Overcoming the Emotional Scars of Angular Cheilitis

I’ve been in your shoes – more than once, may I add. As an angular cheilitis sufferer for over two decades, I know firsthand the discomfort perleche causes – and I’m not only referring to its physical ramifications. There were so many times that I wanted to hibernate in the house, hide under the covers, cover the mirrors, and imagine how life would be without my ‘marks of shame.’

As a full-thinking adult, I knew, at least intellectually, that I was not handling angular cheilitis in a very constructive, productive manner. It was particularly unsettling that I was demonstrating such a poor example of handling adversity in front of my kids. To compound matters, on that same intellectual realm, I understood that cheilitis was far from the worst malady someone could endure.

Still, I could not shake the ‘woe is me’ mindset. However, when one particular incident surfaced, it jolted me to a state of clarity of thought, a perspective that would allow me to live a life free of cheilitis-related worry whether or not my lips were cracked or not.

Please let me share this vignette: Several friends, acquaintances, and assorted guests had gathered to celebrate an end of school party. I was reluctant to go because, at the time, perleche had appeared on my lips. However, my son desperately wanted to attend, and I figured that I could drop him off, make a quick get-away, and then return when it was time to pick up the kids.

Predictably, as I was ready to depart, a threatening camera surfaced, and one of those take-charge types barked orders where to stand, how to pose, and when to smile. I politely declined having my picture taken, and she declared without any hesitation, in front of a vast audience, including my son: “Let me guess. You’re not taking a picture because of your lips. Those cracks won’t even come out on film.”

Now, in her mind, she may have thought she was being supportive and reassuring. However, her words served to undermine and embarrass me completely, serving as a form of public humiliation. I ran to the bathroom and cried for the next few minutes, only compounding the problem, of course. (I would have high tailed it out there but I knew that I had to escort my son home.)

But when I returned home, after my public meltdown, it finally became clear that the only one or only thing undermining me was myself. ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,’ Eleanor Roosevelt once said, and that simple philosophy guided me towards a better, much healthier, frame of reference.

It is with this freeing spirit and unabashed strength that I present to you some great suggestions on emotionally healing from angular cheilitis:

1) Do not let anyone define who you are – Yes, you may hear unflattering, hurtful, and even cruel remarks but you don’t have to internalize this verbal assault, and take critical words as truth. It’s our own thoughts that can proverbially make or break us, so it’s important to filter out any willful or unintentional destructive comments.

2) Mental attitudes can have physical effects – Do your best not to wallow in self-pity. A study in Finland showed that men who considered themselves ‘failures’ or deemed their futures uncertain, had a higher propensity towards developing heart disease.

Now this does not suggest that your negative mindset is causing angular cheilitis, but it is fostering a sense of depression and anxiety, heightening stress, which makes it more difficult for your body to heal any illness and fosters conditions to make the body more susceptible to sickness. There is a mind-body connection and pity will not marshal your natural defenses to ensure optimal health.

3) Handle stress in more creative ways – Too many of us bottle up our feelings where we feel everything internally, unable to escape a dark, emotional state. We become disconnected from others, if not ourselves. As a result of our inability to express ourselves and our deepest hurts, we become immobilized, unable and unwilling to take positive steps to make ourselves feel better. Consequently, we must pursue more positive options when stress materializes.

Writing, for example, may be a very cathartic exercise. Let those feelings out via the written word. Be passionate and leave nothing to the imagination. Allow yourself to release tension by just detailing how you feel, why you feel a certain way, and what steps you can take to feel better.

Echoing the beliefs of spiritual thinker and writer, Louise Hay (someone I want to emulate), I always felt that the condition of angular cheilitis, appearing on the mouth, reflected my inability to speak up or assert myself. This may be totally foreign to you, and any underlying psychological cause may not be applicable to you, but I believe there is some meaning or significance attached as to where on the body a condition manifests.

Writing helps me better find my voice. On the other hand, you may use writing as a simple exercise to portray your innermost secrets, desires, or worries, without any filter. By releasing toxic emotions, you can lower your stress levels thereby activating your immune system to fight off microbes that are responsible for your perleche.

Another constructive way of dealing with stress includes:

4) Exercising – You may not feel like exercising, especially going out to the gym, but don’t be afraid to be seen in public. However, if you prefer indoor exercise, realize that moving your body will automatically provide an emotional lift. Of course, your muscle strength, endurance, and energy will improve, too, and your outlook on life may seem a little brighter.

5) Share your emotional burden – My mom always served as a trusted confidante – someone that I could feel a kinship towards, who would do her best to understand my feelings, and listen without judgment or criticism. Try to find a person you can be yourself with, and let him/her know how angular cheilitis is unsettling and disturbing you. It’s wonderful to be in the presence of someone who manifests unconditional positive regard and that individual can help put this condition in perspective as well.

6) Love yourself unconditionally – Even if you don’t have any close, trusting relationships at the present time, establish a loving bond with yourself. This means being impeccable with your words, refraining from any self-criticism or reproach. Lambasting yourself will not improve your plight and will probably intensify and prolong it.

John Legend is guiding us in the right direction in his new song, ‘All of Me,’ by reminding us that imperfections are indeed perfect. Going back to Louise Hay, she once asked such a thought-provoking question, “Why do we have to be perfect to be barely acceptable?” Ah, this is food for thought and we must maintain a high self-esteem, despite any perceived faults.

7) Be your own Dutch uncle – This is the time where you have to nurture yourself. You’re feeling low and self-conscious, and you need to gather up the endorphins’ troops. Watch a favorite TV program, listen to music that will put a smile on your face, take a long, relaxing walk … engage in any activity that you enjoy. A welcome diversion on your appearance keeps your mind occupied on happier thoughts.

At the same time, engage in healthy life-style choices, including diet. Yes, you can indulge now and then, but make sure that most of the foods you eat will enhance your immune system.

8) Realize that the problem is temporary – Although I had to deal with perleche for years, there were many months with no activity. Angular cheilitis is not a ‘forever’ condition, even in the most chronic cases. It may come and go. So appreciate when your cheilitis-free and, when visible on your lips, take solace in the fact that it will be gone eventually.

9) Take a deep breath and slow your mind. Visualize your body’s defenses overtaking microbes and making the perleche disappear. Spend a little time on envisioning the best outcome and then have some fun! Don’t let angular cheilitis sap life’s inherent joys.

10) Finally, count your blessings. Yes the perleche is a pain in the derriere and lips, but there is much good in your life, if you tune into it. Spending time with a loved one, meeting a nice neighbor, getting some unexpected good news … all have to be valued. Write down 5 blessings in your life right now. It may seem hard to find one, but as soon as you find the first, the others will come easier. Let’s concentrate what we have and not what we lack; let’s focus on our strengths, not our perceived weaknesses.

Now if a woman, like me, who has sporadically endured angular cheilitis for over two decades can dispel its concomitant emotional turmoil, you can, too. I hope that I’ve provided you with some tools and strategies on successfully dealing with the often overlooked emotional aspects of angular cheilitis.