For Jalissa Brown, Hidradenitis Suppurativa began as it does for so many young people: subtly, and right around her pre-teen years.
“I started getting my symptoms when I started getting my menstrual cycle, and sometimes with hormones triggering HS,” she shared. “But I didn’t take initiative until it became a recurring thing, and by my senior year of high school, I was in a cosmetology program and I was always lifting my arms, and I was like… woah, something isn’t right.” Jalissa went onto explain that her flare-ups would sometimes be so bad, they’d stain her uniform.
Fortunately, Jalissa received a straightforward diagnosis upon visiting a doctor, which she realizes isn’t always the case for many people.
Currently, Jalissa attends Kent State University, where she’s studying Psychology and Pan-African Studies. As she manages her own HS symptoms, she wants to speak out for people who might not know how to advocate for themselves, or even what’s happening to them in the first place.
“I think the most misunderstood is the fact think it is due to poor hygiene or obesity; they can be factors that may contribute to trigger an HS flare up, but those conditions are not the sole reason one suffers from HS,” she said.
“It is a condition that if you are diagnosed with, it maybe something that person battles with for the rest of their live.”
Jalissa also experienced flareups in more intimate areas, such as on her vulva, which is something that she wanted to share explicitly so that others suffering will know that they aren’t alone.
Of course, it goes without saying that HS impacts every aspect of a person’s life, but especially one’s relationships. When it comes to friendships, Jalissa shared that she did have to explain to her friend group what was really going on with her. “I would be in so much pain, and they would want to go out, and I would have to explain why I couldn’t,” she said, adding that she was fortunate to receive so much understanding and grace. It’s yet another reminder that transparency is the best policy, and that given how little people know about HS, it’s so important to help those you love understand.
Speaking of, Jalissa says dating has likewise been an interesting experience for her. “It was very hard, and it’s still very hard now, because I’ll have a bad flareup, and in my head, sometimes I’m grateful to be single because I think, I can’t imagine dating someone and what they’d think about it.” Her takeaway? You can’t just date anyone when you have HS. You need someone who is open-minded, and understanding — which is a pretty good policy overall.
“One of my greatest strengths has always been my ability to tell my story and be transparent about my experiences,” Jalissa adds. “My battle with HS is no different. When I first started to share my story it was about being heard when I have felt misunderstood in regards to it, but now I share to bring awareness and be a representation for the community, especially with the community that is online. Being able to know someone who is across the global is going through the same situation in regards to our health and our skin lessens the burden of it.”
Through her journey, Jalissa has continued to connect with the HS community online, which she attributes to a big part of her progress. “Talking to other people who suffer from the same thing… it’s just a comforting feeling,” she says. “I can’t even begin to explain it, because like, you think you’re alone and you’re the only person in your friend group or family dealing with these things, and it’s like, wow, it’s not just me.”
“Being able to talk to people about the physical aspect of it, the mental aspect of it, and then also being able to share what you do when you get a flareup or what you eat when you’re in the middle of a bad flareup, that’s so helpful.”
As for her advice to others, Jalissa wants to remind everyone that HS is a call to have more self-love than ever, not less. “Don’t touch the flareup, let it run its course, and know: you are beautiful enough, you are confident enough, and you deserve to be loved as you are.”