I was a junior in college as I sat in the tiny exam room at my doctor’s office desperate to find the cause of the collection of boils that lived under my arm. After what seemed like an eternity, my doctor shared the news, “Okay Ms. Perry, it looks like you have Hidradenitis Suppurativa. We have a fact sheet printed for you when you get to the front desk.”
It was at that moment that all of the events of my life as it related to these excruciating boils, draining pus, and living in silence began to make sense. Still, with the newfound knowledge of my diagnosis, all of these symptoms of my HS only made sense to me on a foundational basis. Personal shame and a subconscious belief in cultural norms spoke to me internally and whispered that I should keep my experience behind closed doors.
At this age, I was proud to finally be blossoming into the woman I had always dreamed of becoming. I was disciplined, confident in my own right, and optimistic about the bright future I knew lay ahead.
Although I suspected I had HS for months before my official diagnosis, the confirmation sparked hours of unrelenting research into possible causes of my symptoms. I found myself in the rabbit hole thinking back on my life and what it was like when I first experienced HS.
I started menstruating fairly early at 9 years old which felt like a crashing wave signaling that my body was journeying through puberty. It was around this same time that I remember experiencing my first HS flares. My mind traveled down memory lane and stopped at the recollection of being excited to attend Baptist church revival with my dad and experiencing discomfort while sitting the entire night because of an agonizing flare. As if confirming the recurring presence of HS during my childhood, I later remembered one Super Bowl Sunday where my family had prepared a feast and silently wincing in pain as we watched the game.
Then came middle school and my HS flares suddenly stopped, almost as if they were a bad nightmare that I could hardly remember in the morning. As I embraced my journey through womanhood, I would get excited about incredibly perfumed body washes, scented shaving creams, and dressing like school was my runway. My remission continued on through high school and this is where I dove deeper into what femininity meant to me, albeit still on a surface level. In 2012, I was a freshman in high school and heavily into the natural hair movement as I learned to celebrate my hair’s natural beauty. I spent hours in the mirror weekly replicating styles I watched other women create on YouTube. I reveled in the fact that I was finally allowed to wear mascara and eyeliner. I would douse my body in cheap fragrance mists that I’d begged my mom to buy while shopping and I embodied the essence of what I believed to be true outward femininity.
As I look back on my journey through womanhood, I find solace in knowing that every step in my path led to a higher understanding of my true self. After my HS diagnosis in college, I stopped using most of the products that made me feel innately feminine. Gone were the days of conventional deodorant, scented body products, and even the energy required for hours spent styling my hair. I no longer shaved my arms because that led to increased irritation and my ego felt as though I had lost all of the things that made me feminine. After a long internal battle of redefining my identity, I learned to turn inward and to lean on the things that make me naturally feminine.
At this current stage in my life, I have learned to reject the idea of “Superwoman Syndrome” and to welcome the beauty that already exists in my feminine nature. You see, after many of the external factors that I believed made me feminine were taken away, I realized that I can still embody femininity because it is my birthright. I’ve learned to become more intuitive and to listen to my body and what it needs. In the past, I habitually moved on other people’s schedule and chose to ignore the pain, relenting to a strong desire to go with the flow. Today, I’ve learned to honor my own flow and that yes, I can take that midday nap if I truly need it. With this, I am also realizing the importance of leaning on others to ask for help when necessary. My intent to be collaborative means that I am better able to effectively communicate my needs in order to establish a more harmonious environment. I have also learned the power of reflection and taking a moment to assess how I feel, what could make me feel better, and how I will achieve this. Starting my social media page, writing about my HS journey, and tracking my journey independently have all been efforts to reflect on how far I have come.
Most importantly, my HS diagnosis showed me the significance of practicing kindness because you never know someone’s entire story. Dealing with HS pain, having feelings of shame, and turning inward during this experience has allowed me to understand the power of using my innate feminine energy to have a positive impact on the lives’ of others. I have learned how making an effort to do the small things for other people can not only bring joy to their life, but also to mine. In a world that relies heavily on outward appearance, I have learned to look within to honor my femininity and to value the inherent beauty that lives in me.