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Most people can agree that major plastic surgery that movie stars get is too far, but what about things that are more available to the common person? 6 years ago I was a smart, thin high-schooler. I was nice and had multiple hobbies that I acquired friends through, but when we went out I found myself ostracized. Severe acne was holding me back- it hurt, and became time consuming and costly to take care of. I felt ugly because of it, and it was obvious others thought the same. I went to multiple dermatologists that caused me to miss school some days and spend tons of money in the endless search for something to help. All I wanted was to look like the person I felt on the inside. Long term antibiotics, microdermabrasion, and lengthy mourning routines were all things that the doctors thought would help. I finally found a doctor who seemed to really want to help me: he said there was a medication that would cure me from any major acne. It worried me that I had to sign papers to get the drug, but my doctor confirmed that he had never seen a severe reaction to the drug and I’d probably be fine. After all, isotretinoin (known as Accutane, Sotret, Claravis, or Amnesteem) is just like taking vitamin A, and vitamins are good for you, right??

Signing my life away

Without a second thought, I signed my life away. Many times. I was required to read a book on the drug and take a test online to confirm my understanding of the drug and my health. Part of taking the test was confirming that I was using 2 forms of birth control, one which included a hormone pill even though I was just a kid and sex was far from my mind. Not only that, but I was required to have bloodwork done at least every month. The book warned that people have been known to become suicidal on the drug or develop Crohn’s disease, and depression, anxiety, or gastrointestinal issues could become permanent. All those warnings didn’t scare my parents or my doctor, and every drug has scary warnings anyways. The people with problems like that are the exception, and something like that could never happen to me- or so I thought.

From bad, to worse

For a week and a half blemishes magically disappeared and I felt great, but then the sickness set in. I quickly regretted everything. Crippling, constant nausea, stomach pains sharp enough to take your breath away, heart palpitations, and, as I later found out, anxiety, came to rule my life- for years. Endocrinologists, cardiologists, and gastroenterologist’s became a part of my weekly schedule. After having a barium drop test, blood tests, endoscopy with biopsy, ultrasound, as well as a heart monitor with electrodes that were hooked up to me for weeks, doctors couldn’t find anything that was causing my severe discomfort.

I stopped hanging out with friends, I couldn’t get through school most days, and leaving school to go to doctors appointments became a reason to cry instead of a reason to celebrate getting out of class. Even riding horses, my favorite thing in the world to do, became too much for me. I was a guinea pig with drugs- they tried various drugs without knowing what the real problem was, and ended up with a muscle relaxer that allowed me to at least eat a cracker sometimes without wanting to die. I still barely ate, yet I always felt over-stuffed and looked fat from bloat. My GI specialist eventually told me although I didn’t have Crohn’s now, that I’d probably develop it because of the medication, and that there was nothing more he could do.

It wasn’t until much later that my family doctor suggested an anti-anxiety drug. Being just a kid, I assumed that I couldn’t possibly have anxiety, much less something that could cause problems like that. Thankfully, she was right. The anti-anxiety helped tremendously- I could eat some foods again, even ice cream sometimes! I still didn’t do a lot and still had a lot of sick days when my energy would drastically fall or I’d feel like throwing up for days at a time, but it was an improvement. Then the new boyfriend came along. Life was good- he taught me to enjoy going out and doing things again. I still felt sick sometimes when we went out, but he gave me a reason to try. Soon enough he helped me get off the SSRI, and I was improving every day with his help.

Life today

I still feel sick some days, but it’s rare now. My stomach is feeling much better and I can have nearly any food so long as I don’t over-do it. My anxiety still stops me from doing things that I’d like to do, but a little help from my friends and a lot of patience and support from my boyfriend allowed me to do things I thought I’d never be able to do again. I can go out to dinner, exercise, and walk into a building without looking for the closest place to throw up. I’m glad I’ve come so far, but I may never be at the same health I was before and my improvement doesn’t mean that others have been so lucky. People may have died because of the drug or been stuck with colostomy bags for life, thankfully- I’m not one of them.

I still have some acne, but as I get older it gets better. Don’t throw away your health for the chance at becoming a little more aesthetic. Whether it’s plastic surgery, constant tanning or dangerous medications, don’t sacrifice your health for beauty. If you’re not healthy, you won’t be able to enjoy the beauty- or life at all.

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