Little did I know the diagnosis of eczema at six years old would latch on possibly the rest of my life. Who knew not all diseases can be easily treated with a pill? We know eczema as a noncommunicable disease (not contagious) and it is extremely complex, influenced by too many different triggers, it’s just difficult to catch up and understand!
Despite the uncertainties, two facts are undeniable:
- Eczema prevalence is on the rise across all nations and socioeconomic groups, and
- Eczema reduces the quality of life of patients MUCH more than simply “itchy skin.”
Let me share three snapshots of my days living with eczema, AKA being captured by eczema.
10 years old (2006): The miserable days
Eczema found me when I was six years old. Initially, it was just a few dry and itchy patches here and there. You know, the usual places at the arm and leg creases. Some people have it on the outer side, I had it on the inner side.
Good news of having eczema at the back of my legs, people in front of me can’t really see the discolored pigmentations and cracked skin. But they could still notice the arm creases. Bad news is, everyone from behind will intuitively look at my legs because the pinkish skin strikes a sharp contrast with my skin color and bright-colored school uniform.
Do you remember what you were doing during 9/11? Many people do. In psychology, we call that a flashbulb memory because it is a shock event. When I was in primary school, there were multiple shock events with eczema.
One of them included waking up in the middle of the night, I’m not sure what time, but it was all dark and I was afraid of the dark. All I remembered was that my thigh creases (the area between the private area) were intensely and fiercely (I notice it’s hard for us eczema patients to describe this feeling except for these adjectives) itchy.It was so itchy despite the creases having ALREADY been cracked open for a consecutive number of months. The wounds have always been on and off. But this time, I continued to dig my fingers into the skin, so deep that not even blood came out.
Did you read that? So deep into the skin that not even blood came out.
In fact, it was past the stage of bleeding. It was deeper to the point of oozing out transparent, watery, and sticky plasma. I would then wake up the next morning with my underwear stained with brownish, yellowish, pus-filled, stains. My fingers filled with dead skin cells and scabs.
At school, kids didn’t really care. No one really judged. But in my family, my dad, mom, aunt, were all sad about what I had. And there was nothing they could do to further help except seeking new doctors.
On a deeper level, there is a lot of confusion as a young child to understand how my parents perceived me. Was it guilt, pity, disappointment, frustration, annoyance at my disease or a mixture of everything? When you are confused, we tend to exaggerate the negativity. As a result, we feel even worse and being less supported. The stressful environment makes us scratch even more.
15 years old (2011): Metamorphosis
Growing up, we become less childish yet more image-conscious. I believe that is human nature. High school friends all knew I had eczema. People begin to develop uneasiness or fear of being transmitted an unfamiliar skin disease. It’s normal. You notice the little side-stepping.
I played quite a few sports during school: badminton, basketball, table tennis. Before, during, and after playing the sports, it is inevitable and highly noticeable that I’m scratching my skin during the gap of changing teams, walking to the benches, waiting for a free throw, etc. My friends were all understanding. There are occasional curious stares, but they wouldn’t really ask because they know I can’t help it.
So the real impact comes when high school romantic relationships take pace. Impressions, looks, image, these all play a role in relationships, right? That’s why I was beginning to develop a stronger dislike for my fate of having eczema. It was extremely unfair.
No one else had it. Why me?
Owning less than 10 different pieces of white-colored clothing in my entire life of 21 years so far is no exaggeration. I don’t wear white because I don’t want to stain it. I choose black but not too mono-colored otherwise my skin flakes would fall onto my shoulders like dandruff and look gross. So I choose colorful or grey-colored clothes with patterns (to cover up skin flakes). Also, long sleeves over medium over short. Cover up the cracked skin as much as possible!
20 years old (2016): Seeking stability
I never explained why 15 years old was named “metamorphosis.” It’s because of the rising significance and social repercussions of having eczematous skin affecting not only my personal well-being but with social life, increasingly prompted me to DO SOMETHING about it.
In 2013, I was able to eliminate my eczema through a 3-month long diet. But that’s for another post. Part of that process is similar to animals’ metamorphosis where some creatures shed skin — I had the same experience. At one point, my entire body (yes, entire) was flaking off dead skin cells as if I’m shedding to a new body’s skin. And I did.
Life was hard. At its peak (or trough), I applied 3 layers of thick Vaseline jelly AND lotion together every morning before school and after a shower at night. I functioned on a 23-hour day for a few months. That one hour each day was spent on skin management.
By 2016 in University and after my shedding experience, I have learned that whatever diet you used does not truly matter. Most diets advocate eating healthy in general.
The key is sticking with it: discipline. This means being honest with yourself in following the rules of what can be eaten (e.g. fresh vegetables and meats), what not (e.g. junk food), and most importantly on a psychological level, accepting yourself as an eczema patient.
Yes, we are highly prone to re-develop eczema. Yes, we are more sensitive to food triggers than the average person without eczema. Yes, we have to watch our cravings for sugary and unhealthy yet delicious-looking food.
But that’s life. We have a challenge in one place, and then there’s a gift in another.
Eczema is complex. It’s not just the itches. It’s the psychological warfare behind the scratching. It’s learning how to adapt to social responses. And of course, it’s learning and researching online about how to eat properly to reverse the condition. Oh, and LOTS of optimism and positivity!