Tuesday, November 13, 2001

My Achilles Heel

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalms 13:1-2)

Several months back I wrote the below with the intent of getting it published in Newsweek magazine. Unfortunately, the editor has decided not to include it, but thankfully I've got publishing rights on my web site. I include it here not to praise the drug Accutane, but to reach out to those who have been plagued by an "Achilles Heel" throughout their life. I hope this message helps each of you overcome that obstacle, whatever it might be.

A good portion of my early adult life was spent trapped in either the four walls of my bedroom or the four walls of the bathroom down the hall. While my peers were enjoying their rise to adulthood, I was entangled in a never-ending struggle with the dregs of puberty...acne.

My first blemish appeared innocently enough my first year in high school in 1986; it was even welcomed with a smile as I joined the ranks of my friends who were experiencing the same frustration. But seven years later, as I was beginning my junior year of college, the smiles were long gone. In its place was a frown that seemed permanently etched on my face. Instead of enjoying my college years, "The Best Years of My Life," I was watching them slip away, hour by hour, all thanks to one unshakeable foe.

I was losing the war despite all of my efforts. I was a very good student and athlete, and like other battles in the past I had fought the good fight. I tried every medication on the market, I restricted my diet, I drank countless glasses of water a day, and yet the war zone on my face was only getting worse. Unfortunately, my mental health was sinking even faster. Dating (even the desire to date) had become a thing of the past. My trips to the basketball court were waning, and for the first time in my life I started to skip my classes. I knew then that I was in the trouble; from sixth grade through my sophomore year in college it was understood that if class was in session, I was going to be there (even senior skip day).

I had become a recluse. Long gone was the man who had loved life, and the company of his family and friends. The only person or thing I could show my face to was my dog, and even that was a struggle. But all was not lost. During Spring Break of my junior year, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine. He gave me hope as he spoke about a drug I had never heard of before, Accutane. He spoke about the wonders it had performed for a friend of his, and questioned how, with all my trips to the dermatologist, I didn't know anything about it. The next day, I scheduled yet another appointment with my dermatologist. After reading a pamphlet that spoke of all of its dangers, I jumped at the opportunity to begin the four-month treatment.

Within a month, I was jumping for joy. My face, for the first time in seven long years, was "normal!" The man I once was not only returned, but better than ever. I finished college on an excellent note, I earned a Master's degree, I landed a good job, I was dating, and most importantly I was blemish free. Or so I thought. In February of 1996, my Achilles Heel returned with a vengeance. Within months, I lost my job, my girlfriend, and my desire to live. Completely desperate, I decided to give Accutane a second chance. Thankfully, once again it came to the rescue.

Five years later, the word Accutane has resurfaced in my life. The FDA is currently researching the effects of the drug and whether or not there is a link with Accutane, depression, and suicide. Although I think research on any potential link is important, I think it is equally important to determine the state of the person before taking the drug. I can only speak for myself, but there are three reasons I'm still standing here today: my faith in Christ, the support of my family and friends, and the drug Accutane.

Today, I am a happily married man in my 30s. I look back at those low points of my life not with resentment or regret, but rather with a sense of awe of just how much I have been delivered from. My hope is that all those who are fighting the same battle will one day be able to say the same...with or without acne.