Winter 2015: “Letting Go of Worry” Powerful Voice Winner Carolina Mendez

Read Carolina's essay, "To Be Determined," about how letting go of worry helped her deal with the effects of Vitiligo, an autoimmune disease affecting skin pigmentation.

Carolina Mendez, a student of Sheryl Harris at Foundations Venture Academy in Stockton, California, read and responded to the YES! Magazine online article “Life After Worry” by Akaya Windwood. Windwood shares that worrying never changed the outcome of whatever she worried about. She discovers that when she replaces worry with trust she can be more present for her sister who has MS. And her friends, co-workers, and family find her more clear-headed, creative, and strong.

Writing Prompt: Think of the things you worry about. What is one worry you’d like to throw away? What would you replace your worry with, and what would you—and possibly those around you— gain by not having that worry in your life?


To Be Determined

I wanted to make everything stop as I sat on the examination table in Dr. Jackson’s office. The more in depth he went in his explanation about my skin disease, the deeper I was sinking. Slowly, I began to drown out all the voices in the room. That was until one voice pierced through it all and asked me, “Are you afraid?” I turned my head to face my sister, unsure how to answer. I shrugged and told her that the answer was to be determined.

I was only seventeen years old when I was diagnosed with Vitiligo. In case you have no idea what that is, I will begin by saying it’s not contagious. From my understanding, Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease in which the cells that produce skin pigmentation are unable to function. In much simpler terms, I have loss of skin color on some parts of my body.

Weeks went by after the diagnosis, and my Vitiligo continued to progress. My family always told me not to worry, that I’m still me. At first, I thought that sounded bizarre. How could I be anyone else? The thought lingered for months, until one summer evening, I finally understood. I went out with a good friend of mine and we ran into a friend of hers. We chatted and laughed for a few minutes, and then I realized I hadn’t properly introduced myself. I told her my name as I stuck out my hand to meet hers. There was a long pause before I noticed she was staring at the white patch on my hand. She asked me if it was contagious, and I told her, “Not at all.” Still staring at my outstretched hand, she said, “I’d rather not.” There, I suddenly forgot who I was. I felt my heart drop to the deepest pits of my body. I have never seen anyone look at me with such disgust. I have never felt so ugly. I didn’t say anything, but my expression said it all. Did someone actually refuse to shake my hand because of my skin? Later that night, I cried for hours until I couldn’t cry anymore. I still think about that day and how it changed my outlook towards myself.

 After my diagnosis, many people said “It’s not that bad” or “You’re still the same person.” Yet, they failed to see the effect it had—and still has—on me. I struggle with confidence. I admit that even I catch myself staring at my skin, so I can understand the curiosity of others. I feel as if they only see my Vitiligo— not me. I struggle to accept myself. Once, I tried to use makeup to cover up what I could. I felt ridiculous. I struggle to sleep. I have countless nightmares where I wake up and look in the mirror and see myself completely covered, head to toe, in patches. I struggle remembering to take the medicines I need to take, and I struggle with keeping track of all the UV light therapies I have to attend. However, the biggest struggle is not knowing. There is no way of knowing when, where, or how quickly the Vitiligo will spread. There is no known cause or cure. It’s a painful waiting game— and I have grown tired of waiting. 

One morning, the YES! Magazine article “Life After Worry,” by Akaya Windwood, appeared on my desk as an English assignment. It made me wonder about the different worries people have in their lives. Was I being selfish? Why not worry about something like global warming, or world hunger? Instantly, I realized: why worry about anything? Akaya Windwood wrote something that astonished me: “I realized that worry had never changed the outcome of whatever I was worried about.”

So why not throw it all away? I know I couldn’t throw away my Vitiligo, but I could throw away the negativity that I let get under my skin. All I really needed was hope. With hope, I gained much more than positivity. I gained security, trust, and confidence. This realization has been life-changing and eye-opening in more ways than anyone can understand. I think back to my response to my sister’s question. My “to be determined” has finally been determined. I’m not afraid.

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