In this piece which was written and featured in the 2006 edition of Dispatches, Joti Gata-Aura talks openly about her diagnosis with vitiligo, some of the challenges she faced as she navigated a new life with the condition and how she evolved seven years later after diagnosis.
Joti is now an advocate for the condition and runs her brand, Positively Diverse which focuses on raising awareness of vitiligo and other visible differences in the media. This feature, written 17 years ago, shows acceptance, growth and learning to love your skin and for those who may be familiar with Joti as an advocate, will know just how much influcence she has within the vitiligo community today….
I have been a member of the Vitiligo Society for nearly 4 years. I am now 28 years of age and have had vitiligo since I was 21. I have wanted to tell my story for a very long time but have been quite apprehensive. This is simply because it is only recently that I have fully come out of my shell, accepted myself and gained an awful lot of strength over recent years. Vitiligo, for me started how it normally does with everyone else. I was studying a degree in Spanish and spent an entire year studying in the South of Spain. I was a young girl living a great life with so much to look forward to and never in my wildest dreams did I ever image what would hit me over the following months. Upon my return from Spain in 1999 I noticed a small white spot on the left of my arm. No one knew what this was. An awful period of anxiety and stress followed. All I wanted to do was get rid of it and the more I stressed about it the more it spread. It spread so fast that in seven years of having vitiligo just over 50% of my is white. As a girl who absolutely loved to dress up and go out and never had any major issues with confidence, this “knocked me for six”. In 1999 I failed my exams due to the overwhelming amount of stress and depression. I hardly went out, was completely inhibited and almost a recluse. I kept myself away from my best friends and just changed from being a completely outgoing bubbly sociable girl to an inhibited quiet and timid girl.
Vitiligo was on my mind constantly. After a great deal of hard work, I finally got into my final year and life all of a sudden seem a little more positive. I think having passed I was so relieved that I was able to complete my degree. All my friends from my old year had completed their degree and in a way, I felt lonely and sad that I would have to start making new friends again. However, I did make friends but kept my vitiligo a huge secret as I was so scared of what people would think of me. No one ever knew I had this condition and I was petrified what people would think. This was the wrong way of thinking as the few close friends I made have been the closest friends and supportive ones ever. Vitiligo was completely hard for my family to deal with too. Everyone was in denial for many years. They thought with treatment it would “just go” but it didn’t. It got worse and worse and I only made the situation even worse by covering up all the time and not letting even my own flesh and blood see what was happening to me. After completing my degree I started working for a large corporate bank in quite a senior role and again kept my vitiligo a secret. I was partly ashamed and partly worried what other team members would say about me. I soon quit that job and for 3 years embarked on short term banking contracts in the city. This I found worked out well as I could take the summer months off but deep down, I was doing everything to avoid the heat during the summer and on the underground.
Seven years on and I’m now going to embark on a career as a secondary school teacher working with kids who can be the hardest ones to deal with in society! Something in the past one year has changed about the way I feel about life. I have learned to open up and talk about my feelings with my family. I no longer keep my emotions to myself. Last November I got married to my wonderful husband who I have known for some time now and has been through the whole drama of my vitiligo starting and spreading. Navin (my husband) has been a shining star in my life. He never made me feel bad about myself. He was extremely supportive, and still is, in helping me deal with my skin. He has always told me how beautiful I am and that my family and friends and himself together with new friends I meet look past me and look at me rather than my skin.
I have gained a phenomenal amount of strength from Gurdeep as well who some of you may know from her connection to the Society. Her strength has given me the power to be proud of who I am and to stand up for what I believe in. I no longer cover up my skin at work, I haven’t yet reached that stage where I feel comfortable in skirts but I do wear 3/4 sleeve tops which is a huge step for me. I’m getting stronger by the day. I feel covering up was wrong and I now hate covering up my skin. This is who I am so people just have to deal with their own curiosities and ignorance. I’m going to be training for a PGCE in September and I am hoping to educate children in secondary schools about skin conditions. (As well as my subject area Spanish and French of course!!) I know I am going to be in a fantastic position to educate the children of tomorrow. I have the opportunity to make changes and to educate children and I can’t wait do to this I am now almost the person I used to be seven years ago; just a bit stronger. I never ever want to fall back into depression. Talk to anyone who you feel you can confide in. It really helps to talk. I’m such an open girl that I now talk to all my girlfriends about my problems, my sister and my husband. Everyone has adjusted and got used to my skin. It takes time but you realise that people around you that are close to you don’t see your skin as an issue. Who cares what people on the street think? Who are they to you? That’s what I keep telling myself. Hang on to those around you who care and love you. Don’t make vitiligo your one and only concern. Stay strong…I’ve done it. I never thought I would get to where I am but I’m here. Twenty eight years old, very happily married to my gorgeous husband, have a very secure family and very close solid, understanding friends.
Remember one thing…those people who are not supportive aren’t worth knowing. I’ve completely blocked out “those people” and only focus on the ones who love me as much as I love them. I really hope that my story gives some strength to those of you out there who are still feeling quite low about vitiligo. Honestly, I feel like I have wasted my time all these years allowing myself to get low and depressed about it and now I’m just making the most of enjoying life and accomplishing all the things I want to do.