I survived my cystic acne.
Seems like a dramatic thing to say about some pimples--but for me, it isn't. The self-hate that came with the lesions on my face made me feel anything but beautiful, anything but worthy of love--sometimes, anything but human at all.
I went through four years of various topical and oral antibiotic treatments, feeling increasingly discouraged as they failed, one after another, to clear my skin. In a last-ditch effort, my doctor sent me to a dermatologist who could prescribe me the Accutane--the strongest of all acne medications, and my last hope.
While acne has no known "cure," per se, Accutane-- the brand name of isotretinoin, which is essentially a form of vitamin A--is the only known drug that effectively puts severe forms of the acne into a sort of "remission."
Like all strong, promising medications, Isotretinoin has its fair share of side effects and problems--here are a few I wish I'd known about before I made the decision to go on Accutane.
They aren't joking When they said it makes depression worse
I'm naturally an anxious person who tends towards depression when I'm stressed, so taking this medication during the most stressful period of my high school career was definitely not the best decision I've ever made. There were days where I couldn't seem to stop crying or get out of be--days when suicidal thoughts threatened to overtake me. Taking accurate definitely impacted my mental health, which made it 10 times more difficult to do...well, anything. My relationships with my friends, family and boyfriend all suffered, as did my work ethic and my physical body.
"Chapped lips" is putting it lightly
I had one chapstick that worked actually to moisturize my lips while I was on Accutane--it was from the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville and it contained Lanolin, an oil from sheep's wool that I later found out was the key to stopping my lips from falling off entirely. When i eventually lost my magic chapstick, I felt the real pain of accurate dryness. Most of the time, the surface of my lips looked like I had spent days roaming the Saharan desert with no vaseline on hand. My dermatologist told me that if my lips weren't chapped, the medication wasn't working, so I guess in some ways the dryness was a good thing....still not the most fun to deal with, though.
You can't be afraid of needles
Because vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin--not water soluble like B or C--overloading on it has been known to cause liver damage. Because isotretinoin is a high concentration of vitamin A, it has the potential to mess with your liver function..which means your liver function must be monitored closely...which means blood tests. Lots, and lots, and lots of blood tests. Generally administered either once a month or once every other month for as long as you are on the treatment. Luckily, I am not afraid of needles, so this part didn't bother me as much--but it would've been nice to know beforehand!
Despite the debilitating side effects I experienced, I believe taking Accutane was the right decision for me--but that certainly doesn't mean that it's the right medication for everyone.
In the end, The one thing that I really wish I'd have known before I took Accutane was that...my pimples didn't make me ugly. they didn't make me unlovable, or any less than human. They were an impediment to my self-worth, and one I'm glad I got rid of, but with or without them, I remain the same person: strong and anxious, imperfect and beautiful.