Hi, my name is Somalini Patnaik. I am a 32-year-old strategic project manager, working in a major investment bank in Mumbai, India. I first noticed a very tiny but persistent white spot on my forehead that was quite prominent in all my selfies. I was 27, and I was living in Texas at that time for an on-site deputation.
I remember the first night when I found out from Google about this condition that I have, the only question I had was about my looks as I age. I cried myself to sleep all alone in a humid Texas summer evening after I googled what the 3 spots on my forehead and knuckles could mean. I woke up the next day to call my parents back in India and share this news.
I remember the next few weeks I was conscious around people, in the bus, at work, while shopping but quickly realized no one was staring at me. The very idea that I couldn’t imagine how much of my skin would lose pigmentation down the lane overwhelmed me, but I soon realized it would be no different than a pimple or wrinkles or grey hair that no one can anticipate! Those initial months of living in the States gave me the confidence and an attitude that’d later help me when I moved to India into a very different environment. By now, I wasn’t heartbroken, only determined to research more and plan what changes to bring in my lifestyle.
I keep saying I’m Vitiligo-kissed. I see this as a blessing that has brought me so many gifts – confidence, attitude, self-acceptance, and humility. It has helped me see things from a new perspective, focus on things that actually matter, filter out those shallow people that only bring one down and appreciate how beautiful diversity is.
I don’t know if I have ever thought about a life without vitiligo. The first 27 years were different, but I’m enjoying this journey. I have successfully moved up in my career, only on the basis of my merit, credibility, and hard work. I’m surrounded by amazing colleagues who treat me no different. This could be one of the reasons why I have never felt the need to conceal or “cure” this. But I’m respectful of the people who choose to try treatments/creams. Every person with vitiligo is unique. Their experiences are their own, and it’s only right to let everyone decide their journey.
Having said that, I strongly feel that we as a community, across the globe, need to be more inclusive. It is okay to ask questions, but it’s not okay at all to stare, despise or treat us, with vitiligo, as an outcast. People need to understand that this condition doesn’t define us, and the standards of beauty are not inclusive at all.
In the end, my heart goes out to all people who are unable to love themselves, mostly because of the society they live in. I know it’s not that simple, but I hope they get the strength and support to live their true selves.