This post is a continuation of My Skin Struggles (Part 1). I used a selfie as my featured image then, so I’m just going to do the same again! I was going to stage some kind of picture of me taking my Accutane pill, but it’s taken forever to get this post finished and in the wise words of Nike, I wanted to JUST DO IT.
July of 2015
“Where is all this acne coming from?? I must be stressed about the wedding. Or maybe I’m stressed about heading to Milan right after the wedding. Or maybe both.”
Life was moving at a million miles a minute.
The acne had slowly started to appear during my final New York days, but not enough to be cause for alarm. It was just a petite little blemish or two. Isn’t that an adorable word, blemish?
I’d returned to San Francisco at the very end of June to put the finishing touches on our San Anselmo, CA wedding.
It was back in SF when the acne really started to make itself known.
I got a facial and crossed my fingers. It didn’t do much, but I was in such denial that I never noticed the “purge period” the estheticians mentioned NEVER ENDED.
I wasn’t very proactive because I was extremely busy and extremely stressed. I wasn’t used to dealing with acne and had forgotten how aggressive you have to get about treating it.
I was also really preoccupied with another body issue: my weight. When I came back from New York, I was a bag of bones. My wedding dressmaker took my measurements while I was this tiny size.
Of course, I gained a little bit of weight when I was back in SF. California tends to have healthier body standards for models than NYC, plus I was eating my meals with a man who likes it when I have a bit of a booty… rather than with fellow calorie-fearing models. Of course, I thought I was still watching my weight closely, but there’s a difference between watching your weight and WATCHING YOUR WEIGHT.
By the time I realized how many inches I’d gained, the dress didn’t fit. We were only weeks away from The Trevathan Celebration and I had to drop 1.5 inches off my hips FAST. The extreme stress that arises when you’re not only wedding planning but also have “Lose weight or lose the thousands of dollars that went into your hand-sewn custom-made wedding dress (or look like a stuffed sausage in it when the figure-skimming fabric bunches up)” looming over your head…
Well, I’m sure that wasn’t good for my skin either.
What I’m trying to say as far as my skin is concerned was that I was A) in denial and B) preoccupied.
I married the love of my life on August 29, 2015 and left for Milan two and a half days later.
September and October of 2015
My Milan agency greeted me with, “What happened to your face?!?”
(It wasn’t in a mean way; it was a genuine inquiry. My face looked BAD.)
Throughout the two months in Italy, my mother agency and Milan agency were extremely helpful and supportive. They made dermatologist appointments (I was put on Italian antibiotics and a couple different topical treatments) and brainstormed with me. Despite everyone’s kindness and attention, the acne stubbornly stuck around.
Around this time, I’d finally realized WHY my acne had flared back up, and my San Francisco agent generously offered to ship my birth control (I had a couple months’ worth of unused pills at our apartment) overseas.
I declined for three reasons:
- If it had taken 3-5 months for my skin to get bad, I could only assume it’d take just as long to go back to being good. Hormonal changes like that don’t happen immediately, and I needed something that would work NOW.
- I was afraid of gaining weight right before Fashion Week.
- I just wasn’t willing to go back on the pill in September after getting off of it a few short months earlier. Once in high school, I forgot to schedule my annual gyno appointment and had to take a month’s pause from birth control until I got things sorted out. My mom got onto me about how bad it is for your body to go on and off and back on birth control in a short amount of time. When it came to my modeling career, I was willing to do almost anything. I lost weight, I cut the hair I’d been growing out for years right before my wedding (an orchestra of tiny violins accompanied me to the salon), and laughed every single time someone made the, “So you’re on your honeymoon without your husband?!” joke in Milan. And I’m not trying to complain. I did those things gladly, realizing how blessed I was to be fulfilling my dreams. And I genuinely liked the Edgy Girl haircut at times, especially in pictures. I like to think I have a badass side, after all. 😉 But when it came to the pill, I had a mini self-righteous freakout in my mind and was like, “I’M DONE MAKING SACRIFICES FOR YOU, HIGH FASHION. If there is ANY chance going back on the pill is even slightly bad for my reproductive system and lessens my chances of making three beautiful babies– ALL THREE OF WHOM WE’VE ALREADY NAMED–with the amazing man I just married I’M NOT DOING IT.” So that was that. (Everyone has crazy self-righteous freakouts in their mind sometimes, right? …Right?!)
The Italian antibiotics sort-of helped but not really. They brought my skin from D+/C- to a C+ or maybe a B- at best. However, it never became what one would call “clear” and it never came anywhere close to “model-ready.”
Though I was lucky enough to work two pretty major shoots, I was not able to walk in any fashion week shows or live out my full Milano potential.
However, something moved in me during that trip.
I actually want to talk more about it in future posts, but I’m trying to stay on track here. It was one of those life-changing experiences that affected the very core of my being.
I know, I know… pretty much every woman has an Eat Pray Love experience in her twenties in Europe. Hashtag wanderlust hashtag lose yourself to find yourself.
But really though.
Despite the hardships, or perhaps in part because of them, Milan was absolutely magical.
I’d returned to San Francisco at the end of October feeling empowered about my skin and future.
At that point, Stephen and I had also decided to move, and had a little less than a month before our departure date. My agent came through with what was basically a VIP level dermatologist appointment with one of SF’s best doctors (#modelwins!) and I gratefully marched into the sterile room, my mind dancing with the promise of dewey, smooth skin.
At that point I was ready for anything, including Accutane and the accompanying birth control. My body had had another two months off of the pill, which would have made me feel less bad about quitting birth control and then jumping back on it. Six months seemed like a significant break, rather than a “push, pull, stop, start” clusteryouknowwhat of hormone confusion. Also, I was just two months further into hating my acne.
However, my new derm assured me that was not necessary. Instead, she put me on:
- Fancy vitamin lotion (their office brand)
- Fancy sunscreen
- Obagi face wash
- Obagi Blender (basically face bleach for scars)
I had incredibly high hopes for the spirnalactone. A beautiful makeup artist (and the most famous of the ones I’ve worked with!) had told me earlier that year that Spirinalactone was her secret weapon. Her skin had glowed taught and alive under her perfectly blended foundation as she expertly made brushes dance around my face. I had been shocked to learn she was 40; she looked at least ten years younger.
So I clutched that Spirinalactone Rx with the greed of a toddler trying sneak a pre-dinner candy bar past Mom.
Nov. 2015 – Apr. 2016
………then the candy bar melted and stained my favorite Elsa from Frozen costume and Mom got mad at me for lying and put me in time-out and I cried because I hate getting in trouble. Metaphorically speaking.
Literally speaking, my skin purged with the fire of a thousand suns. Since I’m no stranger to acne medications, this didn’t really throw me off that much. My skin already looked pretty bad pre-medication; what did it matter if it now looked downright terrible?
To be honest, my break from modeling was also a bit of a relief.
Things had all progressed so quickly during 2015 that I hadn’t really had the chance to catch up emotionally. I needed to process some of the body aches that came with being a model (at least in my case. I can’t speak for all models, obviously) and, quite frankly, work through some dark thoughts about food. To spend time with my sweet new husband, who seemed to not even see the bulbous angry red lumps that grew rampant my face.
Who still called me beautiful just as much as he has all these years.
My skin hit a really good point in Feb (maybe March?) and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. However, it then went back to being a train wreck.
Ok so. This next part is tricky.
I want to tell my story without being a bitter little whiny biatch or totally throwing my SF dermatologist under the bus. But I also want to tell you the truth, so here goes…
In my humble opinion, my dermatologist was deceptively positive about the whole spirnalactone decision. When I emailed her progress pictures (Stephen and I lived in NC at that point), she kept telling me that it was working, that my skin was glowing under the acne, that the improvements were subtle but existent.
Glowing under the acne? WAIT WHAT??
I saw what I saw in the mirror. And what I saw was NOT nice skin.
However, I convinced myself that the good days were improvements and the bad days were exceptions to the rule. (Psychology friends– there’s a name for doing that, right?) Like I said, there was a patch late in the winter where it was definitely better. I had a lot of blotchy scarring but most of the monster zits were gone… for a week or two.
And then it returned to the usual.
My dermatologist charged $50 per email/phone checkup. She advised them every two weeks, or something crazy like that. I checked in less frequently for the obvious financial reasons, but every time I did, she told me the same thing: that I had made SO MUCH progress and looked amazing, and “Thank you for being so calm and patient, Maya. Some people just don’t get it; they think medications work overnight. You are just so reasonable!”
Yeah. Reasonable and covered in fucking cysts because the SIX different products you had me on aren’t working.
*Takes a deep breath*
Honestly, mostly I’m mad at myself. Mad that I ate up what she was saying during the phone calls and then immediately felt dissatisfied when we hung up and I looked in the mirror.
Angry because I clung so hard to: “The good doctor knows what she’s talking about!” and “[Name of makeup artist] looks amazing and SHE’S on Spirnalactone, so soon I will look amazing too!” and “Didn’t [One of My Girlfriends] say that her best friend from college uses Spirnalactone and loves it?”
Maybe I’m mad at myself because part of me didn’t want it to go away.
The acne was what was keeping me next to Stephen, and away from any measuring tapes that could encircle my hips.
The acne was what was giving me the normal life I’d begun to envy during the previous year when I Facebook scrolled through teachers and nurses settled in starter home with husbands and white picket fences and freezers that they owned with Ben & Jerrys inside for when they wanted something yummy.
The types of young women who use the word “yummy.”
Was I that type of woman? Did I want to be??
Maybe the grass was always greener. Maybe the Normal Life Women envied the model.
Or maybe they had no idea what the model was doing, barely remembered her name from high school/college… and didn’t envy me even if they did.
Maybe I was a Normal Life Woman at heart and didn’t want to admit it in my pursuit of being intriguing and well-traveled and glamorous. Like Mena Suvari in American Beauty, vainly seeking the limelight but really just a scared reed blowing in the wind (freespirited, commanding, reckless wind that she deeply wished she could be) camouflaged amid fields of blonde vanilla desperation.
Maybe no one considers themselves a Normal Life Woman.
Maybe everyone is normal.
Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Maybe I just got really off track.
Maybe– no, DEFINITELY– I was very much OVER having acne and wanted clear skin regardless of who or what I was going to be when I grew up.
Instead of my regular check-in, I wrote my dermatologist an email letting her know my medications weren’t working (with the usual pictures to illustrate my point), suggesting that I start Accutane instead.
She had her assistant call me.
“Dr. [Name Redacted] agrees you might be a good candidate for Accutane. If you can’t fly out to San Francisco every month, you should probably find a new doctor,” the assistant announced carelessly.
“I can’t fly to San Francisco every month so I guess I’ll have to find a new doctor. Do you want me to update you when I’ve found someone?”
“Um… well, like, I guess if you really want to let us know……. you can,” she replied, in a tone that implied I’d just offered to update her every time I needed to take a pee.
I felt foolish. Of course they didn’t need to be updated when I found a new doctor. My skin/life didn’t concern them anymore.
A ton of emotions came crashing down as we hung up with a crack of the assistant’s gum. (I just totally made up the gum crack. She didn’t crack any gum but she spoke like someone speaks before they crack gum, if you know what I mean.)
Prior to this one, all my calls had been with the dermatologist herself. So the fact that she couldn’t even talk to me one last time–especially to say that I was right–added insult to injury. I was hurt and angry with her for being so careless with my skin and time. (Although like I said earlier, I needed the time. She’d inadvertently done me a huge favor.)
And then the San Francisco dermatologist’s office charged me a final $50.
June and July 2016
Getting on Accutane is a lot of work. My insurance required TWO primary care appointments including full bloodwork before allowing me to get referred to a derm. Lots of things went wrong (including the fact that the primary care doctor totally forgot my referral [after an appointment which I made for the sole purpose of getting a referral] and didn’t send it until I checked in two weeks later).
Then I had two dermatologist appointments, and had to prove TWICE, exactly a month apart, that I wasn’t pregnant.
I also had to do iPledge. iPledge is the program where they teach you that a baby conceived while a woman is on Accutane has a 100% chance of horrifying birth defects. They even have illustrations of how an Accutane child would look: it would have a backward sloping forehead that extends upward into a cone shape. A literal conehead– not even exaggerating.
When I did Accutane at age 16, I was a virgin and regarded the warnings with nothing more than a smidge of morbid teenage disinterest.
This time around, it was pretty terrifying…
I STARTED ACCUTANE AT THE VERY END OF THE MONTH, AS ANGEL CHOIRS SANG ARIAS, WOODLAND FAIRIES SPRINKLED ME WITH GLITTER AND ROSE PETALS AND THE CROWD CHEERED.
(Actually that’s not how it happened. After taking the first Accutane pill out of it’s blister pack and almost putting it in my mouth, I had a mini paranoia attack and sped to CVS for a box of pregnancy and ovulation tests. I also bought every face cream recommended by every “My Experience on Accutane” YouTuber ever. Eighty-nine dollars later, I found out what I already knew: I was neither pregnant nor ovulating. But at least I had a couple of underwhelming drugstore face creams, too! *eyeroll emoji*)
September 2016-February 2017
Accutane is the best acne drug ever.
Just my personal and correct option. 😉
I guess as I blogger I should add some disclaimers in here so I don’t look like I’m trying to dole out medical advice via the internet. HOWEVER I am so passionately pro-Accutane it’s not even funny. To me, getting on a drug (even if it’s an intense one) that has a specified time frame–usually 6 or 9 months– is infinitely better than being on antibiotics indefinitely. Especially antibiotics they don’t work as well in the first place. And I’ve heard they can lead to autoimmune diseases if you stay on them too long. (Haven’t researched it, so don’t quote me on that. But two friends of mine developed autoimmune disorders after being left on acne antibiotics for years.) Again, all this is JUST my opinion. Everyone’s body is different. If I have any young readers here, please don’t go taking medical advice from random strangers online. 🙂
Anyway, I started to see results after a mere 3 weeks, and was pretty much completely pimple-free by week 7 or 8. I had a brief sorta-purge where I had 4 or 5 big zits that lasted a few days and then went away. That was week 2, I believe. They were even a different shape than my usual pimples. Strange, right?
I’m 5.5 months in and couldn’t be happier!!! My skin still has some scarring and red marks, and it flushes and burns quickly. But there is not a pimple in sight!!! EVER.
I’m on 60 mg a day, in the form of two 30 mg pills.
Like age 16, I’m pretty lucky in terms of my lack of side effects. I have dry lips, dry-ish skin, and sometimes I get itchy eyes. All of those things are to be expected. My makeup goes on a little chalky, but it’s a small price to pay.
One main difference from last time was that I experienced more nosebleeds, especially during the first two months. I haven’t gotten one in a good 8-10 weeks now though, knock on wood. Probably my most annoying side effect is insane night sweats about 3-4 times a week. Not gonna lie, they’ve gotten a little old. Waking up in drenched sheets is never fun, plus night sweats negate the would-be positive of never needing to wash your hair. (Since your body isn’t producing oil, Accutane takers can get away with washing their hair much less than usual… if they don’t have night sweats.)
However, all in all, I am the happiest of campers.
I’ll be done with Accutane at the end of May!!
I plan to treat myself to some kind of professional scar treatment/laster/peel/etc as soon as I can. I need to research that a little. Recently my best friend told me you have to wait a full 6 months after you’re done with Accutane before you can do something of that nature. That would kind of suck, but I’ve gotten pretty patient as far as my skin is concerned. By that I mean, I’ve been forced to become Patient By Maya Standards.
My big question is whether I should get off the birth control pill as soon as I’m done with Accutane (i.e. a month or two after the last pill, when it’s out of my system… so probably end of July-ish to be safe) or not.
Stephen and I aren’t trying to have a baby yet, but there are obviously other ways of not getting pregnant.
As you saw in Part 1, I’m really over being on the pill. It makes it harder for me to maintain my weight and makes my saddlebag/thigh/underbutt fat stick like Elmer’s. For any of you who don’t know this, hormonal birth control works by tricking your body into thinking it’s pregnant. You can’t get pregnant if you’re already “pregnant.” I have wide hips to begin with, so being on the pill doesn’t do my model bod any favors.
Some of you might be thinking “Tons of girls are on BC and are still thin.” I’ve had that same thought too! Having a model-sized body isn’t easy either way, so part of me thinks I should stay on the pill for at least another year, maybe two. Plenty of girls are on the pill and counter its effects by extra hours at the gym and just chugging some water or eating veggies when that extra hormonal “Eating for two” hunger kicks in.
There is also a very small part of me that’s terrified the Accutane didn’t work and that’s it’s the pill keeping my skin clear. Or that they’re doing double-duty and that my skin would be okayish but not amazing if I stopped the pill.
Last time I stopped taking the pill, I didn’t get my period for over a year; in fact, I didn’t get a single period until I got back on the pill. I was thinner than I am now, but still. And before I first got on the pill at age 14, I only got my period every couple months. But at age 14 I was also thinner than I am now, and at the very beginning of puberty. So again I don’t know if it had to do with my body weight.
I guess I have some unanswered questions: Since I’m now a few pounds heavier than both my non-pill stretches of time, would I have a normal period/fertility if I got off the pill? Since I’ve been on the pill for over a decade, would my body be out of whack for awhile before I could potentially conceive? Should I give myself a “buffer” year or two, i.e. “I’m off the pill and we’re using other means to not have a kid but if something happened, it wouldn’t be the end of the universe”?
My second-worst fear in this world is struggling with infertility. So that part of me is pro Buffer Year/Two Years and getting off the pill in the summer. But the other paranoid part of me (lol)–the part worried about the acne coming back–wants to stay on the pill until like ten minutes before we start trying for Tiny Trev #1. But THEN what if it came back and I couldn’t do anything about it because we were trying to conceive?
So. Many. What-Ifs.
I’m lucky I believe in God and His will having a hand in everything, or I’d drive myself even nuttier than I already do!
Any advice from you ladies on all of this??
Anyway… I’m trying not to overthink too much now. After all, it’s mid-February, so the end of July is at least a good three weeks away. 😉
Thanks so much for reading!! Hopefully it wasn’t TMI for anyone! If you have any questions/comments/experiences, please leave a comment! If it’s personal, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. <3
p.s. Sorry about how my site looks! I’m lazy about/not good at tech stuff so I honestly haven’t tried to figure out the issue or even re-install my Maya UnMarketed header. If you read my last post, you know I’m back in the modeling game AND working for Stephen’s company a lot more than I used to. So the blog is priority #3 these days…