The skin I'm in

Seven stories of being visibly different

Tatti Findlater, 18

I had no-one I could talk to about my burns when I was growing up. I’ve learnt to embrace them now, but before, when I was in high school, I almost took my own life because I was so down.

It was around my eighth birthday and I was at home. A flame from a lighter caught my T-shirt, so I ran to my bathroom and got five basins of water and chucked them on myself. I remember my skin started to feel funny.

I was in hospital for a really long time. I had to remember how to walk again.

It got to a point where I was so fed up that I couldn’t do stuff like I used to do. I missed the normality of things. Now I have definitely got the normality back, but with an extra little bit of sauce!

For me to wear short sleeves was really difficult. Even in the summer, I would cover my arms. But I got to a point where I thought: ‘Why should I cover my arms?’ It doesn’t happen straight away, it takes time. As long as you’re investing time in putting yourself out there, wearing short sleeves, making yourself feel comfortable, it will happen eventually.

For young people, I want to show that it doesn’t matter what you look like. It’s good to be different. Embrace your differences.

Holly Keeble, 18

The doctors say they’ve never seen anyone with a birthmark like this before.

It’s called angiokeratoma, and it’s got bigger as I’ve grown. The doctors want to stop it growing, but they say it’s like a tree - if they put a skin graft on, it will just grow through it.

Only one of my friends has ever seen it. I’ve never wanted to show them.

I’m better now than when I was in school, because I’m not put in situations that make me feel uncomfortable. When I was getting changed for PE, I would be so paranoid that people were watching me. I’d sit out because I’d be too afraid of them seeing my birthmark.

Learning to live with it is the hardest thing. I’m trying to manage it better, talking openly about it so my family understands. I’m becoming a lot more relaxed, but it’s the initial moment when people stare. That’s the worst bit. I’m so aware of it because it’s just so eye-catching. It can be bright red sometimes - it changes colour so much.

I’m undergoing treatment at the University Hospitals Birmingham to relieve the pain I'm in.

14% of people feel uncomfortable seeing someone with a visible skin condition or scar
Ahila Jegerajan, 37

People look, there’s no denying that. I have lesions all over me.

I first got psoriasis when I was 22, first on my scalp. I didn’t know what it was - I thought it was just a dry scalp. But then I went travelling after university, and it kept getting worse. I went to see a doctor in Canada, who told me what it was. By then, it had developed into a lesion.

It’s been a slow spread over the past 14 years, getting worse, getting better, disappearing completely when I was pregnant with my first child. It came back after four months of no sleep, then got significantly worse when I was pregnant with my second child. It got out of control after I had him.

I went on a high dose of medication and it cleared my skin. The downside was the really bad side effects. I used to take the medication once a week, on a Friday, and was groggy the entire weekend. I just thought: ‘It’s just not worth it’. I thought there’s no point in having clear skin if it has an impact on everyone around me.

It has as much importance as I place on it, and it all comes down to me. Skin is skin - it’s just what we make of it.

Now I tend to manage it by managing my stress levels. I run a bath and put in Dead Sea and Epsom salts, and I soak and meditate. This is a huge part of feeling good enough to show my skin.

60% of British people have suffered from a skin condition at some point
Romain Naim, 35

When you get told your face is changing permanently at 33, it’s pretty strange. I noticed small patches here and there, but my doctor said my hair was just going white naturally. When I went on holiday and got a tan, I realised that there was a big difference between the skin around my beard and the rest of the face.

I went to see another doctor, who told me it was vitiligo. Poliosis means my hair becomes white where I have vitiligo [because there is no melanin].

It is unusual; it catches people’s attention. I have seen a real difference in the way people look at me. Sometimes they approach me and ask questions. Sometimes they think I’ve done it on purpose, because it’s a straight line.

At first it was pretty embarrassing, I didn’t know how to respond.

I never used to have to talk to people I didn’t know in the street. Now that I do, it’s a nice way to break the ice. I’m changing. I see people differently.

I could shave my beard, but I don’t because I’m used to it. I have to keep it for the rest of my life - it’s part of me now.

Tina Botley, 50

I’ve always been pretty healthy. I never had spots - even during puberty. So this was quite a shock. It’s known as nodular prurigo, and came out of nowhere.There was an itchiness - really deep down under the skin.

It’s like there’s nothing there. But I itch and itch, and lumps appear. I don't know whether I caused them to appear by itching, or they are there, underneath and making me itch.

The medical line is that there is no cure for it.

There are things you can do to try to alleviate the scratching. I have acrylic nails - they're brilliant. I used to have bandages and special clothing. I even tried cling film.

I joked to the consultant that they should put my arms in plaster, and she actually offered to do that. It had got to that point. But I know I would find something to get down the plaster. When you have an itch, you have got to get to it.

This disease has ruined my life. I am currently signed off work - I just want to hide away. It’s changed me as a person - I've lost a lot of confidence.

The spots are sore and so ugly. That’s the main reason I’m getting a tattoo of roses on my body. To make me feel better. It won’t be on show for everyone else, it will just be for me really, to look at instead of the scars.

Christian Tchidjo, 42

When I was running the restaurant in Cameroon, people sometimes refused to be served by me. Sometimes I felt like giving up. But I thought: ‘I can’t deprive my children of a father’.

My own father decided not to be part of my life because of my skin condition. That was one of my motivations to try to change people's behaviour. I thought I had succeeded until the event that triggered me coming to the UK.

People used to ask for my nails, for my hair [believed to bring luck]. But one evening, when I was coming back from work, I was attacked by three men. You can tolerate being insulted every day, or stopped from doing certain things. But, if you feel like your life is in danger, then that is different.

Apart from the time in detention before I was granted asylum, living in England is nice. The climate is adequate because my skin condition doesn't like sun exposure.

I’ve met people who appreciate me for my potential, rather than judging me by my skin colour.

I have attended some self-esteem workshops here, and now I feel happy about myself. I have made a friend who insisted that I should let my hair grow for the first time. Now I’m happy with my hair. I love myself, I think to be happy within yourself means you can share the love around.

Lydia Westerman, 33

Cushing’s disease has wrecked my body. I put on four stone in nine months, and that was with going to the gym six times a week and not eating much - no carbs. I went from a size 8 to a size 20. It’s something to do with the excess of [steroid hormone] cortisol from the tumour on my pituitary gland.

The stretch marks appeared when I started putting on weight.

My hair fell out and I gained weight in my face. The classic look of someone with Cushing's is a round face, skinny arms, skinny legs and a big stomach with stretch marks. They're very deep purple, because of the high cortisol levels. They're really angry and they change colour. Mine are still a little bit purple.

I’m petrified of being weighed, just in case.

I’m losing the weight, but the first sign of it going back on is stressful. I have to keep getting checked. They don’t know if [the disease] is going to wake up in six months’ time, three years’ time, never.