Sure it may seem strange to dedicate a whole story to my first pimple, but it’s necessary given the level of importance the care for my skin has played in my life.
We all have stuff the universe gives us to handle, navigate and grow through in this life, and for me, one of my things has been my skin. And yes, this is a story about my first pimple; and I'm sharing this experience because I hope it helps us talk about uncomfortable stuff. Like how we as humans sometimes hide from ourselves and each other, and how zits, acne, pimples, or whatever names you want to call these pesky expressions of our skin, can play a transformational role in your life and spiritual development. Yet I made them wrong and wished them away for years.
And for those of you who can count the number of pimples you've had in your lifetime on one or both hands, bless you and your life’s journey, and please know that I've probably either envied you, hated you, assumed your life was easy or thought we couldn’t relate to each other simply because you had good skin. My skin is a lens through which I saw the world, so this story is where my journey with my skin REALLY began.
I was around 11 years old when my first enormous pimple arrived during the summer between my 4th grade and 5th grade. This pimple began as a sore spot right in the middle of my chin that I kept touching, pressing, rubbing and staring at in the mirror. What to do when you get a pimple wasn’t discussed at my house or in my peer group, so the only information I was aware of as to how to care for pimples came from watching TV and seeing commercials for Noxema or Clearasil. I couldn’t stop touching the sore spot on my chin because it was throbbing, and pressing it helped ease the pressure. But when I woke up on morning two of this bump, and it was a Friday, and this spot had developed from a red itchy sore spot into an enormous white-headed pimple that needed to be popped, I was equally thrilled and nervous. I’d been told not to pop pimples because I could cause a scar, but I couldn’t be seen in public with this enormous white crater on my chin. I also had a huge co-Ed social event called a "lock-in” that night, and there I was with a monstrous pimple on my chin. Perfect.
And if you don't know what a “lock-in” is, it’s a prime social event where kids my age (11-12), from a few different schools, would all gather together in the gymnasium and play games, watch movies and sleep side by side. And for the pre-Internet 1990's era, that was a big deal, because we got to hang out in a non school like atmosphere. I’d been very excited to go: especially to see all the faces from other schools, but now I had this monstrous pimple on my chin and I was horrified and embarrassed, and didn’t want to go.
I stood staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, and leaned in to examine my pimple from all angles. I touched the sore white head and it sent chills down my whole body because the pimple was THAT sore and ready to blow.
What do I do? I couldn’t go out like this. The pimple needed to be popped, but I remember my friend who had seen a dermatologist telling me I should never pop my own pimple. So was I supposed to pop it or wait to see a doctor?
I'd seen SeaBreeze, Stridex and Noxema commercials, making me utterly terrified of pimples; because all the commercials portrayed how ugly and demoralizing pimples were, and then showed how happy people looked once their pimple magically dissolved under the solution the fix it solution they were selling. But what they didn't show was the incredible patience, care and self control it takes to move a pimple from angry, big and red to happy, small and gone. But I knew I needed to do the pop now so that it could have some time to heal before tonight’s event. So I leaned in towards my fluorescently lit unflattering mirror, with unwashed hands, and set that pimple free with my fingertips. It made an audible popping sound that startled me, and it splattered all over the mirror. I leaned back to take in the small explosion that I'd just created and felt oddly proud.
There, that was it, I'd popped my first pimple! But now the throbbing in my chin was excruciating, and an ooze appeared that looked to be half blood and half I'm not sure what sort of goo. So I took a piece of toilet paper and folded it over and kept a compression on my decapitated pimple for a while, continuously checking if it had stopped oozing.
I stared at myself and my chin pimple in the mirror and felt my excitement about tonight's lock-in dissolve, only to be replaced by anxiety, shame and horror that I now had this enormous oozy thing on my chin that everyone could see. No one would want to hang out with me, the pimple girl, and I felt myself beating myself up. I couldn't even look at my own self in the mirror and not stare down at my new friend on my chin, so how could I expect others to look me in the eye.
Then I remembered seeing some zit cream and makeup in my sister's bathroom cabinet a few weeks before, and I wondered if these products could help. So I walked down the carpeted hallway of my family’s house in Dallas and entered my sister's dimly lit gorgeous pink bathroom, and immediately found what I was looking for because she is so organized. I found a barely used tube of tinted Clearasil pimple cream and a stick of light beige Cover Girl cover up; so it was game on for camouflaging and destroying the visibility of this pimple. My sister hardly ever had pimples so I didn't think she'd even miss this stuff I was borrowing for the night. I took her tinted Clearasil cream, unscrewed the lid and leaned in to the mirror and dabbed it on my chin. I then followed up with some cover up, feeling a stabbing sensation when the cream hit my skin. But what I saw in the dim mirror was astonishing. The appearance of my pimple began to vanish!!! I couldn't believe it! I felt excitement through my whole body and I ran back down the hallway to my room to pack my sleepover bag for the lock-in, and of course I’d be including my secret weapons (zit cream and tinted makeup stick) for the journey.
We arrived at school in the early evening for the lock-in and I was overwhelmed by the number of new young faces, that I was taking in, male and female. It was our 4th grade from 3 or 4 different schools, so it was like a bunch of new species had just been introduced into my social cage. I took a deep breath and felt ready. I was wearing cute pajamas that had a matching fuzzy long sleeve shirt and pants because the assignment was for us all to show up in our pj's. I also had my little backpack with my toothbrush and toothpaste and my SeaBreeze astringent and cotton balls so that I could wash my face after everyone had gone to sleep.
The adults divided us into small groups which were indicated on a check-in sheet when my mom dropped me off, and I immediately didn't like any of the girls in my group because they all had dewy clear skin and none of them had a backpack carrying their supplies to fight and camouflage pimples. I couldn’t connect with these new faces because all I could think about was my pimple and how I thought everyone was staring at it.
At this lock in we played ice breaker games and I shyly moved around everyone, quick to look away if we got close, so I wouldn't catch them looking at my chin. But as the night went on I felt the pressure building in my chin pimple, so I excused myself into the fluorescently lit bathroom and was horrified when I looked in the mirror. I realized the tinted Clearasil that I'd applied earlier, had not only dried and become crusty, but it had turned a hue of orange. But not only that, another tender whitehead had formed right beside it. So I grabbed a paper towel, wetted it, and wiped the orange crust away from pimple 1, and went after pimple 2, feeling the familiar splat of pus onto the mirror. I quickly wiped the mirror hoping no one would enter the bathroom while this was happening.
I stood in this gymnasium bathroom looking at my swollen red chin and thought, What do I do now!?
I held a piece of toilet paper over my swollen chin, and knew it was time to call it a night. But I couldn’t let anyone know a pimple was responsible for me not wanting to be social anymore, so I faked being sick and told the leaders I didn't feel well, and was going to bed. This move may have made me the least fun person in the room and I didn’t make any new friends from other schools, but I was able to successfully hide for the rest of the night so I was proud. All because of my anxiety about this enormous pimple.
When I got back to my dark corner of the gymnasium covered in sleeping bags, I dabbed Sea Breeze astringent on a cotton ball and went over my chin several times, and eased my way into my sleeping bag, proud of myself for finding a way out of hanging out.
I rested the moist cotton swab against my chin as I tuned out the noise of laughter and chatter around me and fell asleep. Not long after I heard the scuffling of everyone coming to sleep, so I tucked my head under the covers and waited until the lights went out to uncover my head. Several hours later, before anyone woke up, I felt a stabbing pain in my chin, so I reached up and touched my chin to find an entire chunk of my skin roll off onto my fingers. I gasped and ran to the bathroom, to see that when I’d fallen asleep with the Sea Breeze cotton ball resting on my chin, I'd burned a small patch of skin off, so my chin had pimple was now an open and bleeding wound. But the good news is that it didn't look like a pimple anymore, it looked like an open wound that needed hydrogen peroxide and a bandaid.
I felt relieved and went to the infirmary and told a lie about how I'd fallen and something had scraped my chin, so the nurse gave me some ointment and a BandAid, which oddly enough helped me relax, because I no longer had to deal with people staring at my pimple. Now I had a socially acceptable bandaid.
My chin wound took months to heal (probably because I wasn't telling the truth about it), and it left a significant round scar right in the center of my chin that I hated. It was big enough to be noticeable, but small enough that it would be awkward for someone to ask about it, so it stayed in my awareness constantly. It would also get baby pimples along the scar, so the area always had an inflamed appearance.
This pimple scar continued to haunt me well into high school, and even on college, where it took an interesting turn. It was 1997 and my dog Sadie and I were out on a hike on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado, and I'd just had my second surgery on my right shoulder from whitewater kayaking, so my right arm was in a sling. I was coming downhill on a trail when my feet slipped out from under me and I began to fall forward. I got scared I’d injure my shoulder more, so I changed my angle of impact and face-planted into the ground in order to spare my shoulder.
I immediately felt a warm zing of pain in my chin and I realized a stick had gone most of the way through my chin. I took a deep breath, took off a layer I was wearing and held it up to my chin to stop the blood as I proceeded to drive myself to the E.R.
When I walked in, the nurses didn't know what to do first, since my arm was in a sling but my face was bloody. I told them my arm was fine and it was my chin that needed help.
A few hours later I drove home with 15 dissolvable stitches in my chin, and now I had a scar that was a straight line across my chin, rather than a raised bump. But what I find interesting is that the story with me face planting to save my shoulder is much easier to to tell than the one about how I burned off my first pimple at a middle school lock-in.
But the stories my chin holds have taught me so much about life, and how much my own self induced fear and shame can run the show, even in the mind of a young middle schooler who barely had boobs.
Our job as humans is not to point out where we are all deficient, it's to love each other through it all, and enjoy the different expressions our body has in its human form. And sometimes that means having pimples, because that's a beautiful form of releasing energy that's no longer useful.
But please note it took me a long time and many more embarrassing skin care faux pas, to begin to really begin working on shifting my thinking around my skin from anger at it for not being perfect, to curiosity about what it was trying to share with me. And now, thanks to my healing journey with my skin, I've built a beautiful business that has the ritual of skincare as one of its foundations. And I wouldn't have learned as much as I did, without all the lessons, including burning my chin skin off with SeaBreeze.
So trust your journey, even all the little imperfections along the way, because they're leading you somewhere worth remembering, or to something worth having.