Since I was about 9 years old, I’ve been dealing with a pretty bad skin condition. For the sake of my sanity, I won’t go into too many details about the condition, but the gist of it is something in my body would cause irritation and inflammation resulting in tumor like lumps in the skin under my arms. For so many years, I was just embarrassed to have the condition that I didn’t tell anyone except for my doctor. One thing was clear, they had NO idea what was happening. They suggested epsom salt baths or switching deodorant brands. And as a middle school child I immediately thought this was happening because of the way I took care of myself. Still, my reactions, to who knows what, were painful but few and far between...until high school.
I’m not really sure what changed in high school but it felt like puberty and my skin condition were battling each other. My breakouts became much more frequent and painful, sometimes even debilitating. There were a few occasions when I had to skip out on school because the pain was so bad. This is where I pull you into the secret life of a Nigerian American teenager. I was raised by two incredible, God-fearing parents who taught me the value of putting God first in my life. But the traditionalism of their African roots gave them a very particular perspective about how and why these breakouts were still happening. I simply wasn’t “praying enough.” I didn’t actually want my “healing.” I wasn’t “speaking scripture to the wounds.” All of this lead me to start believing that my breakouts were connected to a lack of faith, or a poor relationship with God. As I got older, deeper in my faith, and had worse breakouts, I actually started to resent God for what I was going through. I wondered what was I doing that wasn’t good enough for healing and restoration. How many times did I have to writhe, crying in pain for my prayers to be answered? That question that persisted through college.
By junior year, I was so used to living with the pain that I wouldn’t even call a doctor when I had a bad breakout. I’d just lay at home, skip class, apply a warm compress and watch tv. Then one day, two days before I studied abroad I had the worst breakout of my entire life and I had to be rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night for surgery. The horrible part was how painful the surgery actually was. But the good part was a doctor had finally identified my condition by name. She told me they don’t have much information about treating it, but it’s way more common than I would expect. Her suggestions were to stop shaving, take antibiotics and use topical cream when I had a breakout, and switch my deodorant brand. Well, I took 2 out of her 3 suggestions and instead of stopping shaving altogether I switched to an electric trimmer so that I didn’t cut my scars. Things improved to the extent that I was learning to manage life with my condition. But the breakouts continued, the inability to lift my arms in public continued, and shame persisted.
As an adult, navigating what to wear, going to the beach, and entering new relationships have all been influenced by my condition. I think managing the condition from such a young age made me used to keeping my arms glued to my side. But I also carry a body image insecurity because of it. Have you ever noticed that men really love to lift your arms in the air when dancing with you? Over time I have learned to swerve the ones that do for fear of their reaction to my scars. In my last relationship I was so fearful of making my partner uncomfortable that I created physical barriers between us. Fast forward to about two months ago. I was in so much pain that I decided to do my own research about the condition and see if other people suffering like me had any suggestions. I found out that 1) I have it a lot better than some of the people dealing with this condition. Like a lot better. I immediately became grateful about that. 2) People were starting to find that the condition was related to food and eating as though they had an autoimmune disease stopped their breakouts and cleared their scars. The suggestion was to become paleo...forever.
Well I had tried being paleo once before so I just knew that wasn’t happening for me. I thought No...must be something else. It has to be my products. Because I love food and I couldn’t imagine giving it up. During Easter, however, my breakout was so bad that I started the paleo diet the next day also giving up nightshades. To my surprise, my skin started to clear up within a week. The bumps that were surfacing shrunk and disappeared and I was in shock by how quickly my body reacted. But I wasn’t convinced. Certainly this was a coincidence. Well, this weekend I cheated myself and ate rice, processed foods, tomatoes, dairy, and bread. Almost immediately a new bump surfaced under my arm and within 24 hours 4 had, and they were painful. At this point I was dealing with mixed emotions. One was “wow, I found the trigger for my skin condition, this is amazing!” The other was “wow so y’all are really saying I can never have McDonald’s french fries again?”
So where am I now? Well for one, I’m no longer blaming my condition on my inability to pray correctly. I’ve really grown to understand that sometimes we need to do work and make changes to get the healing we are looking for. I don’t know what will come out of this journey but I’m sure something will. Second, I’m deciding to change my life and slowly transition to being paleo forever. This is going to be difficult. If I’m grabbing a meal with you and I order french fries, don’t judge me. I’m not completely jumping ship yet because I know I’ll fail but I will be keeping a diary about how it’s going and sharing with you all! If you’ve been paleo, are becoming paleo, have tips or need suggestions, leave a comment below! We’re do this together folks...this is gonna be fun.