Body image concerns affect almost all teenagers. It is estimated at about 72% of teens in Ireland worry about their body shape. I was no different. Throw in strange unidentified boils, and you certainly have a recipe for self-esteem disaster. This is what I wish I knew when I was a teen and dealing with hidradenitis suppurativa.
Hidradenitis Suppurativa is often overlooked and misdiagnosed. Puberty certainly comes with changes, it’s part of growing up. But when nobody else is going through the same changes you are, it’s scary. In place of an explanation, I, like many people, blamed my body. I was sure that weight-loss was my salvation. It wasn’t.
Firstly, I spent so much time hating my body; I never considered that it was just doing what it was supposed to. I wish I had known as a teenager that I was not the problem. My body was not to blame. I wish that I had treated it with the respect it deserved. Being a teen and dealing with hidradenitis suppurativa was tough enough without the added pressure I put on myself.
My body is not the Enemy
I recently learned that HS is partly an overreaction of your immune system. That obviously has some pretty distressing consequences for us but its not a bad thing at its source. It’s like a faulty defence system.
I wish I had known that my body was trying to protect me, not wage war. At the end of the day, our bodies are trying to keep us healthy under challenging circumstances. Nobody knows for sure what causes HS. But experts believe HS might be the result of genetics. If you would like to know more, I wrote an article about it here.
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You can’t give yourself HS
It is common for young people with HS to be told that they are somehow to blame for their condition. Some believe that their symptoms are caused by weight gain, poor hygiene or sweating. And it doesn’t help that lack of awareness leads doctors to blame a person’s body for HS symptoms.
In my teens, I was told my condition was the result of weight gain. I tried to control my body with an unhealthy and restrictive diet. Abusing your body is never the answer. Dieting can be dangerous, even if it is the norm.
I wish I had known it was not my fault. Weight, HS and puberty are one perfect storm. And doctors don’t know why. So, if my doctor doesn’t know how to make it stop, how could I?
Health is for You
When you are a teen, much of what you do is at the behest of adults. Weight-loss might be on the minds of every teen, but health is not. If you are trying to lose weight because of shame, that’s not healthy. Any change you make should be because its good for you. It should make you strong and happy. And of course, any change should be under the supervision of a doctor.
Health behaviours include exercise and eating healthy. As well as giving up unhealthy habits like smoking. Any additional health activity you take up is right for you. That’s regardless of your body type. And health is more than a size.
I wish as a teenager, I had known that health is possible at every size. Good health is possible even if you have a disease like HS. Your health is worth working for. Find out how you want to feel and work toward that.
What I Want You to Know as a teen dealing with hidradenitis suppurativa
It gets better. It seems like a cliché, doesn’t it? But it is true. I have learned to manage my condition and advocate for myself. If you want to make things better, work on those two things.
In one way you have an advantage many of us didn’t have, access to information. If you are reading this its because you want to educate yourself on your condition. So get as much information about HS and your body in general as you can. And make sure that next time you speak to an adult, you have as much information as possible. You want to take control of your health. And you want to make sure you get the best support you can.
All that is amazing and so doable. My advice is to always advocate for yourself. Never allow anyone to tell you your health condition is your fault. Or that your body is to blame. You know it’s not.
Remember your body is you, and you must always believe in yourself. Be brave and stand up for your body. When it comes to your health, don’t take no for an answer.
Above all, if you change anything in your life, change it for you. Not because you were told to and not because you think it will cure you. Most of the time, you don’t need curing. And as for curing HS, that is a bigger job than either you or I can handle. Focus on yourself. You do you for you.
About the Author
Shannon Sweeney is a psychology and sociology student from Ireland. She is also living with HS and has a keen interest in lifestyle, wellbeing, and Hidradenitis Suppurativa.