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Mental Health

A Thank You to the Disease that Destroyed My Confidence

It’s the season of change, so I thought I would reflect on one of the biggest changes in my life this year. Many of us can relate to the constant struggles of self-acceptance and maintaining a sense of confidence. I’ve been through the waves of feeling down about myself, but I always found a way to feel good about myself again. I was not prepared for how intensely a chronic disease diagnosis would affect me.

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with Lichen sclerosus (LS), which is a chronic inflammatory disease accompanied by plaquing, thinning, whitening, and tearing of the skin. More often than not, the disease occurs in the genitalia of women. I understand that this conversation is deeply personal and not for everyone, but I will not be going into many physical details here. I think that the emotional struggles of chronic disease need to be shared. Additionally, this disease is never talked about, and I want anyone else struggling with it to know that I empathize with you because I know the ramifications and daily hardships.

After my diagnosis, I went through a period of disbelief because my concerns were finally confirmed, despite how much I wanted to be wrong. Eventually, I had to clarify my thoughts well enough to begin rigorous treatment to help reduce the severity of my condition, but I could hardly process what was going on. I cried a lot during this time. I knew it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to me, but I was thinking about all the ways LS would change my life. 

I had recently gone through a breakup with a long-term significant other, so one of my first concerns was how I was going to date again. Given that the disease affects some of the most intimate regions of the body, I had thoughts of who would even want to be with me with such a visibly damaging condition. I also learned very quickly that my skin was so fragile that I had to be very careful in general, let alone considering how another person could hurt me. I couldn’t think of how I could ever bring this up to someone I was interested in. If I was able to, would it scare them off? The disease is not contagious at all, but that is the first thought everyone has when I open up about having LS. Now, almost 6 months later, I still don’t have the answers to this question I asked myself, but I can say that it is less significant by the day. 

I owe Lichen sclerosus a thank you for destroying my confidence. I placed way too much emphasis on physical aspects determining my self-worth. Such a personal area of the body was ravaged by disease, and my confidence plummeted. Eventually, I had to really introspect and ask myself why this one health issue was so emotionally difficult for me, and it was because I was afraid of what others would think about me with the condition. I started asking myself, is someone really worth my time and energy if this is the part of me that matters most? How much would they actually care for me if they were inconsiderate regarding the pain I experience from LS? I already knew the answers, but asking myself questions like this accomplished something greater. 

The way I feel about myself has changed drastically. The confidence I have built up is so much more substantial than before. I am confident because I am intelligent, hardworking, kind, funny, and have high goals for myself. I am not saying physicality does not matter, but to me, it no longer holds the weight it did before. I am more than my disease, but it is a part of me that is staying with me for the rest of my life. It does not make me ugly, less of a woman, or a bad future partner for someone. These are all things I thought about myself initially, but they are so nasty and harmful. In all honesty, reflecting on my physical condition now, it’s really not that noticeable–not that it matters. I’m dumbfounded when I think about how I was ever conditioned to feel that way about myself.

Whether you’ve experienced something in your life that makes you reevaluate your perceptions of yourself or not, I encourage you all to consider all of the amazing things about who you are as a person. Just for a moment, stop dwelling on the physical parts. I promise you that they don’t belong on the pedestal we put them on.

Hello! I am a Forensic Psychology Major with Minors in Criminal Justice and Sociology. I am the secretary for Sexual Assault Awareness Team and am involved in STEP and Psychology Club at St. Ambrose University. In my free time I enjoy painting and embroidering, being a dog mom, and spending time with my friends!
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