AJ talks about building the confidence and resilience to lead the life you want

AJ’s story: ‘Be confident, be proud and smile like you mean it’

AJ has a port wine stain birthmark on the right side of his face.

After I got help with my anxiety and depression, that’s when I looked at things completely differently. You are in control of how you respond to a question or statement. That thing that puts you in the driving seat is confidence.

My name is Andrew, but people call me Andy or AJ. At the time of writing this, I am a 25-year-old “man-child” otherwise known as a student, and I work part time in sales.

Through my life I have faced many challenges. I had brain cancer as a small child, which has left me with a tremor down my right side. So as you can imagine I had a lot of physiotherapy, and I’ve dealt with epilepsy (which is now well under control).

However, when I meet people, that’s not what they see, because I also have a Nevus Flammeus or port wine stain birthmark on the right side of my face.

Thinking back, as a child going through primary school I was treated differently from the other kids. Not in a bad way, but it was more like because I looked different, I was deemed ‘fragile’.

To be honest, it’s understandable. At that age, kids don’t know better and when faced with something new or different, it’s natural to treat it as such unless they are educated otherwise.

Bullying was never really an issue in primary, or secondary school, as I have been really lucky – having great friends, some I’ve known from a young age and others I’ve met over the years.

Outside school was a little different. I had friends within my street, but when we ventured out to the park, for example, and came across new people – that’s when bullying became an issue. I’ve been called ‘rashy, scar-face and red eye’. Yes, that’s right, someone saw the colour red and an eye and came up with that creatively genius insult. You’re probably wondering if it hurt me, and to be honest it did at the time.

But it wasn’t until those past experiences came back and hit me like a tonne of bricks as an adult that I realised the true impact. I have suffered with depression and anxiety. And I’m not scared to admit that I self-harmed for a long time as a form of ‘temporary release’.

But after I had several meetings with professionals like psychologists and counsellors, I came out the other end, and I count my lucky stars for that.

I’m not saying that you can ‘cure’ the mental impact of having a visible difference, but when I compare having a birthmark to my childhood cancer, my mum and dad having cancer, and losing a dear friend at 17, it puts things in perspective.

After I got help with my anxiety and depression, that’s when I looked at things completely differently. You are in control of how you respond to a question or statement. That thing that puts you in the driving seat is confidence.

Now I understand it’s not easy being confident if you are not naturally. But take it from someone who went from being hospitalised and not wanting to face the world, to someone who is now going to the gym, going on dates, having amazing times with family and friends and going on crazy nights out. You can build your resilience and confidence to help you live the life you want to.

Remember if someone asks you “what’s that on your face or what happened to you?” that most people are just curious. I’m always upfront and say it’s a birthmark, it leads to an interesting conversation.

One thing that I still get to this day is people staring. It’s a difficult one, however, I deal with it by just smiling back, and 9/10 times they realise what they are doing and smile back at me.

I want to use my experiences to help people who might be going through similar things I’ve been through.

So to leave you with a cheesy, but very helpful, life quote: “Be confident, be proud and smile like you mean it.”

If you want to learn more about building confidence, dealing with comments and stares, or other issues related to living with a visible difference, have a read of our self-help resources.

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