by Alisha Archibald, as told to Kendall Morgan
I first realized I had Vitiligo in 2014. I was getting ready for work—about to walk out the door—and while brushing my hair, I saw a small white spot on my hairline. It was on my forehead, about the size of a dime. I thought, “I don’t think I burned myself with a curling iron.” I caught him, and he didn’t go away. I knew right away what it was because my grandmother had vitiligo. I’ve been gone 10 years ago, but my thoughts went right into it.
At first, I didn’t do anything about it. I was afraid to deal with it. I was in denial, perhaps, and thought maybe it would just stay one place. But within a couple of months, I started noticing other places. I started checking my body everywhere. I thought of my grandmother and how she hid herself. At that time, people did not know what Vitiligo was. They will stare. They had never seen models with vitiligo like we’ve seen now.
It took me two years before I finally went to the doctor. By then, the spots had spread. I was putting on more makeup to try to cover it up. Some of my relatives started asking me why I didn’t go to the doctor. They have heard of methods that can be reversed or slowed down. The vitiligo was spreading on my face. I decided it was worth a try to see a doctor and see what can be done.
The doctor was helpful. She explained that there is no cure, but that there are treatments that may slow it down. There have been cases where people have recovered some of the dye. I listened and decided to give it a try. She gave me two topical creams and also got injections once a month, including a steroid. Within a month, I thought I was starting to see where my skin tone had returned a bit. I later learned that it wasn’t a good idea to continue taking steroids long term; There can be side effects, so I stopped after about 5 months.
Going to the doctor helped me take control. It helped me at a time when I felt like I needed more confidence. The doctor has given me more knowledge. I have accepted vitiligo now. I’m not getting treatment right now, but I know I have that option. Medicine is science and there are new treatments for Vitiligo on the horizon.
Self-acceptance is ultimately what is most important. You have to keep your encouragement. There will be days when you don’t feel confident. In those times, it’s a good idea to rely on those around you who can encourage you when you can’t encourage yourself.
It helps me to be around others with vitiligo. I started a group called So Rare They Stare here in Athens, Georgia. I created this group to educate others about Vitiligo and to encourage Vitiligo sufferers. It helps to surround yourself with like-minded people. I have always been a positive person. When I’m around negative people, I try to turn it around and focus on the positive.
I started to see the effect of the group I started within the first few months. For example, a senior lady in the group has been applying makeup to hide vitiligo for over 30 years. She told me she cried because she went out for the first time in shorts and no makeup on her face. If I can help someone to be okay with themselves, it means a lot.
In my community people know me. Sometimes I forget that I have vitiligo. I want to continue to do more to educate and encourage people so that we see more people with vitiligo.
When I was a child, my grandmother didn’t want to go out of the house. We know that vitiligo does not harm our bodies, but it can harm psychologically. I hope people find something that works for them – whether it’s a support group or medication – to help them walk out the front door. this is the most important.