When I was a child, “being sick” always meant staying home from school. It was the common cold, or that nasty virus traveling through the hallways of the elementary school.
Most adults I know all remember that extended chicken pox staycation as a child. Itchy all over, greasy and pink thanks to calamine lotion, watching our favorite shows while being served breakfast, lunch and dinner on the couch. Despite the discomfort, there were some perks.
Indeed, I do remember being sick as a kid. Little did I know, as an adult, I would battle a sickness like nothing I’d experienced as a child.
Chronic eczema may seem like a lightweight condition in the boxing arena of ailments. But for those impacted by the skin swelling and irritation, including myself, it can play a serious role in one’s physical and mental health.
Running around playing freeze tag and hide-and-seek with my cousins as a kid, I remember getting slight dry patches on the backs of my knees. They would itch like crazy, and my skin seemed to stay in a constant state of dryness.
I found myself scratching everywhere. In school. In church. At home. I couldn’t stop. My mom put socks and gloves on my hands at night because even in my sleep I couldn’t stop scratching.
And slowly that itch began to rash.
It would start as small patches and grow into red, swollen sores covering extensive areas of my body. Weak pieces of skin would break open exposing bloody flesh in the middle of already irritated spots. And no matter what I did, it wouldn’t stop itching.
As a child, I didn’t fully understand what was wrong with my skin. What I did know was that the kids at school weren’t blind, and their lack of understanding led to extreme ridicule. As second and third graders, everyone thought my rashes were cooties, something they could catch.
Those who didn’t find it contagious found it to be the funniest classroom joke. They asked me if I was born in the oven because of the appearance of my tattered skin with its dark discolorations. I found myself constantly having to explain my condition; something I still find myself doing from time to time.
Early on, eczema impacted my self-esteem and how I viewed myself. I didn’t understand why I didn’t see other girls dealing with it. Embarrassed and self-conscious, I found myself wearing long sleeves during the spring and summer, trying to hide my scars and the wounds from where I’d scratched myself open.
My mother and I tried everything to relieve the issue. We traveled miles to different dermatologists and specialists with the hope that someone could provide insight into how we could combat the condition.
Steroid topical ointments like Triamcinolone provided relief, but at a cost. Over time, we started noticing that my skin was thinning in the bends of my arms and knees. The steroid was killing the skin, but at the same time, it was the only thing that provided real relief.
After getting a bad case of poison ivy, the disease kicked into overdrive and spread to places it had never been before. Patches and sores developed in my scalp, killing my hair follicles and leaving visible bald spots all over. It was called seborrheic dermatitis, or “cradle cap,” a skin disease most commonly seen in babies when they’re first born.
But I wasn’t a baby. I was a high school student, and suddenly all of my hair was falling out.
That was the first of three times I lost all my hair to my severe eczema, and it seemed like the older I got, the more the inflammation developed. Open wounds spread all over my body from head to toe. I found myself in constant pain. Irritated, rash-infected areas morphed into full-blown cellulitis, making it painful to walk or even change facial expressions sometimes. The eczema was everywhere.
I became even more conscious of my skin condition as I got older. It made me feel unattractive, but it was too widespread to just cover it up anymore. I was always scratching, further drawing attention to myself and the issue.
I began trying every remedy to ease the pain of the rash. From pure shea butters, apple cider vinegar soaks and black soaps to bleach baths and light therapy recommended by doctors. I slathered on every moisturizer imaginable combined with the best prescription ointments. Still, nothing provided long-term relief, and to this day, nothing works.
Living with eczema as an adult is a skin roller coaster. A constant series of unpredictable ups and downs served with a side dose of pain and discomfort.
Despite the long-term effects, I have yet to find a dermatologist with a solution aside from topical steroid pills, creams, and ointments. And when the medicine works, it works great, but when it doesn’t, it sends my skin into a whirlwind that can only be stopped by stronger steroids, Kenalog injections and sometimes hospitalization.
As I matured, I learned to mentally fight the itch. But my skin has evolved, and the rash still rises, attacking my most prized physical features and discoloring portions of my face. Most recently, my skin was so inflamed that it hurt to speak.
Though most adults I know who’ve struggled with eczema grew out of the disease, or at least the harsher effects of it, I realize that I may be battling this my entire life. And there’s not much I can really do about it. Although it is an everyday struggle, I have learned to love and accept myself despite the state of my skin. It has made me stronger. And I’ve realized that beauty and self-love aren’t based on the skin I’m in. Instead, they’re based on the spirit I carry inside to get myself through the good days and the bad.