Most of you probably don’t know this, but in addition to suffering from Crohn’s disease, I have a condition called vitiligo, and it’s making my skin change color. Vitiligo is what Michael Jackson suffered from—the disease that turned him white and may have led him to bleach his skin (the verdict is still out on that one). Why do I personally believe he bleached? Because as someone who also has vitiligo, I know it doesn’t leech out all of your pigment overnight.

It started over a year ago with a white spot on my hand. I had a few other small places on my arms that didn’t seem to tan like the rest of my skin, but doesn’t everyone? However, during a routine visit with my dermatologist, I mentioned it and he said we’d keep an eye on it. Six months later, the white spot had grown a little bit and spread. “Try this cream,” my doctor urged. I applied two different ointments and a separate lotion, day and night, to no avail. The vitiligo seemed to be spreading much faster as I rubbed the gels and creams in and I became convinced that they were causing my skin to turn white. Besides, I was getting more patchy white leopard spots on my arms and legs. So when the creams stopped working, I just said “screw it.”

My left hand

My left hand

The other treatment options available to me don’t sound very appealing—bleaching my skin (no thank you) or undergoing multi-weekly laser treatments that insurance likely wouldn’t cover. Perhaps if my original skin color were darker these are things I would consider. I’m not vain, but this past weekend I saw an African-American teenager who had a very obvious case of vitiligo, and my heart immediately went out to him. See, vitiligo can take over your whole body, but there are places it really likes. The underarms, for example. The hands. And on the face, it usually starts around the lips and eyes. This teenager’s legs were mostly white with a few patches of his original coffee-colored skin tone still present, but he looked like he was appearing in an ironic blackface. The strangers that must stare at him. I felt an immediate connection to him, and hoped that he had enough pride and confidence in himself to let it all bounce off of his back. It also touched me to see him surrounded by friends.

Seeing a skin-dred spirit (like that?), I realized how lucky I am. I was born with a very fair peaches and cream complexion. So fair, in fact, that most of my friends don’t even notice my leopard-spotted hands, the patches on my legs and arms. I’ve mentioned it to some and they swear up and down they don’t see it. My friends are all very wonderful people, and whether they’ve noticed the changes in my skin or not, I think I’m blessed. But at times, it’s also scary to see my skin evolve and lighten before my very eyes. To know I may never be able to show off a vacation tan again. To not know where it’s going to attack my body next. I have some spots hidden beneath my clothes that almost look as though someone has touched my skin with paint, fingerprints from a vicious monster of autoimmunity.

But I am fortunate. If and when the vitiligo starts to affect my face, I’ll be able to hide it easily with makeup. I’ll turn into a porcelain doll. I’ll burn much more easily in the sun. But vitiligo doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t itch. It’s not contagious and it’s not affecting my day-to-day life. Plus, underneath a black light, I look really, really cool.