An ode to rosacea

Note the red streak down my forehead and the bright flashes on my nose, cheeks, and chin in this un-filtered, un-colour-corrected photo taken mid-cardio

As long as I can remember, my skin has been prone to redness. Exercise turns my face into a blotchy tomato. Cold and wind burnish my skin to a ruddy shine. Even washing my face, no matter how gently, leaves it pink. And there’s a good reason I apply SPF 50 daily—UV rays and I are not friends!

I’ve dealt with acne and/or rosacea (dermatologists can’t agree which is the underlying issue) most of my adult life and have tried just about everything to fix it. Cutting out dairy. Limiting processed sugar. Applying expensive creams. Buying celeb-endorsed treatment systems (Proactiv was both ineffective and bleached my pillowcases). Using prescription ointments. Attempting hormonal intervention (so thankful to be off the pill!). Taking antibiotics… then different antibiotics… and even more kinds of antibiotics. And now retinoids, which at least deliver moderate improvement.

I’m starting to accept that nothing will ever fully erase the redness… well, other than lots of make-up 😉 Sometimes it’s better. Sometimes it’s worse. But the rosacea is always with me. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever like it, but I do have to come to peace with it.

Peace in poetry?

Last fall I watched Elizabeth Acevedo chat with journalist Sarah Shaffi as part of the Cheltenham Literary Festival. Acevedo spoke about writing narrative in verse, most specifically her latest book Clap When you Land (the audiobook is amazing!), and she issued a challenge: “I want you to think about the part of yourself that you like least. And I want you to write that part an ode.”

She urged writers to celebrate parts that we’ve been told aren’t desirable, the bits that might make us insecure.

I took up Acevedo’s challenge and wrote the poem below.

Skin in bloom

Oh rosy flush that swells the vessels of my face,
Awakening both with heat and when temperatures dip,
Triangulating ruby blossoms beneath my lower lip.
Your maquillage rubs off on neither collar nor pillowcase,
An in-built contouring no rouge could duplicate—
Mere make-up incapable of saturation so featherweight.

Oh dear redness you too often rise to the occasion
With a swish of wine or spike of hot pepper
Melting carefully-placed green-tinted concealer.
Your roots are unknown, your blush flowers without invitation,
Thumbing your nose (and reddening mine) at topical treatment,
Antibiotics and other remedies the doctors invent.

Oh rosacea that unpredictably stains my complexion,
Do you persist to provoke me, to challenge my brain?
Prompting me to track symptoms and triggers, to monitor the arcane.
Or are you with me as cheerleader rather than vexation?
Spurring acceptance of every part of me, the yang and the yin,
Demanding that I learn to love the skin I’m in.

Not quite a cure

I can’t say that writing a poem about my rosacea has magically made me love my red skin, I’d still rather it was clearer, but the process of creating the piece has desensitised me somewhat. Brainstorming, selecting words, workshopping it in a creative writing course, and now sharing ‘Skin in bloom’ help normalise the rosacea as just another part of me.

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