A person sits in a bath. On the one side they are happy and cool, while on the other they are hot and screaming.

Water Contact PTSD

Showering and bathing are typically supposed to be a relaxing and refreshing experience. Yet, for me and many others struggling with eczema, it becomes a huge trigger and something many of us dread.

I have always struggled with showers to some extent since my atopic dermatitis continued to get worse growing up. I didn’t really imagine it would only continue to get more horrifying over the years, though.

Bathing: A love-hate relationship

7 years ago, when I started going through topical steroid withdrawal, I had to be in the bath with Epsom or Dead Sea salts every day to fight off infection. I would quite literally scream at the top of my lungs getting in. At that time, my skin was completely raw from head to toe. It felt like acid was being poured all over me into the open, bleeding wounds on my skin. After a few minutes of getting used to the water though, it would become comfortable. The first few years, I would spend up to 8-9 hours in the bathtub per day to cool my skin down. It was the only place I felt any comfort at that time.

After going through that period, I haven’t been in the bathtub in years due to the trauma it caused. It is a huge trigger for me, as is showering and contact with water in general.

Water contact PTSD

As my skin has continued to heal from TSW, it has gotten a bit easier, and I can take showers with very little pain now. However, the psychological trauma is still there.

Every time I have to shower, I have to pump myself up and cheer myself on to get in there. I am always reminded of all the times in the past where contact with water was terrifying. I still wonder every time if it will sting, burn, and how much I will itch and scratch afterward.

An ongoing daily battle

This continues to be an ongoing battle, just as it has been most of my life dealing with atopic dermatitis. Especially when having a worse flare-up, I am just terrified of contact with water all around. I truly wonder if one day, I’ll be able to take a relaxing bath, maybe with some candles around me, reading a book, or maybe even drinking a glass of wine. Unfortunately, that still feels so out of reach for me.

So, for now, I do what I can. I celebrate the small wins. I continue to work on my triggers around showering and contact with water. This includes exposure therapy in small doses. At the end of the day, I’m just grateful I can shower at all, especially without screaming at the top of my lungs in pain. It’s certainly a step up from where I was before.

Hope for the future

I hope this will become less of an issue one day, as it’s truly time-consuming and anxiety-inducing for me. I know many others with eczema and TSW who get relief from bathing and showering. Unfortunately, I’m still not there, as much as I hate even to admit that. We are all so different, though. Each of us reacts differently at different stages in our healing journey.

Do you struggle with water contact, and are there any tips you have for getting past the fear?

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