Saturday, 22 December 2012

A Spot of Bother

As far as teenage skin goes mine was pretty clear save for the occasional lone spot making an appearance, usually right in the centre of my face. Around the time I turned 18 something changed and my skin broke out - if I was at home you could safely bet your life savings that I'd have Sudocrem smeared all over my face - always a good look when the fire alarm goes off in halls at three in the morning.

It got gradually worse as the years went on and unsightly lumps and scars squeezed the life out of my already dwindling confidence and I became uncharacteristically shy in front of a camera, covering my face with my hands, which is why I couldn't find many pictures where you can actually see how bad my skin was. I tried everything I could to clear up my skin from changing my diet and steaming my face to using different topical products - both doctor recommended and natural - and various medications.

December 2007 - Makeup doesn't even cover it.

February 2008 - Poster girl for 'revealer' & chocolate finger cakes.

May 2009 - Black and white doesn't cover it either.
In mid 2009, and seeing no improvement from the pill which had been prescribed specifically for my skin a few months earlier, my flatmate Laura came home to find me sat on the bed with orange peel on my face (something she likes to remind me of at regular intervals) because I'd read that vitamin C is good for your skin. I saw no results from my fruity remedy so, orange peel discarded, I went back to the doctors in tears and was told that I'd just have to accept that that's just the way my skin is. I told him that my skin hadn't always been like this so I wasn't going to take his patronising and lazy diagnosis. I asked to be referred to a dermatologist - I'd decided to go the hardcore Roacutane route - but before an appointment came through my skin started to clear up out of what seemed like nowhere and I couldn't believe my eyes. I'd read somewhere that acne can clear up of its own accord after seven years and this would be roughly the seven year mark. Or it could have been down to the anti-jowl experiment. Or the orange peel. Or having moved near the woods. Whatever it was I was delighted.

Not long after my skin started to clear up I moved home for two and a bit years - the scars from the endless squeezing started to fade and whenever I saw my friends in London they'd comment on how great my skin looked. I saved money, and time, no longer needing to use concealer and I started to forget what it felt like to have bad skin. I needn't have worried, I'd soon be reminded.

March 2010 - Makeup actually doing its job.
August 2010 - I have a 'tan' but no spots
September 2011 - Zero makeup, zero marks.
June 2012 - In London but my skin is still behaving
July 2012 - Me and mum just before I woke up from my good skin dream.
I moved back to London in April this year, in August my skin started to break out. I couldn't believe it. I thought my bad skin days were behind me and now they are looking back at me in the mirror. And it's not just a spot here and there - that I could handle - I'm getting them all over the lower part of my face and my jaw line on both sides keeps coming up with painful, itchy, under the skin, unsqueezable spots and just as they start to go down they come right back up again. Some days I don't want to leave the house because I feel so bad about myself and don't want people to look at me. I've fallen in love with plasters because I'd rather have people look at a plaster on my face than see their eyes constantly drawn to the mountains underneath. I've already got scarring even though I'm trying really hard not to squeeze or pick. And concealer does not do what it says on the tin - it should be called revealer.
December 2012 - What a mess.

The week before last I was starting to feel a bit better about my skin as it looked like it was calming down. I'd had a lovely evening at a sketch comedy night I'd been meaning to go to for ages and I was in a good mood. Sat on the tube on the way home my friend from the Gherkin looked at my face, eyes scanning the surface, and said, 'Have you been eating a lot of chocolate, your...' Before he could finish I cut him off and told him not to say anything and asked why he'd even go there, 'I've got eyes and a mirror, I don't need you to tell me that my skin is bad'. I nearly burst into tears and I kept willing the train to hurry the eff up so I could get away from him. The next few stops couldn't have gone slower and I just completely clammed up giving one word answers to his attempts at making conversation. When I changed tube lines I tried to read my book but I couldn't see the words through the water welling in my eyes. As I walked home I thought about the times people have mentioned my skin before and the insensitive comments have always been from men over the age of 30. My late Portuguese grandad asked a question as we dined outside one summer that my grandma had to translate for me, "Why do you have spots?" How the f**k ('scuse my language) would I know that and why are you asking me?! What would you actually be gaining by knowing the answer to that question? I stopped going to Portugal so often after that. My old boss Steve mentioned my skin once and learned that Shakespeare wasn't kidding when he said that hell hath no fury. I just don't understand how it is productive or anyone's business to point out or ask about an obviously upsetting condition. Would you ask a woman with an excessively hairy face if she's been using Regaine as moisturiser or a fat boy if he's eaten his mum? Why don't people put themselves in others' shoes and think, "Would I want someone to comment on that if I was them?"

I've been racking my brain for the cause of my skin problem and am actually quite enjoying the investigations - I feel like a scientist on the verge of a breakthrough. Here are the possibilities:
  • WORK/STRESS - When my skin started to get better towards the end of 2009 I'd been made redundant so I was a lady of leisure. When I moved back home I had a job but not full time hours. Things started getting stressful when I moved out of the flat I shared with my boyfriend and back down to London. I started a new temp job with full time hours, was looking for somewhere new to live for four months whilst staying with friends, broke up with my boyfriend of two years, moved into a new house, moved all my stuff down from up north, finished my temp contract and started looking for work again. It would be enough to cause an acne eruption, no?
  • POLLUTION - A lot of people have suggested it's the pollution of London that's causing my spots but I know that my skin started getting better before I left so it must just be a coincidence that it's been getting worse since my return.
  • LONDON TAP WATER - My friend's flatmate has been getting bad skin since moving to London and has pinpointed tap water as the culprit. She has been experimenting by only drinking bottled water and using it when making tea or boiling pasta. She has seen a real improvement in her skin. I haven't seen one in mine but then I haven't been using bottled water when boiling as I thought the high temperature would get rid of all the crap in the tap water. 
  • MILK/COFFEE/SUGAR - When I moved back down I went a bit mental and was having a Caffe Nero latte more or less every day. I read that milk is really bad for acne because of the hormones in it. Since I was a teenager I've drunk at least one pint of milk a day - I used to go to house parties and request a pint of milk - so this would explain a lot. I have since cut milk out altogether and haven't seen any improvements. I've read that coffee is also not great because it causes resistance to insulin so the body makes more to compensate and this has an inflammatory effect - apparently lattes and chai are twice as bad for this which is what I've been drinking. I love sugar. I try my hardest to avoid it and whilst I do eat healthily in general if you put a cake or a packet of biscuits in front of me that's it, game over. Whilst working at the Gherkin there were unlimited shortbread biscuits which I'd just eat one after the other without thinking and there were bakery breakfasts and afternoon teas galore. One day I ate AT LEAST (I lost count) eight lemon drizzle cakes which can't be normal behaviour. I now know that sugar causes hormonal issues (testosterone and insulin) but I am addicted to it, which people don't take seriously but that's a post for another day, so it's hard to stop. Whilst I've been writing this I've realised that it might be sugar that started this whole thing ten years ago. I used to eat mountains of sugary treats daily which would explain the depression, the exhaustion and eventually the bad skin. And perhaps the reason my skin doesn't seem to improve when I try not to have sugar is because the damage has been done and a longer period of time is needed for my body to adjust and my hormones to level out.
My heroin
  • OVARY ISSUES - For most of this year I've been having lower abdomen pain which I recently went to the doctor about. She sent me for an ultrasound which I had last week to see if there's a problem with my ovaries which could explain the bad skin.
  • HORMONE ISSUES - On looking through past posts to find links for this one I came across a little nugget of info that has completely thrown my seven year theory out of the window. I mention in the Project Back Rest post about going on the pill at a certain time. It would have been roughly five months after starting this pill that my skin improved and apparently that's about the right amount of time it takes to start seeing results. I can't believe how arrogant I was to assume that my skin had got better by itself.
  • TOO FEW POOS - I'm not as regular as I used to be which could be causing a reaction in my skin. I'd go sometimes twice a day and now I'm going every couple of days. It's very disappointing and worrying to have my poos hanging about inside when they're so much better off out in the world blocking toilets. But then I had bad skin when I was regular so this can't be the cause.
Plan of action:

It would be easy to go back on the pill again but I'm wondering if I should ride this out even if it means plastering my face in... plasters. I am going to start eating two carrots a day because vitamin A is apparently good in the battle against acne but this article tells me I must be careful to avoid raw carrot abuse (yes you read that correctly). My favourite quote: "the afflicted persons get hold of and consume carrots even in socially quite unacceptable situations." I can't think of a situation where eating a carrot would be socially unacceptable unless of course you're doing obscene things to it with your mouth. Once, at a friend's birthday night out, I ate a Petits Filous yoghurt without a spoon in the smoking area outside the bar - that was probably socially unacceptable but no one died (I don't think).

What are you Filouking at?

I'm also going to try my absolute hardest to stop eating refined sugar - I've decided to do this by imagining all baked goods to be filled with pubic hair. And, inspired by my friend Vic's homemade party food last weekend, I'm going to pop my own corn and sprinkle it with cinnamon, cocoa powder and honey if I need a sugar fix. Hopefully this will rid me of boy hormones and my witchy toad face.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Temporary Insanity

It has been an obscene amount of time since I last wrote but as I have quite a lot of time on my hands now that I've gone 'freelance' (free being the operative part of that word) I thought I should attempt to write something and may as well start where I left off in August 2011...

I know it was a bit of a ranty, woe-is-me post but, you know, sometimes things build up and if someone's not going to let you take a few hours off for a funeral then they deserve to be passive-aggressively talked about behind their backs.

A couple of months after I wrote it I left the temp agency, and the Probation Service, for a full time job in an art gallery, which sounded like a dream job in theory as I love art and it would involve looking at and talking about it all day. However it would also involve selling which is probably my greatest weakness - I couldn't sell a badge to a badger - and in my interview, when she let me get a word in edgeways, I informed my prospective boss of this important fact, which is why I was surprised when she offered me the job. The target for each month was £10,000 (EACH) which was ridiculous given on an average day a total of three people would come in but these were the days when I'd forgotten how to use my gut instinct so of course I signed the contract. Taking it would allow me to achieve my goal of no longer reading about and meeting peodophiles and murderers at the Probation Service and getting more hours.

My gut smugly gurgled "I told you so" when my boss turned out to be a megalomaniac with a penchant for put downs and picking rather than praise. In my first week she told me off for saying "Hello" when people walked in and that I should instead be saying "Good morning/afternoon"; later that day, and on several occasions after that, I heard her greet people with "Hello". In my first few days I watched with amazement at the way she spoke to her staff and knew I wouldn't be able to put up with it for long.  She would jump on people the minute they entered the building, supergluing their hands to the most expensive piece of art so they had no choice but to buy. It did not go down well the day I told her I didn't believe in pouncing on people as in my own personal experience being sold to is a complete turn off. If I want something I will buy it, I don't need to be held at gunpoint by a card machine. She would complain that her staff's sales weren't high enough yet many of her sales came from poaching customers we'd been slowly but surely warming up to a modestly priced painting. At my three week review she implied that if my sales didn't improve by the six week mark I wouldn't have a job anymore despite the fact I was meant to be on a reduced target for my first couple of months. I'm a carrot kind of girl so the stick was not appreciated, nor the moving of the goal posts. At that moment I decided I'd save her the job of firing me at six weeks and hand in my notice then instead. Without lining up a replacement job I politely told her I would rather live on the streets than spend another day in her company. Obviously I said nothing of the sort but I was still caught off guard by her reaction to my resignation - she spent a few days trying to persuade me to stay. I think this had more to do with her getting a track record for high staff turnover than my skills as an art salesperson but she did compliment my greatness in all other aspects of the role so who knows what her motivation was*.

So off I went at the end of November with no job and signed up to another temp agency despite my warning of August's post "NEVER EVER GET WORK (if they can get you any) THROUGH AN AGENCY!" and bloody hell was I proved wrong. Not only were they thoroughly understanding about the situation I found myself in at the gallery (yes I told them everything)  but they got me a job within a week, and it was at a school so came with the added bonus of school holidays. Hurray!!

I was only meant to be there for a few weeks but I ended up staying for a few months at which point I decided it was time to move back down to London. In preparation for the move I emailed a few temp agencies and wondered why none of them got back to me. A couple of weeks later I logged into my LinkedIn profile as it needed updating and then I saw it. A link to my blog. A link to my blog about poo. A link to my blog where the last post was slagging off temping agencies. Shit balls. I promptly deleted the link. What was I thinking directing people of the professional world to, yes, an example of my writing, but writing intertwined with toilet musings and the slagging off of a working organisation? If we were in a court of law I would have to claim temp-orary insanity (haha, sorry).

Thankfully not long after disposing of the link I heard from a couple of the agencies (I still haven't heard back from the others) and went with the London branch of the one I'd last used in Harrogate. A week later and I had a job on the top office floor of The Gherkin! You can't knock a temp agency that gets you a job in one of London's top landmarks and so I shall withdraw my slagging off of temp agencies (I was, of course, insane at the time) and say that if you need to go with one then Brook Street gets the job done.

*ridiculously high staff turnover statistics, definitely.