My story about Acne
Amy Chen

About Amy’s Acne

Amy’s story is more common than she may realize. I am old now, a retired physician, and through most of my young and adult life I had a variation of acne called cystic acne, requiring me to overcome intense feelings of embarrassment, self consciousness, and shame. Imagine being a medical student and having several gigantic, painful, inflamed nodules on your face at the same time you have to spend your day getting face to face with people to look in their ears, nose and throat, or stand right in front of them speaking confidently about health while your skin is displaying your own unhealthy appearance. Since that time treatments have been developed to gain good control of acne, even severe cases, although the cost includes taking powerful and potentially dangerous drugs. Individual acne lesions like the ones that used to appear on my face out of nowhere like a punishment from the heavens (get the flavor of a young person’s psychological reaction to the disfigurement of acne?), can almost always be treated and reduced quickly with injections of cortisone or other acne surgeries, but most people do not have easy enough access to a dermatologist for this kind of care. Antibiotics and topicals are useful, but severe acne, the psychologically damaging kind, requires intense and serious treatments like Accutane. And in my mind there is no question that the psychological and emotional cost of severe acne, as described by Amy, justifies that kind of attention to the problem. When I come upon a young person with terrible acne I always want to go right up to them and tell them I understand what they are going through, not to despair, that there really is effective treatment possible. In a functional health care system that treatment would be readily available, so our young people would not have to suffer the difficulties Amy describes so well.

On the brighter side, though, I have a hunch that Amy has had an opportunity to develop compassion for others going through life bearing a level of day to day disfigurement that most people do not ever have to deal with, and that may even extend to those with painful shyness stemming from other reasons. Insofar as one’s life goals include the development of compassion and empathic understanding, acne could actually turn out to be a kind of head start on that journey. It was for me.

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