Snehal Relkar

My Victory Against Vitiligo

Snehal was diagnosed with vitiligo, a pigment disorder. At the young of 17 she took up a job to help her family financially. She overcame her fears of judgment and rejection and became socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually stronger. She has learnt to embrace the inner beauty of self.

There are so many vitiligo success stories and I am one of them. I am proud to say that vitiligo no longer holds sway over my life and choices. And I believe this is possible for everyone that has vitiligo. My vitiligo success story is perhaps a bit different than what you might expect. I have had vitiligo for just over eight years now. It has slowly grown to more and more areas of my body i.e. my face, my hands, my legs and my feet.

There was a time when I would not ever where sandals but only shoes that covered my feet. There was a time when I never wore shorts. Until last year, for me going outside was difficult. Facing the world with two skin colours was something I was afraid to do. When I knew about these things were already gone from my hands. As I was born in a poor family we could not afford the treatment. I am not going to complain about circumstances here, because hard work is not only to fight but also to achieve my academic needs, and my each and every need too... I stared working at the age of 17 and paid all the bills of my family’s and my father’s loans. After that I took up two jobs at the same time while persuading a company secretary course and my masters in commerce.

Now I am earning well... What changed? What led to my success with vitiligo? It was one day at a time, deciding that being afraid of the world, afraid of judgement, afraid of rejection was a waste of my time and other people’s time too. I started to face my fears socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. One fear after another was faced. One awkward moment after another was overcome. And there were many. Still more to come I am sure. But I am happy to be able to say that vitiligo is something I rarely think about as something I am afraid of. I am not afraid of more depigmentation. It’s happening. I am losing pigment here and there.

But I am not scared of it to the point where it disables me. In fact it enables me! Vitiligo enables me to see the fiction of cosmetics. The fictions of our socially constructed notions based on beauty and attractiveness. I am able to see myself more clearly than other people. I can see people more clearly as themselves. It’s a thrill to know that sunshine and peoples gazes are sources of encouragement for me. This is my vitiligo success story.

Actually, vitiligo affects the pigment in your skin by causing your immune system to identify your melanin-producing cells as an “invader” and attack, so that the cells either die or stop producing melanin.

The bright side is that there’s no effect on my practical, day-to-day functioning and it doesn’t cause any internal issues other than skin discoloration. What’s the “downside”? Knowing that it’s “just skin”, yet still having to navigate a psychological for the rest of the conflicting emotions that are very real. It is shocking… and frightening… and depressing to see something visibly take hold of your body that you can’t control. And then there are those who minimize this experience because they think it’s “just a superficial thing”…which is an incredibly dismissive position to take when it’s not transforming your body.

What many people don’t seem to understand is what the effect of something like vitiligo can do to your mind: is it will have you questioning your own beauty and value, reconsidering everything you think you know about yourself - deep stuff. From my perspective, developing Vitiligo as an adult is extremely different than having it as a child. I have, in effect, lived an entire life in one skin – childhood, high school, beyond – And of course this is what we’re supposed to do in our lives – grow and shed the skin we come to know as a means of expanding more into the people we’re purposed to become.

But when it’s LITERALLY happening before your eyes? Yikes. It can be a challenge to watch this process unfold and the uncertainty surrounding its progression (not knowing what to expect) used to cause a constant state of anxiety… which did not do much to help my immune system. Those early days were like a merry-go-round I couldn’t seem to find my way out.

I’m grateful this happened in phases – I don’t know that I could’ve emotionally handled losing my pigment any faster than I did. But then I remember what I know is true – that we are always given the specific wings we need for the individual journey ahead. Because literally and figuratively, inhabiting a new skin changes you. I’m not saying that a dis-ease like Vitiligo changes your quality of life forever but yes, it will absolutely change something about your life, especially when it happens to you as an adult.

Whether it’s for better or for worse is ultimately up to you. In my case, it forced me to let go of how I visually imagined my life would be. And if I’m being honest, it forced me to rethink and re-examine who I am.

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