My strategy was to avoid the topic entirely. I find this particularly helpful in awkward social settings,
As such, I find myself expecting a higher level of sensitivity from the people I surround myself with. When I decided to go ahead with the treatment, I assumed that my slight change of face, albeit temporary, would be met with little more than curiosity. The woman told me "mild redness" and the dermatologist promised "a wonderful new change" something that went hand in hand with a wonderful new layer of skin (I now know). My lengthy online search had me scouring through reviews, possible side effects, customer satisfaction rankings and safety ratings. With the promise of a lecturing guest from the US at hand to safely and completely laser my skin to a new glow, a skin to carry me into my thirties, completely free of acne scaring that has danced on and off my face since my mid twenties, I laid down in the chair. A half a dozen dermatologists stood around me as I was subjected to twenty of the most painful minutes of my life, accompanied perfectly to the smell of burning skin. My burning skin.
I let my mind race during the procedure, and at the end made a mental note that ignorance is, in fact, beautiful bliss. Had anyone accurately described the feeling like a staple gun was going to be drilling your face with metal heated up to over 100 degrees, I probably would have been less inclined to volunteer. Even if the service was for free. At the end of the whole two hour ordeal I walked out of the office to my sister, typing away in the waiting room.
She drove me home and I took a quick peek at my skin in the rearview mirror. It was taking on a greyish tinge with the little staple marks - SORRY- profractorated laser marks- making small dots all over my chin and cheeks. The face started the throbbing pain, the pain you feel when you nail your shin on your coffee table in the middle of the night. We got home, she packed some ice around my face. I used my hoodie strings and tied them tight at the bottom of my chin to secure the two bags of ice. If I have ever had a sexy quotient, I am fairly certain that this moment was probably the lowest score of the low. My face, still frozen, my lips, still numb, struggled to chew, swallow and smile. This I was to discover was the least of my 'challenges'.
Waking up on Saturday morning I stumbled to the mirror, expecting to find myself a changed woman. I squinted in the morning darkness and instead fought a rising wave of panic. I look like a monster. The laser has tracked from ear to ear, like someone took a dozen of the fat, red sharpie markers and drew all over the lower part of my face. I am puffy. I am bright red. I am a total mess.
I sit on the floor and have what one might consider a minor breakdown. I was still in the fetal position when Hillary arrived home, aglow from cycling. She propped me up, assured me I was beautiful through my crocodile tears, and made me breakfast. I let the weekend slip through my fingers and then I woke up. The dreaded Monday.
As I prepared for work, my last of three working days here, I was trying to reassure myself. It's not that bad, I said out loud, curling my hair and applying mascara. Gingerly touching my cheeks. A bad sunburn, I said again. I sprayed some perfume. Crossed my fingers. Away we go.
What has happened in the last 48 hours has been a big mess of absolutely wonderful and absolutely awful. I can only juxtapose one with another, making this an amazing experience but also a shattering, humbling one. I have been greeted with stares, gapes, laughs, questions ENDLESS questions: what the hell happened to your face, did you have an accident, are you sunburned, did you have a breakout, are you having an allergic reaction, mommy what happened to her face, are you sick, did you get a face lift, when will you go back to normal, you must be horrified, you must be happy, did it hurt, what are the lasting side effects, and so on, and so on.
I decided early on to be upfront about the procedure. When it became clear that my first thought was NOT going to work (ie: avoidance) due to the transparency of my condition. I adjusted the story slightly for the audience but it is the same, at a basic level. I got a laser treatment, to fix my acne scaring, yes it's red but it will be better, soon I hope.
Amid the stares and raised eyebrows and unspoken words of certain people around me, I have been delighted by some of the other murmurings surfacing. For most women especially I find something particular happens when I use the words 'acne' and 'scaring'. It's as though suddenly I have joined an unnamed, unwritten club where everyone speaks to their own self-perceived down falls. Since Monday I have heard confessions of stretch marks, grey hairs, uneven limbs, crooked teeth, unloveable freckles and even, yes, a breast enhancement. The old saying, misery loves company, speaks well to this predicament. My current highly noticeable condition, when I explain it lights an 'ah ha!' in other people, that I wanted to fix a part of myself I don't love. As someone typically plump full of self confidence and self efficacy, the lengthy battle with my skin has been a trying and mostly private one. Until you get your face stapled, then it becomes open to anyone who asks.
I hang onto the hope that the cream and the vinegar soaks and patience are going to reveal a newer, cleaner, less acne-ful skin. In the interim, I am working on courage. And thick-skinned-ness.