The scars we carry with us

Acne by Amy Ng

A lot of people I know have fond memories of being in high school (also known as secondary school to Malaysians).

Not me though. I hated most of it.

I felt alone for most of my time in school. I often felt like I didn’t belong in any particular group. I wasn’t among the pretty girls group, nor was I popular. I wasn’t one of the smartest either. I wore braces and had horrendous cystic acne that threatened to disfigure my face. I woke up almost every morning to the sight of a spotty, bloodied pillowcase – signs that one or a few pimples had burst in the middle of the night. It was painful. If the pain wasn’t caused by the acne, then I was pretty sure it was because of the embarrassment I felt whenever I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

I didn’t look in the mirror for a full year when I first had it. I turned away everything that had a reflection, and was conscious about bumping into anything that might show me what I didn’t want to see. It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill pimple on the chin, or that pink dot on the nose – this was far worse.

Imagine one pimple threatening to erupt on your cheek; a stirring, angry red mound appears. Only it’s not the only one. This slow burning soon-to-be volcano is then joined by another peak that has threatened to form, right next to it. And another. And then another. Within a few day, these few peaks begin to expand beyond their zones, as though reaching out to its comrades in arms in familiar embrace – and form a big giant mass of pimples, pus and cysts that when magnified would seem to look like a scene out of the insides of a volcano.

It was painful. It was everywhere.

More than ever in high school I just wished that I could be like everyone else. I didn’t need the spotlight to be on my face for the wrong reasons – I’d much prefer the spotlight to be on my work. My personality. My skills.

But having cystic acne made me strong. It made me realize that if I were to shine I had to try harder than everyone else, because I didn’t want acne to define who I was (the girl with some sort of disease on her face). And I certainly did not want it to tear my self-esteem – whatever was left of it – into shreds.

I was nicknamed Iron Lady by a teacher who saw how strong minded I could be. I wasn’t afraid to raise my hand to ask questions, and stood up readily to give answers. I challenged the things we were being taught, and I spoke freely. I didn’t want to be known as that girl with acne. I wanted to be known for what I could become. Not something that had taken residence on my face, chewing my insides, and leaving angry bumps that would forever have scar tissue in them. But not only did it consumed my face – it consumed me.

I can still feel the cysts left behind if I press into my skin deep enough.

One day, I sat down on my bed and cried. I told my mother that I couldn’t bear to go on like this – and that there should be a way to help with my condition. I tried everything – antibiotics, a change in diet, changing my sheets, my skincare regimen, pimple creams, everything. I have not seen anyone had it as bad as me (and I still haven’t encountered anyone who has) and all I wanted to do was to stop it from mutilating my face for good. I could hang in there while it runs its course, but what if it didn’t? What if it robbed me of more than just my face? I knew that one day those scars would leave me (hopefully), but what would I leave behind? What if it robbed me of my confidence, or my self-esteem before I could accomplish what I wanted to? What if it robbed me of opportunities? What if it chipped away at my insides until I was just a shell? The world was a harsh place – if high school was anything to go by, the outside world didn’t look that promising then either.

As my meds kicked in over the next few months, it was a relief. No more pains. No more bloody pillowcases. It was an unconventional treatment at the time, but it worked for me. I became a silent crusader against acne ignorance whenever I could. I yelled out at ignorant fools (and very nearly grabbed them by the collar) who kept saying that the fault lies in the sufferers – that our skin was dirty, and that the solution was that we should wash our face more often. If I thought that would help I would have washed it every minute!

And so it is with everything in our lives. We have stories to tell. Of wars waged against others and ourselves. Personal stories that go untold because we think it isn’t important. Oh but it is! Each and every experience that we have is something we have to share – if not for ourselves, then think of the people you can help. Think of those who are at their wits end. It may very well be that their problem might seem small, but to them, it can feel as though the weight of the world are on their shoulders.

Whether it’s a war at home, or at the office, whether it’s a something that’s visible or isn’t, big or small; people around us are embroiled in battle one way or another. Acne taught me to be kind. Because I wished for kindness when I was battling it.

My scars reminds me of that constantly. And I’m ever determined to leave a mark of my own.

What about you? What scars do you carry with you?

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14 thoughts on “The scars we carry with us

  1. Dear Amy,
    Thanks so much for sharing your personal struggle. Your strength is inspiring and makes such an important point: we get to choose what defines us. Thank you for reminding us to share our stories and reach out to one another with compassion. We may find there a wellspring of creativity and joy in making those connections. Thanks for all that you contribute to the creative community!! 🙂

  2. Alcoholic abusive mother embarrassing me everywhere, attacking the friends I tried to make when she was drunk. Absence of father made me the insecure one, the vulnerable harmless one, the one who was eligible for the bullying. I was bullied mercilessly. And a few years later I decided I had to become the bully as the only way to survive. I bullied other kids and now I’m remembered as the bully. The drug addict bully who dropped out every year and came back again the next year. The one who finished highschool when she was 20 years old.

    • You are loved and forgiven -forgive yourself you wonderful amazing loving creature that you are. You are here now–let the past go and embrace the treasure that it has carved out –the treasure that is you.

  3. *Hugs* Amy! Thanks for sharing!

    I too have (literal) scarring, which influenced my art, personality, and social status through school years… and still now, actually! I’ve become much more confident about my “zipper”, so I’ve grown to see it as a gift. It’s not what it is, but how we handle what we were dealt.

  4. Hi Amy!

    Thank you so much for sharing! I have never had good skin. I´m soon going to be 29 and still I have large pores and a little acne. I´ve never taken it into consideration to do anything about it because I was bullied for oh so many reasons from age 3-14, that my skin was hardly the largest problem. But it left me with other scars, social phobias and PTSD. I love illustrating and making art, I have a deep love for animals and nature in general, but humans….I just don´t trust others.
    Which makes close relationships, may it be friendship or a romantic partnership, really hard. I am lonely often, but I know how to handle loneliness better than opening up to vulnerability and being harrassed. The anxiety is just too big.

    It is so helpful to see that others struggle too and everybody has their way of working through challenges and issues. Opening up and not keeping them in the closet is just so helpful to others, so thank you so much for sharing! I bet it helped a lot of people, the way it helped me!

    Many blessings on your day!

    With love,
    Natalie

  5. it’s so awful when we go through traumatic experiences during the teenage years, where there is no empathy or tolerance for anything other than “normal.” you rose above it, and i know it wasn’t easy. and i am very sure you are much more interesting/talented/awesome than any of those that said things that hurt you. i still have acne at age 40, to the point where it will keep me at home on the weekends because i don’t want anyone to see my face, but i know it doesn’t compare to what you went through. thank you for sharing, and know that there are people out there that think you’re beautiful and amazing.

  6. xoxo Blessings to you. And to all of us. It is important to share to remind each other (and ourselves) that we all suffer and that we should always do our best to be kind. Thank you for your inspiring story. You are beautiful!

  7. Dear Amy,
    I always enjoy reading your posts, and often just don’t have time to read all of them; I wish I did. Everyone carries emotional scars and some of us physical and mental scars.
    Your story is an inspiration and I will show it to my 14yr old daughter (who is 15 tomorrow), and who is beautiful and in the full throws of adolescent insecurities and hormonal angst! She is bothered by her skin, and covers up her spots in make-up, which doesn’t help them to heal; I remember doing exactly the same thing at her age. She doesn’t feel beautiful and just wants to fit in, though she wants to shine academically, she is also a very gifted artist I am proud to say. I remember feeling very insecure at high school being one of the youngest and smallest in my year, and found great comfort in my art. If I have a regret, it’s that I didn’t continue to Masters Level when I finished my art degree in London a long time ago. I spend most of my time now in an artistic environment but my in an very uncreative role – hence the need to continue with my own creative work outside of work. You realise how important it is to make the right decisions at the right time, and a lot of that is down to support and advice from tutors, friends and family and someone (could be any of these) who is your inspirational mentor, as well relying on our own abilities to get us to the next stage, because when we graduate we can feel very alone and insecure. I still blame myself all these years later for not being strong enough to make the decision to continue to a higher level at that time, and this has become my emotional baggage.

  8. Dear Amy,

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. Very powerful and courageous.
    I am still figuring out what my story will be, what I want to tell. I know I will find it.

    Also many thanks for your course. It gave me a lot of insights and stuff to work on.

    Kind regards,
    Leonie

  9. Dear Amy,

    I get your posts in my inbox whenever you send one, and must say that you stroke a sensitive chord here! Strength may emanate from a wish and a will to rise above those scars and accept them as part of our identity instead of trying to forget, not see, not feel… and not be. Thank you for being able to share what has scarred you. I used to love drawing, painting, knitting, creating puppets, sculpting, but it seems that my creativity has reached a point that tells me, gently and firmly at the same time : ‘go on, take a deeper look at your past, you need it to move on… and create again. So, turns out I read books about the concept of psychological resilience, which I tenderly advise to those of you who find it difficult to come to terms with events that have “scarred” them, physically or mentally, forever. It isway of moving forward, without turning a blind eye on what really makes us. Thanks Amy! v

  10. Literally i get inspire when i read a stories like this. i really feel my self as i am still at my school life where i was a little guy and faced many scars. that was a learning time and still we are following what we had learn from our past.
    Your story is very heart touching and i will share it every one to read it 🙂

  11. Interestingly enough, I’ve been thinking about my own figurative scars a lot lately. I’m not one who heals quickly from emotional trauma. I still remember the pain of a moment way back in the 5th grade when a girl I thought was my best friend told me she wanted to play on the monkey bars with the popular girls. I carry with me the pain of never being noticed for what I was most passionate about (and honestly pretty gifted in) during my teenage years. I abandoned that passion because no one gave me the reassurance I needed to believe I had any future in it and I felt constantly forced down and stagnant in my abilities. And I feel the trauma of losing a close friend because they were afraid to be kind. Amongst many other things. These were all when I was young and they haunt me. I think about them often and wonder what could have been done or what might have happened without the pain, where I might have gone in my life or what kind of person I might be today…

    But logically, I know it doesn’t matter. Life took the course it took. And I chose to react the way I reacted, even if I didn’t realize at the time the full breadth of my choices. And now I am who I am – and damn proud of it. As much as I’d like to erase these scars, I don’t know where I might be without them.

  12. Oh you brave darling girl. So many scars unseen do I bear. This call to arms–this sharing & daring–have been a cue to me. A challenge. Thank you. I’ve been feeling called to share my own stories but I felt so tired by the prospect. It can be exhausting to live through the experience (in writing) again, right? Thank you for your bravery -for living it and telling it. I admire and honor your grace and strength. Much love –Heather

  13. The teenage years were brutal & high school was a dog-eat-dog world. I certainly never EVER want to relive those years. Even as an adult I still carry that insecure teenager in side me somewhere.

    But Amy, you’re spot on with what you say. Without those hardships, I never would have been forced to reach inside myself and find that determination and tenacity which served me so well in later life. As the older folk would say it’s those kinds of experiences that ‘build character’.

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