The team at Vitiliglow® are huge advocates of maintaining positive mental health and with World Mental Health Day taking place today, I wanted to talk about the mental health implications for people with Vitiligo. It’s no secret that I have struggled with having Vitiligo since I developed my first patches 25 years ago.
Whilst I might be at one end of the extreme (even when I shower at home, I need to rush to cover back up), our good friend and supporter Joti Gata-Aura from Positively Diverse has spent the twenty years since her patches first appeared learning to love her skin and be comfortable showing her patches to the world. There is no right or wrong answer here – your journey with Vitiligo is very personal and you must be comfortable with yourself whether you choose to cover your patches like me or are happy not to cover up, like Joti and my two sons, who also have Vitiligo.
Back in the summer, Joti and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon with Liz Ritchie, a body image therapist and psychotherapist from the mental healthcare charity where I work full time. Liz also supported Little Mix star Jesy Nelson in her award-winning BBC documentary, Odd One Out. Liz wanted to talk to both Joti and I to see how we started off over 20 years ago at the point where we both tried to conceal our Vitiligo, yet Joti has gone through a process of fully embracing her patches and I cannot bear any minute where I’m not fully camouflaged.
We are in the process of editing our discussion and will share the video with you soon, but throughout the afternoon, we talked a lot about self-acceptance and how it doesn’t matter whether you cover your patches or choose not to (or do it sometimes, depending on how you feel). The important thing is that you accept this ‘thing’ that you are given and live your best life. Liz talked to us about the routines I undertake rigidly every day and the ways that Joti took small steps to get out of her comfort zone to fully reveal her Vitiligo.
I felt quite emotional speaking to Liz because I seem to have created this prison for myself where Vitiligo is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing at night. I’ve always felt as though I should embrace my patches and feel comfortable showing my patches, but I just can’t. If I could change one thing in the world, it would be that my Vitiligo would disappear and I could have my normal skin back.
However, my discussion with Liz has led me to realise that it’s actually OK to feel like this. That covering up my patches every day is OK and I’ve come to accept that it’s a part of who I am and the way that I deal with my Vitiligo is actually very healthy. I have made an active choice in my life to cover my patches, because it’s the only way I feel comfortable with myself. And this choice has led me to create Vitiliglow®, so that there’s a product for anyone who wants to cover their Vitiligo which is actually an incredibly empowering and rewarding thing to do. I might feel as though I’m a slave to my Vitiligo, but it’s my choice to be that way and although I’d rather not have the condition, I can’t change it and I’ve learned to accept it.
Liz sent an email through after our session, which was incredibly touching and I felt it important to share her thoughts with you all in this blog, as I hope that it will provide support for others who may find they are struggling a little more than usual:
"I felt very privileged to be asked to contribute to Polly and Joti's story about their personal journey living with Vitiligo, a skin condition that affects around 1% of the population.
On meeting them both, I was immediately struck by their warmth, their passion, courage and empathy for each other and their willingness to share their story and its potential effects on the mental health of those who have this condition.
Both spoke candidly about living with Vitiligo and the effect it has had on both of their lives as well as their families and loved ones. Both have two different stories to tell and both have developed their own coping mechanisms in order to live their best lives, which was discussed during our conversation.
I felt it was very important and relevant for viewers to see Polly and Joti's process of acceptance, which they have both navigated in different, but equally valid ways. It was very emotional but extremely inspiring to be part of a very conversation about body image and self acceptance which were explored with honesty and courage.
I know that Polly and Joti wanted to share their story to inform and support those with vitiligo and it will be very relatable to many living with this condition.
I really felt that the ultimate goal for both Polly and Joti was not only to discuss their individual journey but also to address some of the psychological and social problems that can impact on the quality of life for many who have this skin condition.
I came away from my meeting with these two amazing women full of admiration and respect and humbled to be a small part of their story."
The theme for World Mental Health Day this year is to do one thing to improve your mental health. Given the situation we are all living with across the globe, taking some time out to focus on ourselves and embrace who we truly are is the most valuable gift we can give to ourselves in our life.
Founder of Vitiliglow®