It was 10:30 when I got the call from the doctor's office.
"Hello, this is Cheryl at Dr. Holsey's office. We have the results of your test back."
Diagnosis: ringworm. Thus began one of the most harrowing battles of my life.
I spent several weeks in denial. It must be a mistake. How can this happen to me? I didn't engage in high-risk behavior. Had no family history. And I showered daily in my own bathroom with my own towel. Every day I asked, Why, God? Why me?
Answers were not forthcoming. Instead, I found shame, guilt, and a stigma stronger than any antifungal medication, over-the-counter or prescription. And this made me think. Maybe there is a reason this is happening to me. Maybe I have been chosen to end the silence that surrounds this affliction, to be a lone but empowering voice, to say: I am the face of ringworm. I am just like you.
Do you remember when high school wrestlers showed up to class with bandages on their faces? Did you think it was because they had cuts and scrapes? I thought so, too. But the fact is, their bandages were hiding ringworm they had contracted in the wrestling ring. That's not why ringworm is called ringworm, though. The name comes from the raised ring of scaly skin the fungus causes. It looks a little like a worm under your skin. Remember Lowly Worm? Wasn't he cute? Sometimes I like to pretend he's there under my skin, and it makes me feel a little better.
But ringworm isn't actually caused by a worm. It is caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte. You might remember dermatophytes from skin diseases like jock itch and athlete's foot. But you know what else is a fungus? Mushrooms. That portabello sandwhich with roasted garlic and goat cheese that you had for lunch? Fungus. Kind of makes ringworm seem a little less parasitic and a lot more delicious, huh?
When you're fighting a disease as misunderstood and stigmatized as ringworm, sometimes the facts aren't enough to lift your spirits. You need to heal your heart, not just your skin. So I picked a theme song for my encounter with ringworm. It is Radiohead's Creep. Radiohead must have had ringworm once, because they sure know how it feels:
When you were here before
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
And I wish I was special
You're so fuckin' special
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here.
Then I remember: ringworm can happen to anyone. I am strong enough to fight it, and too strong to be ashamed of it. I am the face of ringworm, and I do belong here.