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January 7, 2019

Cracks in the Armor: Battling Eczema.

Eczema, to me, is an invasive villain with horrifically dark powers that can take the most positive, loving, courageous person and turn them into a muddled mass of shame, anguish, depression and self-loathing.

Despite the use of super shields (anything cool or calming to slather on the skin) and stylish capes (gloves, socks, and any other garment to heal and conceal), it feels like there’s nothing in the world that will avenge this cruel monstrosity. You can try to outsmart it, but it has a sick sense of humor and preys on your weaknesses. Just when you think the debilitating menace is ready to move on, it unleashes more havoc and dares you to ever walk in the light again.

I’m sure it might sound a bit dramatic, but I’ve danced with this demon dermatitis off and on for over forty years, and I can say that the description is spot on.

I’ve always been highly sensitive with a ridiculous amount of allergies. My mother also suffered from eczema and was against using any type of steroids. Instead, she’d make homemade salves and creams. They seemed to help for the majority of my flare-ups and I made it through various points in my life unscathed and unscarred. Pregnancy triggered it, and so did gut issues. After being diagnosed with Celiac I learned to be diligent about the foods I eat and what I put on my skin. Anything with talc, parabens and the like, fragrances, dyes, aloe vera, lanolin, Shea butter, corn, gluten, or soy is a hard pass for me. I have yet to fully understand what triggers my eczema from a dormant state. For a good decade I had sporadic outbreaks but nothing came close to what I experienced more recently.

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I sold our home of ten years and moved to the city. We found a place to rent that met the criteria of affordable, pet friendly, convenient commuting distance to my husband’s job, and had a driveway long enough to fit our trailer and cars. Being an older house we knew there’d be some challenges. There were very few electric outlets, the rooms were tiny, the porch was a bit comical, and the kitchen appliances were outdated. Still, we vowed to make the best of it.

By the second month, when it finally felt like we’d unpacked, my hands started to itch and swell. The calendula cream I’d been using for occasional flare-ups didn’t seem to have any affect. I bought and tried several other creams and lotions but none of them worked either and unfortunately were super expensive. Repeatedly my fingers would start to crack and bleed, bubble and ooze, then swell and itch some more. Going back to the basics, I picked apart my diet, tried several different detox protocols, various elimination diets, and just about any suggestions found in books and on blogs, but I still suffered. I’d also just started a new job.

As my hands worsened, I took to wearing gloves. White cotton gloves that were too big at the fingertips and made it inconvenient to type. Along with the nine to five job, I was also completing online courses with a plan to start my dream business of helping women take action to live a happier, healthier life. I knew this was my life’s purpose and I couldn’t wait to start seeing clients.

By month six, and with no let up from the eczema, I was the one who needed help. I was a mess. It took everything in me to get up in the morning and put a smile on my face. I was miserable from the incessant itching, in pain, barely sleeping, and truly depressed. My fingers were so swollen that I couldn’t make a fist, let alone remove my wedding ring. A drop of water burned like acid on my hands. I did my best to hold it together at work, but I felt ashamed to have my hands seen by anyone. Though no one at work ever treated me like a freak, it didn’t change that I felt like one. I began to think I’d have to give up my desire to help others, because who would want to be helped by the likes of me? It was not a healthy or fun time. I was fortunate to have my husband who helped me keep my head on straight.

Just after the one year mark in the rental, our landlord wanted to sell the house and hoped we could vacate before the summer heat set in. I didn’t waste a second and about a month later we moved. Within three weeks my hands improved and then cleared up altogether, with no physical scarring. For the first time in a year I was able to remove my wedding ring.

I don’t know exactly what was in the house, but something there had awoken my nemesis in the worst way. For all I know it was the water, something in the air, the wood flooring, the paint, the fact it was an old house, or a combination of them all. Even with air and water filters, diet and lifestyle changes, and the use of essential oils and organic products, nothing had given me relief during that time. It took me months to release all the emotions that had accompanied the eczema.

With my emotional and mental well-being back intact I was able to move forward with my dream of helping women love themselves and find their true purpose. So far I’ve been spared of any new flare-ups, but experience has taught me to never let my guard down.

I know the villain remains, lurking beneath the skin, gathering strength, just waiting to unleash more heartache and havoc. To the best of my ability, I’m equipped with my shields and capes, ready to do battle, and stronger than ever.

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