my doctors would not allow me to continue to work.

My face was sore, swollen and painful to touch but the emotional agony of mental illness was comparatively worse.

Eventually, I stopped caring about my appearance. Depression tightened its’ grip. I was numb to any concern about personal vanity.

I took steps to remedy my skin, but the rigorous undertaking of emotional healing was front and center.

Oftentimes, mental illness is an invisible disease…until it leaches out like infection from a wound. Disguised as other ailments, these maladies are warning signs of deeper, more complicated problems.

The mind/body connection is real. When you are mentally unwell, the physical wiring starts to short circuit.

Today, my rosacea has improved. Seeking mental wellness continues to be a bumpy and treacherous journey, much like an odyssey through a bubbling, cavernous lava field.

Once you accept the disturbance is there, navigating your internal volcano becomes clearer. Magma and ashes are part of the process.  Even after eruptions, the mountain is usually still standing.

And, it helps to have a therapist…I mean a “really good” therapist.

© 2018

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The morning was icy, foggy and treacherous for those setting out on any early commute. I left in what I assumed would be ample time to promptly arrive for my 8:00am doctor’s appointment. As traffic slowed to a crawl and the clock ticked down each minute, I became more and more frustrated that all signs pointed to a late arrival.

I tried calling the receptionist to let them know I would be late but their voicemail recording announced the office was closed and directed me to their off hours answering service. Closed?! It was well past 8:00am. Were they stuck in this mess of cars and ice as well?

My irritation at level 10, I reached the answering service and tersely told the young man I was confused why my doctor’s office was not picking up the phone when I clearly had an appointment and staff should be on site.

He explained that although doctors took early appointments the office did not turn on their phones until 9:00am. He offered to send over a message and explain my delay.

“I don’t see why they should keep their phones off when patients have appointments,” I snapped back.

“So, I’m guessing that’s a yes?” he responded.  “Do you want me to send over the message?”

I immediately felt ashamed. Anxiety and road rage had taken over. I had started the day speaking rudely to someone who was doing their job, someone trying to help.

I simmered down and gave him my name accompanied by an abundance of guilt ridden thank yous. My actions bothered me for the rest of the morning.

After lunch, I sat down for my daily guided meditation. The theme of the day was none other than irritation.

The guide spoke about her own experience with this emotion; one example being negotiations with her Internet provider. When these discussions didn’t go her way, she described the uncomfortable physical feelings that would arise. On the next call, she makes a conscious decision to dis-allow negative reflexes to take over and proceeds in a warm and friendly manner.

Quoting Tich Nhat Hahn, the meditation guides says, “Every feeling is a field of energy. A pleasant feeling is an energy which can nourish. Irritation is a feeling which can destroy. Under the light of awareness, the energy of irritation can be transformed into an energy which nourishes.”

Unfortunately, I had let irritation destroy my interaction with another that very morning. Although I may not be able to control how I feel, I can learn to use the energy from that emotion to control how I react.

Sorry off-peak answering service guy. I hope the rest of your day went well. I feel ashamed I treated you so poorly.

I’m learning to be aware of emotion as it arises and stop the knee-jerk reaction of irritable anxiety.

Sidebar: I had just got my period that day. Meditation? Energy fields? Sometimes the damn hormones win.

©2017 thejitterbug

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What’s Your Mental Illness Avatar?

What’s Your Mental Illness Avatar?

Everyone Has An Avatar

We are all familiar with the cliché depression cloud that haunts sad-faced patients in medication commercials. While this fog of doom is not an inaccurate metaphor of being dogged by unrelenting symptoms of emotional disorder, other images come to mind when I see these advertisements.  There are many types of mental illness and everyone has a different “avatar.”

Describe It

Picturing these inner fiends is helpful.  I can see they are a part of me but not the whole of me.

“A dirty jacket,” I tell her. “One that won’t shake off or come unzipped. It’s a filthy coat of misery causing panic and despair.  I can’t escape its’ rotten grip.”

If this garment were to slip off my back, I would feel exposed, naked, vulnerable…because it hides of lot of wounds and gentle, breakable parts. I have a paradoxical relationship with my unkempt cloak.

Mental health blogs, articles, online resources and books are places I’ve sought knowledge and a community of peers during my journey towards recovery.  I have learned that each individual has a unique expression regarding the form their demons take; some declare a heaviness, like an elephant on their chest. Others refer to the monkey in their brain that never stops his chatter.  There are walls that enclose…stone towers…dark wells with bottomless depths; powerful imagery for a powerful illness.

Different components of one’s illness may also have different avatars.  I know mine do.

Avatars Can Change

For a long time, I could only focus on my dirty jacket. Ah, the jacket! Get it off!

Recently, I’ve thought it over and the dirty jacket “avatar” no longer represents the construct of my illness.

Bark. Dead wood. Grayish brown and rough and thick with ugly warts and scratchy husk.  That’s my mental illness epitome.  I am a dried out branch in an untended garden.  Only now, I’ve realized…I’m the gardener.

The therapy, the rest, the treatments, the searching, the hope and self-care; I’m learning to tend this derelict patch of prickly rigor. And guess what?  It’s not dead.  If I scrape away, and pick and prune the hardness gives way to new green growth with potential and possibility.

Gardening is damn hard work. You’ve got to get your hands dirty and dig deep.  Sometimes I neglect my withering greenhouse.  Sometimes I nurture it.  I’ve reached a juncture in my recovery where at least it’s getting some attention, rather than left to rot and decay.  Every weed I pull is one less weed and every flower blooming is a victory.

What Does Your Mental Illness Avatar Look Like?

My Mental Illness Avatar: Old gray bark hiding tender life inside; not a dirty jacket which cannot be repaired.

Brand your inner turmoil.  Give it shape and form. Weaken the grip of intense power by facing it head on.  I liken this to an exorcism when you call a demon by its’ name.  It must be separated from the host.

What does your mental illness look like? I’d love to hear from you. Participate in the following poll or leave a comment if you have a different image you want to share.

Take good care, The Jitter Bug

What Is Your Mental Illness Avatar?

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