My Eczema Journey: Childhood, Teens, 20s, 30s
I have been battling eczema my whole life…
My childhood and teen years
As far as I can remember, I never had clear/flawless skin my whole life. Never. I recalled my mum sewed me a pair of cloth gloves to prevent me from scratching at night when I was a kid. And even then, the next morning, the gloves would be covered in patches of blood. My bed sheets too. Though the words, “no scratching” rang a million times in my head, either from my mum or from my inner voice, but obviously, it didn’t help at all.
Embarrassed to show my skin
There were so many outdoor activities I wished to do during my teens – swimming, cycling, netball, skating, and rock climbing. But I couldn’t, because the heat and the sweat would trigger my eczema big time. And with the scars and weeping skin, I was too embarrassed to even wear a swimsuit or even a simple sleeveless tee with shorts.
My parents brought me to visit doctor after doctor, I recalled one of them saying, don’t waste money doing any blood test, because I will never get it cured. I was only prescribed with steroids after steroids. And of course, during that era, my parents were ignorant about eczema / atopic dermatitis, they were feeling rather helpless about it and other than seeing a dermatologist, they didn’t know how to help me. I recalled crying to my mum, why am I born like this? (Now I understand how heartbroken she must have felt).
Envious of my friends who could wear whatever they wanted
I was always full of envy whenever I saw my girl friends with pretty short dresses and could wear whatever they want. And I actually bought a few off-shoulder dresses, hoping that one day I would be proudly wearing them and showing off my skin, but of course, with the weeping and the cracking, I just did not have the courage to wear them at all. I was feeling too ashamed and embarrassed to expose my scars, I wanted to cover up as much as possible. I was very self conscious and probably a bit inferior when I was a teen.
I had full-blown eczema (including my face) when I started my first perm job after getting my degree. It was mainly triggered by stress.
Did anyone watch the movie – The Devil Wears Prada? Yeah, I had been through all those, or probably worse. I was there for 2 years (don’t ask me why I didn’t quit). I actually enjoyed the glamour of the job and I got the chance to go on many business trips. But with each business trip, I came back with even worse flare-ups. I particularly remembered during the return trip from Mumbai, my skin was so bad that my plane seat was covered with my skin flakes. More often than not, I would just wear a simple black dress or a long-sleeve blouse and cover up my whole neck or my arms with a scarf or a shawl. The worst was my face, it was cracking and peeling, it was so painful and I felt ugly.
Even after I left that job, my full-blown eczema continued for a few years... at that prime age, when most of the gals were busy dolling themselves up and wearing pretty dresses, I was busy trying all kinds of mineral makeups, thinking that it could help to cover up the redness, but in actual fact, it made my eczema worse (thank god, my husband, then-boyfriend didn’t abandon me).
Trying everything - steroids and more
I began to try all sorts of things – I had eaten probably 100 steroid pills (until I was so swollen because of the side effects), drank apple vinegar, soaked in a sea salt bath and baking soda (because someone told me to try). I tried all kinds of moisturisers. Whatever you can name, I tried most of them. There were days when I thought I was better, then the next day, the flares came back and the most frustrating part is, I didn’t know why.
I felt ugly on my wedding day
I was also prepping for my wedding. I already had in mind my ideal wedding dress, but again, I was too embarrassed and ashamed to reveal my scars and the rashes, so in the end, I custom made a cheongsam which was able to cover up as much as I can. But I wasn’t really happy taking the wedding photos or looking at myself in the mirror, even with my bridal makeup. Everyone said they looked the prettiest on their wedding day, but I felt ugly, disappointed and angry with myself.
I started to watch my diet, I cut down on gluten and sweets. I started to read a lot and research more about eczema. I tried TCM treatment and went for frequent acupuncture. I ate probiotics daily to keep my gut healthy. I finally got better, it's like I finally got to see some light at the end of the tunnel. That was also when I was prepping my body for pregnancy. Thankfully during both my pregnancies, I was only on mild steroid cream. And for once, my skin was almost 80% cleared although I had a rough pregnancy due to my serious Gestational Diabetes (I probably can start another post on this).
However, unfortunately, after I had given birth, my flare-ups came back, but this time mainly on my thighs and feet. And I couldn't take any medications as I was breastfeeding.
Facing insensitive remarks and discrimination
I’m sure all eczema sufferers have been through some insensitive remarks and discrimination through their journeys…
When I was a kid, I recalled a neighbour mentioning to my grandma, 你孙女是有天花吗？I didn’t know what was that until I was much older.
When I worked as a part-time waitress while waiting for my O-level results, a guy called me polka dots because I was having some flare-ups on my legs.
I had an ex colleague asking me what was my shade of eye shadow. And when I replied that was actually rashes, she made a remark: oh, I thought that shade of eye shadow is the "in" colour now because you are always in that shade.
Difficulty finding a job with visible eczema
Several years back when i was searching for a job, a head hunter called me for an interview. When she saw me, she told me, I think it’s better for you to cover up because I don’t know what your prospective employer will think of you. Do you have it on your whole body? By the way, is that contagious? (I was having some flare-ups on my neck and arms)
I replied to her, well, if that employer were to judge me based on my appearance and not based on my experience, then forget it. I won’t join too. And yes, by the way, please google "e c z e m a" and you will know it's not contagious. I was so damn pissed that time that I gave feedback to her company on how upset and how discriminated I felt. She called me to apologise and sent me a bouquet of flowers the next day. I threw the flowers away and I never went for the next interview.
And of course, not forgetting the occassional stares and shuns from the public. Sometimes, I will even have strangers approaching me and try to sell their products to me.
Overcoming the shame and embarrassment
As hard as it gets, I’ve overcome and passed that phase now.
At this age and stage of life, I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed anymore, I don’t bother to cover up my scars anymore. I learned how to manage my stress better. Although during the very bad days, I still prefer to hide back in my shell and limit my social interactions…
Teaching my daughter to live her best life with eczema
I picked up skating again. I started going to the park and enjoying the sun with my gals. Most of all, I started to cherish the people around me and my life more. I started explaining to my younger gal about eczema because unfortunately, she got it too and recently, she had been through similar sarcasm from her classmates but well, I can’t possibly blame the 5 years old kids right? I try not to limit her from any outdoor activities like I used to, but instead expose her to many different sports and even animals as well (fur can sometimes trigger eczema too), because I didn’t want her to feel left out in any ways. I want her to know she’s still beautiful. I hope that, with my knowledge of eczema, she will be under control and outgrow it soon and won’t go through what I’ve been through.
Wondering what my life would be like without eczema
My chronic eczema is now much more manageable. I now have only occassional flare-ups and cracks on my fingers, especially if my diet is poor or during my PMS days because of my hormones. Many times, I still wish that I was born with flawless skin and many times, all these thoughts still run in my head: what if I didn’t have eczema, would I be able to achieve more in life? Would my life be different if I don’t have eczema?
The roller coaster journey with eczema, while definitely challenging, made me a stronger person and more empathetic. I have now accepted that it is part of me and I just have to live with it.
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