Imagine your skin is infuriatingly itchy, blood red, and covered in oozing, painful blisters, only to find out, there’s no cure.
That’s the reality of someone with severe atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema.
For the past 7 years, I’ve been at war with eczema for invading my hands, wrists, elbows, and face. My arsenal includes steroid creams, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, oatmeal baths, magnesium salts, goat’s milk soap, celery juice, probiotics, fish oil, manuka honey, and all of the sensitive skin products in the universe.
And still, the cycle of itching, redness, and blisters continues.
In my early twenties, my hands look aged, wrinkled, and worn.
Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to take pictures, I cringe at the restaurant soap because it stings, and I cry in the bathtub because my skin feels rough against the silky water.
I itch, and itch, and scratch and dream of scrubbing my body with sandpaper to try and disguise the itchiness with pain, because the pain is actually more bearable than the prickling.
My body seems to have accepted that this is my reality.
But I haven’t.
Have you ever felt so powerless over your own body? Where you wake up in the morning, look at yourself, and think who the eff am I? I don’t want to be this. I don’t want this.
You’re miserable and sad and so unhappy that you don’t recognize who you are, who you once were.
What was life like before? I don’t remember.
But here’s what I know now.
I’m a health guru.
I know more about mental, emotional, and physical health than I thought I ever would. I can tell you strategies for maintaining mental stability, self-care habits to boost self-love, all the foods to eat when you’re low on iron, and which exercises to do when you’re trying to increase quad strength.
I know it. And I learned it all on my own to save my skin.
I’m more empathetic.
My ability to empathize with others’ pain is unlike a quick “Sorry.” It’s “How are you feeling right now?”
Because I’ve been there. I may not understand what you’re going through, because I might not ever. But you’re damn right I will work my hardest to make you feel supported and loved. Because that’s what I needed. And that’s what helps me.
I’m a lover to self-love.
If there’s a cure to eczema, it’s this: treat yourself with kindness.
Eczema, self-disgust, and stress play a sick mind game. Eczema brings self-disgust, which brings stress, which only brings more eczema. It’s a cycle.
In order to break the cycle, I’ve learned to embrace my body’s sensitivities, evaluate, and adjust according to what I need.
No hatred, no disgust. Just grace, kindness, and love.
I’m able to give more.
Through eczema, I’m hypersensitive to myself, my feelings, and my needs. And I act on them because otherwise, my skin enrages.
I make so much space for healing myself, and in return, it actually makes me better at giving to others. I’m more present in conversations and better at nurturing relationships because I’m more in tune with myself.
I’m molded to handle stress.
That girl who gets mad when she sees a wet sponge in the sink? Okay yeah, she’s still here. But most of the time, my eczema background of self-care kicks in when life feels overwhelming.
I go back to my roots. I go back to my self-care lists. And I go back to reflection.
Stress kills. And it’s not worth it. Happiness is.
I’m an athlete.
To the 15-year-old girl intimidated by the mean girls who could play sports and look pretty, you did it.
Through all of the pain, you found exercise as a release, and it’s made you the athlete you never thought you could be.
Barbells, toned shoulders, protein, and PRs are now a part of your vocabulary. And the weak girl with red hands now has the confidence to step into the gym and show up the guys with a heavy deadlift.
To the future.
Where is my skin now? Better. We’re not two years ago crying in a tub of magnesium salts, but we’re not 100% eczema-free either.
And for now, that’s okay. I’ve come so far to feel upset over my progress.
It’s enough. It’s time to feel content, happy, and safe, regardless of itchy skin or not.
It’s time for full acceptance, appreciation, and gratitude for how eczema makes me better.
And I hope, whatever your eczema is, you can make a list too, of all the ways it makes you better.