As a fifteen-year-old with CMN, which covers my back arms and legs, I have endured many hard times as well as amazing and inspiring experiences. Having CMN evidently makes me stand out when I don’t necessarily want to and makes people stare when (you guessed it) I don’t want people to stare. Having these special marks on my body has definitely made my life interesting and opened new doors, such as the Young Ambassador Programme that I am participating in, all thanks to Caring Matters Now. This program will build my confidence and leadership skills, which I am really eager to work on.
I have had to overcome many obstacles in my life because of my CMN; the summer months, PE lessons and swimming. I saw these as obstacles in my life because of how I was showing the CMN on my legs and back, something I didn’t need to worry about in the winter when I would wrap up warm. You can’t exactly wrap up warm in the summer, even in the UK, because you’ll overheat, and you would just look a bit odd in jeans on the hottest days of the year. I used to wear leggings and rarely shorts because I was too scared of what people thought of me and what they would say. As a generally shy person it would be my worst nightmare if someone came up to me and started asking about my skin. I would always stammer and go bright red and this made me ashamed of myself and my skin. This led to me losing my confidence and envying the girls who could wear their swimsuits, shorts and be confident and happy.
Thankfully the comparison, shame and fear faded away because I was assigned to a psychologist at Great Ormand Street Hospital where I talked about my main worries and concerns with my skin and the fear of the judgement from other people. These sessions dramatically changed my life in the summer of 2019. I was challenged to work towards wearing shorts and this meant that I had to buy new clothes; what a shame! I started to deliberately wear shorts on days where I would be going to a busy place which, previously I would have never done in a million years.
The summer of 2019 was when I changed my perspective towards my birthmarks. I went on a cycling holiday around Holland and I had to wear those protective cycling shorts, which exposed the CMN on my thigh and legs. I became more confident throughout the trip and began to not notice the curious looks from people as I whizzed by. On our rest day we were staying by the beach and I had packed my first ever bikini, which I was planning on wearing the first chance I got. At first I was extremely nervous as we approached the beach, but I soon had the courage to go in the sea and just enjoy myself. This holiday really transformed my attitude towards myself because of all the things that I had accomplished. Another reason why this summer changed my life was when I attended a Christian festival camp near the end of the summer holidays. This meant that it was extremely hot so all I had packed was shorts and vest tops. There were millions of people there and we would walk around to talks and the cafe for a much-deserved cold drink. I noticed looks but I had never felt more empowered when walking around in shorts and honestly not caring what people thought. I was surrounded by amazing friends and my siblings and this encouraged me. I ended up wearing shorts every single day and when I told my psychologist on my return, I felt as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I reminded myself of how I had persevered and achieved my goal; something I was very proud of.
The charity Caring Matters Now has opened doors for me to meet new people going through the same things as me and older people who have been where I am as a teenager. The How do you C Me Now? exhibition at the OXO Tower by Mr Elbank made me see how beautiful other people viewed these birthmarks and this really affirmed my confidence. The group of teenagers who also have CMN have taught me that we are all going through the same experiences and it is okay not to love the skin you are in from time to time. I sincerely don’t know where I’d be without the people who have helped me along the way, and I can’t wait to see where my ‘Elspie marks’ take me next.