‘I was forced to meet myself. I was living in my body, but this breakdown led me to getting to know myself for the first time. I just wanted to find a way to express and confront limiting thoughts.”
Reena Ruparelia (40), a mindfulness and wellness coach, was born in Toronto and was diagnosed with psoriasis in 1994.
“The summer of 1994 was right before I went into high school. I was diagnosed with psoriasis which is an autoimmune condition. Before I was diagnosed, I was a really active person. I was rollerblading, I played hockey, and I lots of played sports. But I was really tall, and I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood so I just never really felt attractive. I remember feeling like I didn’t look like anyone else. I would obsess over how my knees were darker than the rest of my skin. I hid behind my clothes, and I started to hate myself quietly. I was already considered “darker,” and in Indian culture, there’s a lot of colorism. And as a person with a skin condition, you could be considered sick through a cultural lens. If you have a condition, you can be confronted with thoughts like -Who is going to marry me if I’m sick? The family won’t accept me because my kids will be sick.”I used to hide my skin with long clothes and long sleeves just to get through the day.”
Reena describes how she changed dramatically after she got diagnosed.
“My confidence was non-existent at that point. I lived a fake happy life. I used a lot of people-pleasing and a bubbly facade to get people to like me, and I also took a lot of pride in my academics. Anytime I could find someone saying “good job, Reena,” I would take it because I felt so down on the inside. I was always looking for acceptance. This mentality even followed me into my career. As an adult, even the choices I made for jobs were affected by my skin. I was an HR professional for 10 years, and I wore plastic gloves to work. I had a boyfriend, and I had a good job. I was comfortable, but I desired more. I felt like I was missing something because I was hiding how I felt about my skin. However, I had a wakeup call.”
“One day I had a breakdown. I was really stressed, and I was not taking care of myself. That started a skin flare-up. I was trying to grip the mouse, and there were red scales. I literally couldn’t grip the mouse one day, and I started hyperventilating. I remember that I couldn’t breathe. I can still hear in my head how I was gasping. My fight or flight instincts started kicking in, and all I was thinking was - I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here. I wasn’t really thinking of anything. All I could feel was the shock of losing my breath. The whole top side and bottom side of my hands were red. They were so cracked and dry. I just remember looking at my hand and wondering - how did this happen? I had to go home that day. I took a taxi home, and I went to bed.”
Reena speaks on how pivotal this break down was. “I didn’t realize how bad it was. It was a wake-up call because, all of a sudden, I saw the reality of myself. It wasn’t even about positivity at that point. It was about saving myself. I was forced to meet myself. I was living in my body, but this breakdown led me to knowing myself for the first time. I wanted to find a way to express and confront limiting thoughts. I started an account without my face on it and I just shared my thoughts and people started to respond with “me too!” I wrote once “how will anyone love me when I look like this?” And I wrote, “when people say I’m beautiful, I always think that if they really knew me, they would think I’m ugly. They would think I’m gross.”
“More and more, I started challenging these thoughts, and I had to reprogram myself. I realized that I needed to ask for help. I didn’t need someone to tell me that I was good. I needed someone to tell me that I was valid.”
“I’m still learning to engage in the what-ifs and the possibilities of life. I’m still learning to live deeply and openly. I had to learn to say no to this type of thinking:
As soon as my skin clears, then I’ll wear this dress. As soon as my skin clears, I’ll get a hairstyle or put on eyeliner. As soon as my skin clears, then I’ll be worthy and free to live the life I want to live.”
“The best is yet to come for sure because I’ve been holding myself back for a long time. Now, I’m starting an IGTV TV show that opens up a dialogue for others. I’m also setting up mindfulness courses. I teach mindfulness because I want to help others have compassion for themselves and how to be mindful of their thoughts. Self-compassion is how we take back our power, and how we understand that we are worthy enough to move forward.”