My name is Alan and I’m here to tell you about my experience with severe acne as a teenager.
Right, I’m 15 and I’m doing the usual things a teenager would do; drink 4 cans on a Friday night after school and generally mess about without getting into too much trouble,I never caused any harm. I was heavily involved with pirate radio stations in Cork throughout my teens. I’v been on them all. A ”radio whore” if you like, and never did the phrase ”a face for radio” become more relevant in my case.
My first experience with acne was the usual couple of red spots dashed about the chin and cheeks, pretty normal for a teenager so I thought. I had been asked to DJ on ”Kiss FM” which in Cork in 2007 was a big deal, lots of listenership and followers. At 15 I felt privileged to be on Kiss at such a young age. Here’s a selfie when they weren’t known as ”selfies”…
Around this time I had also fallen for a girl I had been checking out on Bebo who lived up the road from me(How creepy does that sound?) Sarah. I won’t lie I was addicted to her from the moment I laid eyes on her, ”a beauty.. WOW!” I remember thinking. I made it my mission to ask her out, and I did. So all is going well, I have a beautiful girlfriend, good friends & DJ’ing on a major radio station in Cork. I felt lucky, and I was.
The usual spot here and there still came and went, I didn’t take much notice as again I thought ”this is normal”, but that all changed on a Sunday morning in February ’07. I remember it well, the brother and his then fiance were over for the usual Sunday visit. I came downstairs to say hello. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t help but notice this unusual lump on my left cheek, not like the normal red spots I had been getting. ”What the fuck is that?” I remember saying and asking the family, we didn’t know. I presumed it would go away in a few days, little did I know it would get progressively worse.
It was actually a cyst, which didn’t take long to show itself and invite a few of it’s cyst friends to enjoy the party on my face. I remember my mother always saying to me ”Alan, you have the nicest skin” , I think the bitch cursed me!
So we made an appointment to see my GP, nice guy, I always got on well with him. He looked and said it was ”unusual alright”. He prescribed some tablets and a lotion called ”Zineryt” which I was to rub onto the affected cyst. I only had 1 or 2 cysts at this stage.
Needless to say these didn’t make any difference and it became a lot worse. The doctor then prescribed other tablets which proved useless also. He then suggested I make an appointment with a dermatologist who had the power to prescribe the only medication that would probably work ”Roaccutane”.It had been linked to several suicides so it would only be prescribed in the most severe cases. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford private medial cover so I was placed on a waiting list for ”Medical card” holders. Now, the problem here was that medical card holders had to wait a number of months to been seen by the dermatologist. I was given a date…..8 months away. I had seen how worse it had gotten in a few weeks, God knows what it will be like 8 months ”for fuck sake” sprung to mind.
So it’s late March and my face was starting to get very unattractive. The cysts/spots didn’t settle on my face, they also spread to my shoulder area and eventually my chest becoming quiet painful. I kept going on as normal, I had no choice but to wait. One evening I’m out socializing with friends and I get a phone call from my eldest brother James, ”Alan, I’m collecting you now and bringing you to the hospital” he said , ”Ok” I said. We took a trip to the accident and emergency. I’m guessing the reason he did it was he couldn’t bare to see my face get so bad and nothing really being done to help it. It’s quiet strange thinking back that I went to accident and emergency because of acne, but I’m glad we did. We met this Asian doctor who had a look at me. There wasn’t a whole load he could do, or could he? I noticed some scarring on his face suggesting to me that he had acne at one time. Eventually with slight hesitation he prescribed Roaccutane (which was unusual my GP later told me), the medication I would of been waiting 7 months to get if I waited for my dermatologist appointment. Maybe the doctor felt sorry for me? I didn’t mind. I never really thanked my brother for bringing me up, but I’m very thankful. I couldn’t imagine what it would of been like in 7 months.
I was told it would get worse before it got better, and it did.
Strangely enough in school it didn’t really affect me. I was by no means ”an academic”, quiet the opposite. I was the class clown, the guy who just wanted to make everybody laugh and have a good time. Nobody really talked about my skin in school, at least not to my face which I didn’t mind. I never missed a days school over it, I was however suspended but that was because I missed detention about 10 weeks in a row!
I was very lucky to have a great girlfriend who stood by me through it all. It must of been tough for her at times. ”Were only together 3 months and this shit happens, just my luck” I remember thinking. I know it would of been very easy for her to have left me for another guy and I don’t think she’ll ever know how much I appreciated that. It was very much a case of beauty and the beast. I had also a good group of friends which didn’t really talk to me about my acne, I preferred it this way. My family were also supportive and helped me with whatever I needed.
So It’s late April and like the doctor said ”it would get worse”, and it did. For my 16th birthday Sarah wanted to go out on a date somewhere, but I didn’t really want to be out and about in public too much so I suggested the cinema. ”Its nice and dark in there, nobody will see me” I thought.
I had been wanting a summer job badly. The year before I had worked in the local fun fair which arrived every April, I had the job for 2 weeks. I knew I would see a lot of people and get a few strange looks but I tried not to think about it. I went down and what job did I get? the fucking ”Mirror maze”, yup, I would have to see myself constantly. I remember the boss looking at me and saying ”it looks like someone threw acid in your face”, he didn’t mean to sound nasty but that’s what it looked like in fairness, I laughed it off and carried on.
Through these couple of months it really started to test what kind of person I was emotionally. I was always a fairly emotional person but tried to hide it at times. I remember constantly thinking ”Why me? why me? WHY FUCKING ME, why not someone else?” , that thought playing over in my head most days. I just wanted to look like a ”normal person”. My confidence was at a minimum and felt like shit most days. I would hide it well but I did cry to myself in my bedroom a lot. I would constantly Google ”bad acne before and after pics” in the hope that I would find someone as bad as me. I guess it would offer me hope that eventually it will go away. I think if I didn’t have Sarah things might of been a lot different. She was happy to be seen with me, gave me compliments, told me she loved me everyday and as I sit here typing with tears in my eyes thinking back she was almost my savior. I’m not gonna say I was suicidal but the thought did enter my mind a few times but I quickly got rid of it, I wouldn’t have the balls to do it anyway. In a strange way, I got the good and the bad in 2007, I got horrible cystic acne everywhere which would affect me for a long time, but, I also got the girl of my dreams which would help me forever, I can’t thank her enough.
I would wake up some mornings with my face swollen, as if I were after being in a ring for 12 rounds with Mike Tyson. Throughout the day the swelling would gradually go down.
As the weeks passed eventually I did start to see improvements, this is week 15 of the treatment, early July..
Finally, I started to have more hope that I could look more like a ”normal person”, the lumps went down slightly but the redness was still there, I didn’t mind at all, just happy to see improvements. I had been warned about certain side effects related to Roaccutane (depression,tiredness,change in mood, muscle pain etc). My hip joints were in pain for a few weeks, to the point I couldn’t walk properly but once my face was clearing up I didn’t mind. The word ”depression” gets thrown around too often, I wasn’t depressed but defiantly felt down, slightly pissed off at world, but through it all I maintained a positive attitude. I remember when it was at it’s worst thinking ”there’s kids dying of starvation in Africa, you’ll be grand” or ”people have cancer, that’s a lot worse”. I would try to see the positives, what else could I do? It’s a trait that has served me well. I know there are some people out there who weren’t as lucky as I was; didn’t see an end in sight, didn’t have an amazing girlfriend to pick them up when they were feeling their worst. I can’t imagine how bad that might feel.
So as the summer passed and a new school term approached I started to see major improvements, here’s late August..
I was nearing the end on my treatment, months filled with highs and lows, I felt more confident, stood in for more pictures and was generally a lot happier. Here’s a pic from summer 2008, I wouldn’t of dared take a picture the year before! Take a look at that beauty, a gift from God. Sarah’s not bad either 😛
I visited my GP about a year ago for a general check up and we talked about my acne and he said ”Jesus, in fairness you dealt with it very well” , to which I replied ”I did I suppose, I think if everybody got it people would see things differently and be less self obsessed, It’s shaped me well” , He giggled and said ”Your probably dead right”.
As a society we have become so obsessed with looking like airbrushed models on magazine covers we forget about true beauty. I’m not saying I’m glad I got severe acne and it’s ”made me a better person”, no way, It was horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it does wake you up slightly. Don’t get me wrong I am still conscious of how I look still to this day, I try to dress well and look my best. I looked like The Elephant Mans long lost brother for long enough!
So 7 years on and it’s still fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday, I still get the odd spot here and there, I don’t mind once they don’t over stay their welcome.
I guess one of the reasons I decided to write this blog was to give people an insight into what it was like. The main reason is to offer some hope to people suffering severe acne right now. I’v had as worse as I’v seen and it went away.
If I could give any advice simply I would say; stay positive, stay strong, no matter how bad you think you have it, someone always has it worse. Scars fade. It’s tough facing it all but you’ll get there in the end.
Thanks for reading,