Lisa Brown, an occupational therapist from Perth, was looking forward to reading a book about someone else with the skin condition she has – vitiligo. She wanted a book that would understand the struggles of a girl with vitiligo. As a result of the underrepresentation of vitiligo in popular culture, she couldn’t find a book that would explore a collective theme of love, loss, friendship, mental health, disability, and self-acceptance.
Rather than waiting any more, Lisa decided to write a book, now known as Dappled. Being a group therapist working in mental health, she had the right toolbox to write a story that would speak to her and others with vitiligo. Her latest literary work – Dappled – explores a young woman Jane’s journey with vitiligo.
Lisa first noticed a big white patch on her knee when she was 14 years old. She recalls her first encounter with the skin disorder, “I didn’t like it, but hoped it would go away. It looked so obvious sitting there in the middle of my olive skin that some kids at school started commenting on it, asking what it was. Mum took me to a dermatologist, who told me it was vitiligo and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt dismayed but didn’t realize the full impact of this diagnosis at first because for years I just had that one patch on my knee.”
As a teen, Lisa had far fewer patches than she does have now. So, in some ways that made her younger years with vitiligo easier. However, as a teenager, her patches bothered her a lot more simply because she hadn’t developed any of the coping skills to deal with them until then. Lisa recalls, “As an adult, I have many more patches but I am blessed to have a job that helps support me every day in my acceptance of them. I meet people all the time that have been through such incredibly difficult experiences and are still smiling. They are a real source of inspiration to me. The work I do as a therapist largely involves encouraging people to be proactive, working on the things they can change, equally trying to find peace with the things they cannot currently change.”
Lisa does what she can to support her mind and body with her vitiligo, like eating a nourishing diet, being conscious of stress triggers and being mindful of her own thinking. She has a very supportive partner and two wonderful, young boys to raise. But, like many other vitiligo crusaders featured on the list, Lisa too has to work on her self-esteem every day – “I suppose I am fortunate that I didn’t experience any overt bullying about my vitiligo. However, I’ve often experienced stares and questions. Even though most of the time I don’t think the people meant any harm, I would often dwell on these encounters a long time afterward. One time, years ago at work, a colleague asked me in front of everyone in the staff room what happened to my hands.”
Lisa thinks she handles any stares or questions about her white patches a lot better now, but it’s something she is still working on. On more self-conscious days, she wears clothes that would cover her patches up a little. Her jobs also demand a lot of public speaking, so she generally has a camouflage cream to wear on her hands. “I’m not ashamed of my vitiligo- it’s more that I just want to be seen as Lisa, without people being too distracted by the patches,” the 35-year-old occupational therapist shares her perspective.
Lisa’s latest book Dappled is a story that acknowledges the value of being comfortable in your own skin. It is a tale about kindness and the healing power of unconditional love. While Dappled caters to a wide readership, Lisa says it’s a tribute to the global vitiligo community. We can’t wait to see what Lisa thinks up next!