The curious and disarming nature of a little white spot.

Yesterday I delivered an arrangement to a house in Canton for work. I normally don't do delivery; I'm deathly afraid of driving the company van. But since this delivery was an early one, I just took it with my own car. Upon arriving and going up to the front door, I had to ring the bell twice. Thinking no one was home I was walking back to my car when I heard the door open behind me. Turning, I immediately said, "Oh, you're home! I'm so sorry, I hope I'm not bothering you." I proceeded to meet the woman and children at the door.

She was a grandmother, and a loved one at that; she was probably in her 70s and had three grandchildren peeking through the door: two girls, and one boy. In a quiet voice that came through a smile she explained to me that they had been on the back patio and had trouble hearing the bell ring. I handed her the arrangement, which I myself had cut, put together, and wrapped, and asked her to sign my delivery receipt. It was then that I noticed her eldest granddaughter, perhaps around 8 years old.

Her vitiligo was alarming. It traced over her cheekbones, her neckline, her arms, and her small, thin legs. Other than her brilliant white patches she had a lovely dark skin tone. I noticed her tilting her head at me as I was handing the receipt to her grandmother - extended in my right hand. On the underside of my right forearm you'll find the most prevelant evidence of vitiligo I have. Noticing her noticing me, I jerked back slightly, and then looked her in the eyes.

"I have that, too!" She beamed at the sight of my arm. I barely knew what to say, but her smile and confidence were infectious.

"I can see that. It just makes us extra special."

I took the receipt, thanked them, and went back to my Dodge.

I was born with the chronic skin disorder referred to as vitiligo, a visible, painless, and physically harmless condition that is thought to affect only 1% of the entire world population. The cause of the disorder is unknown, although it is speculated to be something autoimmune, genetic, or viral. No one in my family history (that we are aware of) has had the condition; because of this, it is also speculated that my three months of prematurity at birth may have been a factor. My case of vitiligo is interesting, as are most: I most likely have what is called vitiligo vulgaris, unsegmented patches on various and random points of the body. As of today, August 4th, 2010, I have three main areas of skin depigmentation: the underside of my right forarm (and one patch on the underside of my upper right arm), the lower left side of my torso, and very small patches on the insides of each thigh. These last patches, I think, are new.

That last sentence is probably the most horrifying personal thing I've realized in the past ten years.

When I was between the ages of five and ten, I tried sun therapy on my arm. I have fuzzy memories of laying on my front lawn on a soft blanket, eating the accordian french fries that came from the microwave. When I was in junior high, I tried localized tan lotion therapy; this made the skin around the patches dark and orange and generally stupid-looking (it faded with time, like a spray tan). In high school I tried topical treatments on the existing patches. Nothing caused repigmentation, but nothing hurt, either; up until today, I had not have had any new patches appear since I was about 7. I spent my entire adolescent years essentially vitiligo-free, and fairly confident in myself and my looks. I thank God or whoever the powers-that-be are daily for having felt beauty at a young age. In comparsion to so many other people with vitiligo, I am beyond blessed. I currently have no patches on my face, neck, shoulders, or even my legs. I'm lucky. Seeing that young girl yesterday - with a worse case of vitiligo than I've ever known - made me realize that yet again.


Today I noticed two new spots that I had only noticed before once or twice. On those one or two occasions, I dismissed the marks; I thought that they had always been there and I had just not cared. Today, I noticed them again, and they each appear larger. I also noticed a very small white dot on my midsection, one that I feel I have truly never seen before.

The nature of vitiligo is strange and confusing. Forgive the crass comparison, but it really is something like a cancer; it spreads without warning and most often without your own knowledge. You feel like you have a complete lack of control over your body, and like the one thing you really, actually have - your own self - is lying to you and hiding things. It can come into your life at any time - at birth or at 40, it doesn't matter - and it can come and go as it pleases. It abides by no schedule. For 21 years, I've lived with this "disorder" that I've had to explain to people. I got made fun of when I was younger, but who didn't? I've had to go to dermatologists and be told there's nothing I can really do. Since I was a kid, I've felt confident and comfortable in my own skin, vitiligo or not. I've felt special and unique to be in something of a remission, thinking that maybe the condition had died out.

Everybody's got something. Sometimes it's a sickness, other times it's a birthmark. It might be an odd vocal tick, or perhaps something more deep, more mental. My something is a collection of white patches of skin on my already fair-skinned body. And now, this disorder is deciding to rear its head in my direction again, just after I recognize my luck. It could be worse - I could be paralyzed, unable to see, unable to speak, something more than an appearance flaw. But for some reason, this feels like the worst diagnosis I can imagine. People with vitiligo are constantly aware of their looks and how people are viewing them because of the strange nature of the skin. I fear it spreading to my face; I fear my wedding day. I fear so much because of something I literally can do nothing about. I feel heartbreakingly and intently connected to that little girl, to people like Michael Jackson, to the pianist from my old choir. We have this unspoken bond.

Count your blessings, your illusions of perfection. Take care of those who are sick. Try not to judge people for what they can't change. If you see someone with vitiligo, please, smile at them. They may be more insecure than you could ever be.

I know this doesn't really say anything or conclude anywhere. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm scared. I'm really, really scared.

-amk.