Depression & Anxiety - My Constant Companions
I have dealt with atopic dermatitis most of my life and depression and anxiety have also been constant companions on my journey.
The beginning of my journey
I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis at 10 years old. I moved to the U.S. as a refugee from a war-torn country the same year. At 17, I lost all of my hair quite suddenly. Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with alopecia areata. Due to such sudden and severe life changes, my doctor recommended I start regular therapy. Shortly after that, I was to see a psychiatrist as well.
It wasn't just my hair loss
Losing my hair as a teenager in high school was extremely difficult for me, as I'm sure you can imagine. This was in addition to dealing with painful, itchy, and very visible rashes all the time. Not to mention all the other trauma I had experienced as a child.
Eczema and suicidality
This time of my life is when I remember having my first suicidal thoughts and ideations as well. According to a study published in 2016, people with atopic dermatitis are much more likely to have suicidal ideations and even attempts.1 Not long after that, I also started to suffer from very severe panic attacks, which happened multiple times a day.
Starting treatment for my mental health
I started going to therapy weekly and eventually saw a psychiatrist as well. The psychiatrist put me on medication immediately. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, anxiety disorder, insomnia, ADHD, and PTSD (yes, quite the list, huh?!)
At the time, I had no idea how much of an impact this would have on my life later down the line. I didn't realize it may end up being a lifelong battle for me.
The impact of visible conditions
Because of the eczema and hair loss, I have felt ashamed, broken, and hopeless most of my life. To make matters worse, I had a lot of issues with mental health medications and had a hard time finding the right fit for me. I tried everything and still wasn’t getting any relief. The constant war waging in my mind and body continued.
The downward spiral of depression and anxiety
By the time I turned 24, I was hospitalized 3 times for suicidal ideations at an inpatient psychiatric facility within a few months. It happened right before finding out about TSW (topical steroid withdrawal). My skin was worse than it had ever been. I lost all hope that I would ever have a “normal” life. I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. To be completely honest, I wished for death every day.
The impact of topical steroid withdrawal
Unfortunately, these feelings intensified while going through TSW. On the other hand, TSW at least gave me a new glimmer of hope that I may heal my skin one day. It gave me the needed "fuel" to keep fighting.
My journey to healing
7.5 years later, I continue to deal with flare-ups and mental health issues. Thankfully, I am more stable than ever within, despite this. I still regularly go to CBT therapy. Though recently, it got reduced to once every 3 weeks, which is major progress for me, compared to twice a week when I started. I still have to take some medication, but overall – my mind is in a better place than it’s ever been.
I don’t remember the last time I had a panic attack or major depressive episode, thanks to both treatments and lifestyle changes. Some of these are TCM, CBT, hypnotherapy, life coaching, meditation, exercise, yoga, time in nature, and journaling.
Hope on the horizon
In the past, I would spend weeks or even months at a time not getting out of bed at all. Now, I still struggle with anxiety daily, unfortunately. But I have many more tools that make it much easier to cope. A big part of this includes writing here and being a part of this community. Having proper support is essential.
It has been a long journey of healing for me and continues to be. Thankfully though, I have come a long way from where I used to be. I hope the stigma around atopic dermatitis and other skin conditions will diminish one day.
I dream that people will understand how much this condition impacts every area of our life one day, including the severe toll it takes on our mental health. Until then, I continue to share my story, advocate in any way I can, and do what I am most passionate about – write.
On an average day, how would you rate your level of anxiety related to atopic dermatitis?