The Mighty Logo

Why My Rare Skin Condition Makes Me Hide on Halloween

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

Need to take your mind off what you’re going through? Join the Distract Me group on The Mighty.

This time of year is filled with so many incredible things, like pumpkin carving, apple picking, hay rides, trick or treating (although maybe not for some this year) — but for me, this is the only time of year when I hate myself and the way I look.

Let me explain, I was born with a rare skin condition called lamellar ichthyosis. Ichthyosis is a genetic disorder that causes dry skin and scaling due to new skin growing more rapidly and shedding old skin too slowly. The condition is derived from the Greek word for fish. In fact, in some areas of the world, it is known as fish scale or fish skin disease. We also have what I like to call a “broken internal thermometer”. I often vary between extremely hot and extremely cold. People with ichthyosis are at higher risk of infections and overheating. If you think about it, our skin is our largest organ and controls so much of how we feel.

So now that you know a little about me, let me go back to why I hate this time of year. Having a visible difference means everyone notices your disability. They make assumptions, everything from “were you in a fire?” to people thinking I have poor hygiene habits. This is not limited to the fall. However, during the time surrounding Halloween, the comments are definitely more prevalent and uncomfortable. Things like, “Wow, how’d you get your eyes to look like that?” Or “Cool costume, that skin looks expensive” is heard from the singular daily interactions I have with people. It has gotten so bad, there have been many years where I’ve hibernated for weeks until people return to simply ignoring me throughout their day-to-day life. Having to hide myself away and make up excuses as to why I wouldn’t be joining in festivities took a huge toll on my mental health. It took me many years to learn to love myself. At 41, I am still learning every day how my mental health does affect my physical health, but I digress.

Why am I telling you this? I share this now because I want to remind everyone that commenting on a stranger’s appearance is not acceptable, even if you think something is “cool” or you are trying to offer assistance. It might not be what you think it is, and you may be reminding that person of a painful part of themselves. As a parent to two kids with disabilities, one of whom also has ichthyosis, I have had to put myself out there so they do not feel like they are missing out on the experience of Halloween. It is struggle not to pass my own insecurities onto my children. I have built up a thick skin (pun intended), but I am still human.

The truth is, I cannot imagine my life without ichthyosis. The experiences I have had have helped define me as a person, but some days I just want to live my life without my skin being at the forefront of every exchange I have throughout the day. I promise you I have so much more to offer, all you have to do is start a conversation with me.

We as a society put so much emphasis on the way people look. Why? When did we decide that how a person looks determines their worth in this world? Beauty is more than skin deep. I believe it is a person’s mind and soul that makes them worthy. My life has been filled with negative experiences, depression, anxiety, bullying — and I can pinpoint in every case how it started because someone said or did something relating to my skin that made me feel less than. Think about this the next time, before commenting on someone’s appearance. Is it necessary to be said? Do I need to be the one to say it? Am I saying it from a place of love?

Honestly, I’d rather people ask questions instead of staring and assuming. People tend to fear what they do not understand; why is that? As children we are taught that kindness matters and we learn to celebrate all differences, yet when we become adults we often forget simple things like the golden rule of treating others as we want to be treated. So this year, please remember to be kind, and try not to comment on someone’s appearance. You never know what they may be going through.

For more information on ichthyosis, please visit the First Skin Foundation.

This story originally appeared on Medium

Originally published: October 28, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home