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A Conversation with My Past Self

I often ask myself, if I could go back in the past what would I tell my 12-year-old self? Well, the opportunity to speak to my past-self has in some ways became a reality. For the last 3 years, I have volunteered as a camp counselor at Camp Discovery, a place for kids between the ages of 8-16 living with skin conditions, sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Struggling to find normalcy

Working at the camp is a unique experience for me because it's as though I'm looking into a past mirror of myself, a time when I was a kid struggling to find my way while living with severe psoriasis. In a sense, attending camp allows me to talk to my 12-year-old self, it gives me the opportunity to provide love and empathy to kids with skin diseases, which is what I so desperately needed as a child living with a visible chronic condition. This time around, one particular camper in my cabin stuck out to me. I could see she had severe eczema which she attempted to hide through long pants and long sleeve shirts. Like me at 12 years old, I could tell she was struggling for normalcy while managing a chronic condition.

Identifying with the embarrassment

"Are you wearing all of those clothes because you are ashamed of your disease?" Is the question I asked her as we stood outside our living-quarters getting ready to go to Knoebels, one of the top 10 amusement parks in the U.S. located in Pennslyvania. It was projected to be 90-degrees for the day, and at 10 am it was already in the 80's. My camper was wearing a thick, long sleeve plaid shirt, wearing our official camp shirt over it, and long heavy blue jeans. I knew immediately her reasons for covering up was because she was ashamed or nervous to be around strangers with her disease, something I could definitely identify with especially at her age.

She looked me in the eye and answered my question, "I'm just cold..."

Sweatshirts in summer

This was one of the many excuses I used as a kid growing up when those around me asked why did I have on so many hot clothes in the middle of summer. I held her hands, looked her in the eye and said, "You have nothing to be ashamed of... You are safe with us... This is where you are free to be yourself..." She smiled and said, "I know."

Before we left she took off the plaid shirt and was only wearing the short sleeve top, however she had a sweatshirt close by. When we arrived to the park she hid her arms in the sleeves of the sweatshirt. Again, I asked her was she covering her arms out of shame, and of course, she denied it, saying she was cold.

Learning to love oneself

She wore that sweatshirt the entire time we were at the park. It broke my heart because I knew she was doing it out of fear and shame, just as I did when I was her age and living with psoriasis. I found myself becoming consumed with convincing her she was loved and had nothing to be ashamed of... However, I realized I had to let go. I recognized that through her struggle and uncomfortable moments, just as I once went through, her story was being written, and one day she too will be an inspiration to others. My only hope is 16 years from now when she is my age she will remember that moment of feeling loved and accepted by me and others around her despite her condition.

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