#OSGVitiligoDay – My Experience Of Vitiligo By @SueSherman
I also have vitiligo – in my case it started in my 40’s. I had some white patches on the back of one hand and gradually these spread so that I now have patches all over my body. My vitiligo progresses in fits and starts – it will be stable for a while but then I will notice some new white dots and these will then grow larger for a while until it settles again.
For those of you who don’t know, vitiligo is a condition affecting 1% of the world’s population in which a lack or loss of melanin causes white patches to appear on the skin. The precise cause of vitiligo is uncertain in many cases. It can be inherited – if a close relative has vitiligo or a related autoimmune condition such as Type 1 diabetes or thyroid problems, your risk is increased. There is also some speculation that it can be triggered by stressful events and by skin trauma. There is no effective cure and as well as causing physical problems such as an increased risk of the affected skin burning in the sun, vitiligo can cause psychological problems such as depression.
Famously, Michael Jackson had the condition and more recently, the model Chantelle Winnie is a high profile and striking example of a person with vitiligo.
I have got used to the white patches now, used to the lingering glances I sometimes get from strangers and occasionally from friends and used to buying the factor 50 sun cream which I try to wear on my face and hands when I go out on sunny days to protect my skin. However, when I was first diagnosed I was quite distressed – I was in a new relationship and I had no real idea of how the vitiligo would progress – would my face be affected (it is increasingly but less noticeably than elsewhere so far) and would my new partner still want to be seen with me (thankfully, yes!)?
Unfortunately the dermatologist who diagnosed me lacked any element of empathy or any apparent awareness of the relevant psychological literature. She was rather brusque and told me to be grateful I wasn’t black since the condition is far more noticeable on dark skins. While this is objectively true, the lack of acknowledgement of my own experience left me with the impression that I was unusual or self-absorbed to be upset by the diagnosis.