R is for “rosacea”

by mollykl

A very sweet girl I work with had a reaction to something and ended up with a rash on most of her face. In addition to being painful, she was also mortified and when I saw her she said, “it’s what people see, you know what I mean?”

To which I stuck out my hand and replied with a laugh, “Hi, apparently, we’ve not met.” That at least got her to laugh for a moment.

I’ve considered calling in sick to work because I couldn’t bear to face people. I’ve avoided looking in mirrors or any reflective surfaces.  When my face is bad it is actually very painful. I will wake up in the night because the ibuprofen I took before bedtime has worn off and the pain woke me up. I’m pretty sure people at work have thought I’ve had a bad attitude for the past couple of months, well, guess what, I do. I’m in pain every fucking minute of every fucking day. (Oh, and then I get to go to work with people with gorgeous clear skin, which doesn’t exactly help matters).

What I have is technically called “acute inflammatory rosacea”. Oh, you have rosacea and you blush? Come here and let me punch you in the face. My face swells, turns red and splotchy and develops what are disgustingly known at pustules. Yeah, now you know why I don’t like to face people.

I’ve had to stop wearing contact lenses because in addition to my face, the rosacea has affected my eyes and I’ve got scar tissue that rubs the contacts. (So now I have bad skin and glasses again…it’s just like 8th grade!)

I’ve cut way down on dairy, coffee and gluten. I do yoga and workout. I drink lots of water, eat vegetables and take enough fish oil supplements to destroy the Alaskan economy. I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve spent on skin care over the last few years. Fancy, plain, homemade, tech-ed out. You name it I’ve tried it.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be so frustrating if there was a reason behind it. Doctors don’t even know what causes rosacea, just that there are certain triggers, and the triggers are different for every person. Stress, sun and alcohol (specifically red wine) are the three top triggers for people. Seriously? Hell, I need the alcohol just to help me forget what I look like. And sunscreen? I currently have five, count ’em, FIVE bottles of sunscreen just in the downstairs bathroom. We go through it so fast that we now buy it at Costco in multi-packs. (Bonus geek points to anyone who just read that sentence and thought “multi-pass”).

So here are few helpful tips for you should you encounter people who look, well, like me (sadly, all of these examples are taken from actual experiences):

1. Do not say, “wow, your skin looks really bad” WE KNOW. All we are thinking is that your mother did a terrible job raising you, that you would say something so horrifying to a complete stranger.

2. Do not ask, “were you in a fire?” No, I was not. And furthermore I know people who have been in fires and are terribly scarred and they are much better people than I would ever hope to be, because unlike myself, they have managed to rise above the petty concerns of what their skin looks like.

3. Do not tell the person checking out your groceries “I’m not sure I want you handling my food”. Rosacea is not communicable. And I got news for you lady, I’m up here checking to help out the front end, I don’t need to be insulted while doing it.

4. If your child says, loudly, “Hey lady what’s wrong with your face?” instead of ignoring him, you might want to take this opportunity to let him know this is not polite. This is actually an upside to my rosacea – son J thinks this is normal and so when faced with people with scars or skin conditions thinks nothing of it.

5. Remember the phrase “there but for the grace of God”, because, since we don’t know what actually causes rosacea, it could turn out that being a smug bitch is that missing link in rosacea research. Actually, that would explain a lot.