Saturday, January 25, 2014

How light is too light??

This photo is from December, 2012.  Taken with a Nikon SLR in the middle of the day, with bright natural light.

This photo is from January 24th, 2014.  Taken with my iPhone 4, at night, with a filter, in-house lighting and shadows, along with no flash.  This is about 4-6 treatments later, after the photo above.

Last night I posted a photo (which I posted above) of me and my dad's dog - who decided to cuddle with me by crawling into my hoodie.  A few people messaged me and said, "Wow.  I can't even see your birthmark!!"

I can see why they say that.  I mean, I can still see it.  But I can tell it does look quite a bit lighter than usual in the specific photograph.  Funny thing (to me, anyways) is, my face is still healing from my most recent laser treatment from two weeks ago.  Certain spots are still darker than the usual shade of purple.

When you look at the photo, it does look a bit lighter than the other one I've have also included from a little over a year ago.  As people are messaging me, telling me that they can't see it, I remind them about the variables they have to consider…The lighting from the time it was taken, the camera being used, and filters that are offered when uploading mobile photos to Facebook.  If I was cold when a photo was taken, that too makes a difference as my face becomes an even darker shade of purple.  Overall, it much different than if you were to see me in person.

The most recent treatment was two weeks ago, and truth be told, the results of the birthmark becoming lighter aren't instant.  It can take up to six months for the difference to show from one treatment.  But, by month 6, I've probably had a total of three treatments within that time period - as it is recommended for me to have them every two months.

Anyways…All that to say…From the comments people have posted along side my photo on Facebook to the text messages I have received, I can't help but wonder…How much is too much?  How light is too light??

People always ask me if my intentions are to get rid of my birthmark.  The thing is - my birthmark will never go away, but in a sense, I can hide it better through the laser treatments.  Even if I had enough treatments to make it look completely invisible, I would still have to have an occasional "touch-up" appointment throughout the rest of my life as a Port Wine Stain birthmark can, and often will, darken with age.

When people ask me if I am intending to make it "go away", I always tell them that's not my purpose.  My main goal is to control birthmark from becoming darker than it already is.  In a way, I guess I just want my birthmark to be more subtle than it has been in the past.   It's not that I'm ashamed of my birthmark - because trust me - I'm not.  (You should hear the jokes I crack about it all the time!  And there are some perks to having the birthmark.  Maybe that should be a post for another day.)   I don't want the birthmark to be the first thing new people or strangers notice about me.  I'd rather them notice my personality, my eyes, my hair…or whatever…before taking notice to the birthmark.

As I receive texts or when I am told by classmates about how light my birthmark looks, it is encouraging!!  Sometimes I think the treatments are working, but am never fully sure since I see my face everyday.  It's refreshing to hear someone say that they, too, notice a difference and that I am not imagining it.  Hearing the comments help me know that the treatments aren't wasting my time.

But again, how light is too light??

I've always known that my birthmark has been a part of who I am.  While it is not my identity, it has played a big part in my life and becoming who I am.  It wasn't until tonight that I have realized how much my birthmark is a part of me.

Growing up, people often told me, "You wouldn't be Crystal without it!!"  I have always strongly disliked that statement.  I guess I probably felt as though people focused on my birthmark more than me, as a person, when they made those kinds of comments - as they were usually said to me randomly, with the commenter bringing the topic up on their own.  Usually I'd respond with, "That's not true.  I'd still be me!"  Now that I'm older, I can see that they are right in more ways than I realized at the time.  It has taught me so many lessons through such unique experiences that have been responsible for creating the person I have turned into being.

Not only that, but if I lighten it too much, how will I be able to teach others??  If it looks invisible to the untrained eye and I were to tell others about it, would people roll their eyes, shut their ears, and say, "Yeah.  Right.  You had a birthmark covering nearly half your face…As if I'm going to believe that!"??  Will I miss out on a special opportunity to educate others in a way that many cannot?

When people see my birthmark, people become curious and they listen.  People ask questions.  People are willing to learn.  (Well, not all people.  But this entry isn't about those people.)  I stand out and it has been a great conversation starter with strangers, creating opportunities for new friends to enter into my life.  

Through a person's reaction, comment, or questions (and they way they go about expressing them), I even get to see the side of people that most people may miss.  Sometimes I get to see a side that their family and friends don't see, a side that comes out when they feel uncomfortable or certain kind of curious.  It has taught me great skills in observing other people and their attitudes, tones, and reactions.

Without my birthmark, would I meet people as easily?  Would random people come up to talk to me as often as they do now??

If I change what makes me different from the crowd, can I still make as much of a difference in the world?  Will people still be willing to learn when they can't see the point of what I'm talking about??

I'm not really sure that I've made much of a difference with my birthmark…Although, sometimes I like to pretend that I've at least made a small impact through my life and through sharing my experiences, stories, and just by trying to educate others through my entries - or when I speak in classes at the elementary school where I work.  Even if I've impacted just one person, it may be a small difference in a very big world…But  just like a house is made with many bricks and bricks are made of many tiny pieces of sand molecules.  Without the sand, there'd be no brick.  Without the bricks, there would be no house…Every little difference matters!!…Right??

All this to say, once more, how much is too much?   How light is too light?   Ultimately, I know it's my decision…not my parent's, not a stranger's, not another person with the same birthmark in the same location, and not anyone from my Facebook friend list of 1,420 people.

It's a hard decision to make.  Do I want to go as far to look as "normal" as everyone else??  (Even if I have the birthmark lightened that much, I'll still have the asymmetrical facial features, such as my lip and nose  and I'll still have the Glaucoma for the rest of my life.)   I'm sure that would make my life a LOT easier if I did…Or, would I miss it if it were "gone"??  Do I want it to continue to be noticeable? 

Truthfully, right now I think I'd feel a little lost without it since it has been a big part of my life.  I guess that's when I can be thankful for the time it takes for treatments to take their course, so I can wing it and decide as I go along.  I also think that if I were making this decision as a child or as a young teenager, I wouldn't find the decision to be difficult at all.  I can honestly say that back then I didn't see the value in my difference.

There's a poem I remember writing and found a few minutes ago.  I wrote it in March of 2003.  I was 11-years-old and in the 6th grade.  My young-minded poem is very clear in my wishes.  I wasn't happy with my birthmark.  I didn't want it.  Here's what I wrote (and please keep in mind the age I was when I wrote it, and that poetry has never been my area of gifting!):

My Stain

They say they can see right through it, 
Even though it looks as if I have been hit

I have a birthmark on my face that's a Port Wine Stain,
Sometimes I wish it would go down the drain.

I use to have surgery,
But that just bugged me.

People stare,
But that's not rare.

Sometimes I'm made fun of,
I wish I could fly away like a dove.

I'm special in my own ways,
Even though there are tough days.

I have no fear,
Because I know people who care and are near.

They say they can see right through it,
Even though it looks as if I have been hit.

I don't recall why I wrote it or what made me feel the way I was feeling.  As an adult I don't remember being made fun of by peers as a child while at school - except for one time, when I was about 6 or 7.  Maybe a stranger stared at me too long the day I wrote it.  Maybe I overheard a rude comment, or again in my young mindset…maybe I thought that a specific 11-year-old boy would never like me with half an abnormally colored face.  It's also possible that I wrote this around the time when we realized the then-current laser machines weren't making a difference and that the recent treatments had been for nothing.  Or, maybe, I was just being 11 and wishing my difference away was the only way I knew how to cope.  I don't know.

I'm just glad that I didn't stay in the mindset that I held half a lifetime ago.  I'm not sure what made the change, or when the change occurred.  But it did change, and I am thankful.  

I can't help but wonder, "If my mindset hadn't changed, how would it of affected my mental development?  My personality?  And how my life has played out?  Would I still have chanced moving to London for half a year, or to a college in Nashville for a couple of semesters?  Would I be too shy to travel the world, struggling with a lack of self confidence, and be less adventurous?"

I can say that I still have tough days  having the birthmark.  When certain comments are made or there is a LOT of stares within one day, it can be overwhelming.  On certain days, I have certain questions and doubts. Now that I am older, though, I can laugh most things off.    I can find the humor in most situations.  I am able to see things from different perspectives and have realized that there is a deeper purpose for my birthmark than what I saw when I wrote the poem.  I've come to a point of much deeper acceptance and appreciation of who I am, as I am.

Today I calculated that I can have an estimated amount of 22 more treatments before I'm off my parents insurance in 3 1/2 years, making the total amount of treatments over 50 - probably right at the 60 mark.   Odds are, I'll still have the option to continue once I am on my own with health insurance. I stop now?  Do I stop in 10 treatments?  15 treatments?  20??  Or do I keep going until it appears obsolete - or until the treatments stop making a difference?

I have no idea what I will do.  Not only are the treatments not very easy, as they can be painful, but thought process and decision making can sometimes be equally as difficult.

It just amazes me that it has taken me so long to realize how important my birthmark has been in my life and to realize how big of a role it has played in my character development.

These laser treatments are so much more than a medical procedure.  They are a hard decision to make, as I battle and weigh out the pros and cons internally. 

The Travelin' Chick,

PS: To show even more of a comparison:

This photo was taken in May of 2009 with a small hand-held camera, outside with natural light.

This photo is from September of 2009, in my dorm room, taken with my macintosh computer.  I didn't have any laser treatments at this point in my life and I was wearing makeup in both shots.  (I just had more eye make up on in the first photo.)  Yet, in this one, it looks darker than the one above.  It all has to do with the different variables - and even including if I was cold when the photo was taken as the birthmark darkens with cold weather (kind of like a mood ring!).

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