A happy childhood
This might sound cliché, but it’s true. There are those encounters that change our lives forever, that change us forever. Loyal friends, who support you, in the best and worst moments of our lives. A caring teacher, to enlighten us where our parents cannot. A generous colleague, to show us the ropes! Of course, these encounters can sometimes turn out to be tragic. A complete stranger has the power to destroy us if he wants to, while another will have the goodness to help us rebuild. We can never really know what to expect with the people around us. I was fortunate to meet a man named Mike Walden, a nutritionist who changed my life in so many ways!
Yes, there are those encounters…
Who am I?
My name is Julia. I’m in my thirties, medium height, peachy complexion, have long auburn curls and, from what I’ve been told, a smile that is both bright and contagious. Most of my girlfriends envy me because of my “too white and too perfectly aligned” teeth. I don’t consider myself the most beautiful woman to have walked the earth, but people like to point out my best features. It’s still a little strange for me, because I used to have trouble looking at myself in the mirror not too long ago.
I grew up in the suburbs of Lyon, the second daughter, and middle child, of a couple of civil servants. My older sister, Laura, and I spent our time bickering, under the intrigued gaze of our younger brother Frédéric. Such was the life at the Morel’s!
Do you miss those days? The time when our only concern was not to get caught disobeying our parents? Even if I like my life today – I continue to blossom day by day -, and I still have the same taste for adventure, for discovering new horizons, for learning a little more about everything I don’t know, it would be nice, from time to time, to be able to be carefree and naive again, don’t you think?
The beginning of the nightmare
I was eleven the first time it happened. Little wisp of energy that I was, I inwardly refused to grow old, even though I liked to remind my parents that I was no longer a little girl and that it was unacceptable for them to dictate my bedtime. I had always had porcelain skin, with large, observant hazel eyes. Curious as can be, I enjoyed exploring every corner of the three-story house I grew up in. I had energy to spare, so much so that my poor mother had to keep an eye on me at all times to prevent me from disappearing without warning. I was very healthy, although lonely by nature.
Anyway, I had never seen an acne pimple before, except on cousin Jennie, but she had always had these pimples on her face, and in my legendary naivety, I had come to the conclusion that she was born that way, that it was part of her physiognomy. The term “acne” was completely unknown to me. On my nose, a tiny red bump, which looked like a miniature suction cup, with a whitish substance that seemed to have dried in the center, on the surface. This is what I discovered that morning, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror.
The lump was tender, painful when I pressed on it. My mother reassured me that it was just a pimple, that it was normal as I approached puberty and that it would go away in a few days. Of course, I wasn’t going to miss a day of school. To my relief, most of my classmates were content to ignore the pimple on my nose, but I do remember seeing a group of girls pointing at me, whispering and giggling. Nothing particularly hurtful or unbearable.
My mother was wrong. I’m not sure how it happened, but my once delicate face was covered in pimples, some bigger than others. Worse, if I had the misfortune of popping one, redness or scars would appear. With a complexion like mine, there was no way it could go unnoticed! I was covered in these pimples, not just on my face, but on my shoulders, elbows and even my back! It was almost like having chicken pox, except it didn’t go away as easily. It just didn’t go away. My parents knew little about it and just followed the advice of a pharmacist. For a while, the combination of generic creams and foundation worked, but it was only a short-lived relief. Indeed, almost all the creams I was forced to apply only relieved and softened the pimpled areas, but they always ended up coming back, stronger, more resistant.
The teen years
After a few years and a hundred tubes of generic cream, my parents decided it was time for me to see a doctor. This one was particularly execrable, blaming us for wasting his time, and ordered us to go to a dermatologist. No empathy for a 15 year old girl!
True, I wasn’t dying, but he didn’t understand the despair I had to endure. The pain or distress was not physical, but emotional. At school, the other kids had taken to calling me names that were equally mean-spirited. I had no friends and people constantly reminded me, either with a pitying look or derogatory comments, how ugly I was. People can be cruel, and inevitably I began to believe them. These simple buttons were enough to destroy my self-esteem.
Fortunately, the dermatologist I saw was sympathetic. She helped me understand a little better what was happening to me, explaining that acne is a disease of the skin, more specifically of the pilosebaceous follicle, a small pocket that runs through the different layers of the skin and contains in its center a hairy outline and sebaceous glands. It produces the somewhat disgusting substance that drains from the pimple, i.e. sebum. Acne comes and goes in spurts, so it comes and goes. Puberty and hormones are among the most common causes, since they lead to the overproduction of sebum. Generally, acne disappears around the age of 20. However, it is the scars and damage left on the surface of the skin that can become bothersome and even persistent. And that’s exactly what happened to me, when I wasn’t covered in pimples, I had little holes or scars on the surface of my skin. Fortunately, Denise said that it was not too late and that with the right medication, my skin would regain some of its former quality. It was already better than nothing!
Over the course of three years, I had several surgeries to remove the scars caused by my acne. In some areas it worked wonders, but in others… At least I could cover what was left with a strong foundation. By the way, I followed Denise’s prescribed medication religiously. Ointment to apply to my skin and pills to swallow every morning. It took several months for me to notice a slight improvement, but Denise said it was normal and that I should not lose hope. During this time, I graduated from high school, finally free of those who had tortured me for too long. On top of that, my dream university had agreed to accept me into their history program for the next year.
The future looked bright for me.
A fresh start
It’s crazy when you leave high school how much less important other people’s opinions seem. I was still a little shy and reserved, but people interacted with me more and didn’t make me feel like a separate person anymore. It was almost as if they didn’t care about the physical appearance of others, as if the code of conduct for being considered “cool” no longer applied here. I was in the big leagues. Most of my colleagues were there for one reason only; to get their certificates as soon as possible. Everything else was futile. Between being judged and being ignored, I saw the second option as a real blessing. When my acne was at its worst, I could just sit in the back of the class and mind my own business.
On the other hand, I no longer had to make others like me, I had to learn to like myself. I was no longer taking my medication to get the other jerks in school off my back, those days were over, but mostly to feel good about myself. I didn’t have many friends, a few acquaintances here and there, but I worked at a lot of jobs to pay for my studies and to avoid getting into trouble. My salary even allowed me to try new, more expensive medications.
All to no avail.
The United States
In my third year of college, when I had just turned twenty-two, the dean of the history faculty requested an interview with me in his office. I won’t hide my nervousness, what could he possibly have to say to me, the shy little girl at the back of the class? Was I in trouble?
The man, in his fifties, slightly intimidating, shook my hand and told me why I was in his office. To my astonishment, he informed me that I was first in my class and that I was being offered an exchange program with a university in the United States for one year. Having traveled very little in my life, and still having the same thirst for discovery, I accepted without hesitation.
Two weeks later, I was flying to the unknown.
The university I was going to attend for the next year was different from mine. People looked at me with a strange look on their faces, as if they knew I wasn’t from around here. I was worried and wondered if they were staring at me because of my acne. I considered running to my room, praying that the next twelve months would pass quickly, but I managed to contain myself.
A girl and a boy my age approached me, Sue and Todd, the former had long black braids and a beaming smile, the latter was nervous, his face was set in tic and he stuttered. They identified themselves as my guides and showed me around. Sue was studying to be a nutritionist and Todd was a physician. They invited me to a convention on alternative medicine. A subject that Sue was particularly passionate about. Wanting to make friends and too polite to refuse, I agreed to meet them in an hour in the multimedia room, located in the east wing of the building.
As I entered the room, the first thing I noticed was the many rows of seats, all of which were occupied. Sue and Todd had saved a seat for me. At the front, a man in a white lab coat was standing behind a table with several fruits and vegetables on it. The individual must have been in his thirties, with short blond hair, his eyes hidden behind square-rimmed glasses. I thought he looked very professional and his assurance disconcerted me a little. He spoke to us for more than an hour about the benefits of certain foods, as well as their use in alternative medicine. I waited for the end of his monologue to approach him shyly. He shook my hand and I noticed the small badge on his chest identifying him as Mike Walden.
My shyness didn’t seem to affect him, on the contrary, he insisted on keeping the crowd of curious people who wanted to ask him questions waiting, and pulled me aside a bit.
-Brazil nuts, beans, and green tea, he threw at me.
Puzzled, I asked him to repeat. He added;
– I know what you are going through miss, I was there not too long ago. Believe me, with the right lifestyle, you can beat acne once and for all.
He pulled a small book from his pocket and handed it to me.
– This guide saved me, Mike explained, since then I’ve made several copies. Take it.
I obeyed, tucking the little book into my pocket as if it were a bible.
The New Julia