- I have vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder that causes my blood vessels to swell.
- This leaves me with painful lesions on my body, dark circles on my eyes and swollen face and feet.
- I used makeup to hide my condition, and when I stopped, my skin improved a bit.
Painful red and purple lesions on my arms and legs. Dark circles under my eyes. Swelling in the face and feet. These are some ways in which my vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder which causes the blood vessels to swell, is visibly manifested in my body.
In the grueling year and a half leading up to my chronic disease diagnosis and some time later, I used an endless amount of make up to cover these signs that he was not physically well. There was something very wrong with my health, a painful mystery that affected every day of my life. Not everyone needed to know that.
Covering my skin made me feel like I was burning
I felt this pressure to hide the fact that I was very sick from strangers and people I barely knew. I used a lot of cheap drugstore concealer to try and hide my hives and how tired i must have looked to everyone around me. Maybe physically I looked better to people passing me on the street, but the makeup made my skin feel like it was burning even more. Being diagnosed with a rare disease a year and a half after the debilitating symptoms began meant that I couldn’t easily find people who shared the same experiences as me.
Research has shown that people with Cutaneous manifestations of health conditions often face stigma. This stigma shaped how I presented myself and, on some days, even whether I wanted to leave my apartment. I didn’t want people to look at me. I didn’t want people’s judgmental looks to make me feel worse than I already did. Then, when COVID-19 hit the United States and I was stuck inside, it hit me: I no longer cared about mustering the energy to not look sick. I could use what little energy I have (severe fatigue is a common symptom of vasculitis) for other parts of my life.
I trashed my makeup
Other than some eyeshadow, lipstick, and mascara, the rest of the makeup went to waste. While some people with chronic illnesses may like to wear makeup as a form of self-expression, I used mine to hide it. I had always been more of a “clothes to express myself” person. The culprit for this was that I was a costume designer for my high school theater company. While my clothes have pretty much been the same since I developed vasculitis, I’ve also stopped wearing high heels.
Besides the dark circle under my eyes, the rest of the noticeable physical symptoms of vasculitis come and go in waves. My way of dealing with it, trying to hide them, didn’t have to be like this. Especially a coping mechanism that created more problems for my symptoms.
Although my change in the way I viewed my appearance was dramatic for me, in some ways, I still follow the norms of society. A April 2022 study by the consulting firm Kantar found that weekly makeup use fell by 28% between 2019 and 2022. People have a variety of reasons for wearing less makeup. Perhaps the cost of buying the latest celebrity sponsored makeup kit is too high. Or mascaras ruin our lipstick anyway, so what’s the point?
My initial reaction to clinging to trying to disguise my skin problems also stemmed from the fact that no one tells you how to properly live a life with a chronic illness after you’re diagnosed. Some people hope you never bring it up again. But that’s impossible if your chronic disease is visible, either all the time or part of the time.
Ironically, in my attempt not to worry about the skin manifestations of my vasculitis, it actually got a bit more controlled. It turns out that putting a bottle full of cheap white-out in the hives was not a good idea. These changes occurred along with medication management. Twice a day, I take a medication called colchicine, which is traditionally used to treat chronic gout, but also helps with some forms of vasculitis. Some symptoms, including chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and brain fog, are with me on a daily basis. But at least my skin doesn’t feel like it’s burning.