Ever since I can remember, I have been plagued by the foul, ugly, agonizing skin condition eczema. Every picture from my childhood has some sort of evidence of my near-constant scratching — whether it be scabs covering my tiny, sweet face or raw open sores on my little arms and legs. I had it everywhere (and I mean everywhere). I was forever digging my nails into the surface of my skin. Dried blood was on every article of clothing I wore. I was relentless.
My mom remembers having to put tiny little mitts on my hands to keep me from scratching. There was nothing anybody could do for me, and believe me, my mom and I tried everything. Naturopathic therapy, cutting out dairy, cutting out wheat, every single cream and concoction on the market claiming to fix my problem — not one of them worked. My doctors could only shrug and suggest that I might be lucky enough to grow out of it one day.
It’s not like I was alone in this however, with the National Eczema Association estimating that over 30 million people suffer from eczema in the US alone. Eczema affects 10% of all children. Many people deal with this every day in some shape or form. Some just have a mild case in certain irritating places; some are covered from head to toe like I was. I didn’t realize it was such a common thing then, and now that I do, I have to say it’s a comfort. Knowing that many other people are dealing and have dealt with this has been reassuring. Likely someone you know has to deal with eczema — maybe even you yourself do.
When I was a kid and dealing with eczema, to be honest, it didn’t really bother me at all. Who cared? I have no recollection of any other kids teasing me about it or even pointing it out. It was when I started getting older, nearing the end of elementary school, that I began to feel insecurity build. Miraculously, although I had ravaged every inch of my body (especially my face), the only part of me that retained permanent scars were my hands. That’s it. Everything else looks clear and normal. I know how lucky I am for that and believe me when I say I’m grateful.
I’m grateful, but I’m also still troubled. Think about how often you use your hands each day, how often you look at them. Think about how often others look at your hands. When you shake hands, hand someone something, or pick up a phone, hands are among the first thing someone sees. People point out my hands regularly, almost on a daily basis. Most ask about it with concern — “what happened to your hands?!” they’ll ask, eyes wide. To these people I explain briefly and honestly about my eczema issues. They’re usually very polite in their response and reaction. That kind of interaction is fine with me. It’s the other kind that takes a toll on my self-esteem.
It’s the guys at the bar who point down to my hands with disgust and ask, “What’s wrong with your hands?” It’s me making up some sort of far-fetched story about what happened (lately it’s been that I saved a baby from a burning building) in a lame attempt to diffuse the awkwardness and brush off the rudeness. It’s not like I’m incapable of dealing with those guys, I can fend for myself just fine. It just hurts.
Sometimes I think about the fact that one day maybe if I’m lucky enough I’ll have a wedding ring on my finger — a pretty, sparkly, beautiful thing. But it won’t look beautiful on me. I realize that sounds petty, but I do think about it.
The wonderful thing about all of this though, the thing that I’ve finally come to realize, is that it really doesn’t matter. Those who care about me think nothing of something as silly as the aesthetic state of my hands. I’ve begun to grow to not care. I’ve begun to embrace the scars. I think we should all learn to embrace our scars, our imperfections.
We should not have to feel ashamed about something on our body that we cannot control. We should not have to jokingly make excuses to make other people feel comfortable about it. We should surround ourselves with people who love us unconditionally and without judgement. It’s your body, and it’s fantastic, regardless of what it looks like on the surface.
Once I accepted that my scars are a part of me, I began to care less and less of what other people thought and focus on the simple reality that they are unique to me. I’m not going to say that I wouldn’t give up my scars for anything, because I would. I would if I could, but I can’t. I can’t and that’s OK, and something I can live with.
When the time comes, the right person will be able to live with them too — hell, they might even love them. I might even love them. I’m trying, and I hope you’re trying too.