Imagine being out with your girlfriends – the sun is shining, life’s great, you’re having a great catch up – then boom, reality strikes. Your under-arm, that’s been extremely uncomfortable for days has just burst everywhere.
I have a rare skin disease called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). HS is a debilitating, inflammatory skin condition which appears as boil-like abscesses on a large proportion of my body, which sometimes burst.
My girlfriends – being the absolute angels that they are – came to my rescue, handing me tissues and running around to try and help me because they knew that if I moved it would make things considerably worse.
In my peripheral vision, I saw a woman – a complete stranger – glaring at me and sniggerring to her partner. Callously and without remorse or any consideration for my feelings, she looked straight at me and called me ‘disgusting’.
I was hurt and extremely saddened by her response.
But I’m resilient. The lady who labelled me that day has actually done me a favour, she’s helped to make me stronger.
If it wasn’t for her on-the-spot judgment of me, labeling me as disgusting for something I have no control over, I wouldn’t be sat here today writing about my life, trying to raise awareness of the horrendous condition I live with day in and day out.
The disease can range from mild to severe, with the latter meaning there is lots of tracking and tunneling under the skin, leaving constant draining and leakage.
It covers my body from my armpits to my legs, groin, bottom, sides, belly, under my breasts and many other areas.
I suffer from the severe form of it and have done since I was seven-years-old.
My HS wears me down, physically and mentally. It’s exhausting, the severe pain that comes with HS is debilitating and chronic.
There are some days I feel that I physically cannot get out of bed but I will not let my condition define me. Nor will I let that woman’s comments – or anyone else’s for that matter – break my spirit.
On that particular day, instead of approaching me to ask if there was anything she could do to help, that woman sat, stared and made snap judgement without any due consideration for my feelings.
I am not looking for sympathy though.
I truly believe that if I can raise awareness or help at least one person by being open about my condition, then this whole journey I have been on will have been worth every moment.
I would love to put an end to the stigma, the judgement, the embarrassment and the shame. Whatever it is that an HS sufferer feels about their situation and condition.
Sometimes, we live with something that others around us are totally unaware of. As an HS sufferer I struggle mentally to stay positive but I’m determined not to let it take control of my life.
I just make sure I battle even harder to keep a positive mind and enjoy my life.
Being mentally strong isn’t necessarily something that we are gifted with, it’s hard work to tell yourself every day that you are enough. Also to tell yourself you are loved, most importantly by yourself.
It can be hard to look in the mirror, stand tall and repeat those things every day of your life.
It works though. I’ve learned over the years who I am, and why I am like I am.
Yes, I’m a product of my condition but that’s not who I am entirely. I’m much more than the scars that are visible, more than the pain and so much more than the judgment and stigma that comes with being ‘ill’.
Please, if you are reading this whether you are a sufferer or not, whether you might be that person that has named or labelled, always be kind and compassionate.
Be brave, be bold, give love, accept love from others and most importantly love yourself. Beauty comes from within, not the skin we are in. We are all beautiful in our own way.
Elise’s story and battle with HS was filmed for television series The Bad Skin Clinic, which is available to watch on the QuestOD app. You can follow Elise on Instagram here.
Labels is an exclusive series that hears from individuals who have been labelled – whether that be by society, a job title, or a diagnosis. Throughout the project, writers will share how having these words ascribed to them shaped their identity — positively or negatively — and what the label means to them.
If you would like to get involved please email [email protected]
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