Making It Through The Storm: Overcoming My Battle With Eczema

Imagine playing whack-a-mole but on your face. Eczema is one fickle illness. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis as my dermatologist called it while handing me a steroid prescription, affects 10% of Americans. It took a slow cascade of events, a perfect storm if you will, until I graduated into that class of 10%. Full honors and straight A’s.

It’s honestly pretty embarrassing that my descent to rock bottom begins with me in my pajamas, in a full face of makeup, eating pancakes in my kitchen. But now that I type this out, that absolutely sounds like the beginning of a twenty-something’s downward spiral. I was enjoying my breakfast when I was interrupted by the rain in my apartment. Yes, rain. Like a borderline torrential downpour coming out of the light fixtures, walls, and ceiling, kind of rain. It was raining in my apartment. And the worst part… the water was steaming hot. And brown.

Essentially a radiator pipe burst in the apartment above mine causing a massive leak that could only be shut off inside the grass-fed burger restaurant I lived above. Turns out no one was eating, or cooking, burgers at 8 am. The rainstorm ended up lasting an hour and a half. Hey, it was a classic New York City experience… right?

I got my first eczema flare-up one week after the leak. Redness on my eyelids. I honestly didn’t mind the natural eye shadow. It was manageable and easy enough to ignore. I figured it would go away in a few days. I was wrong, it got worse. It encircled both of my eyes. What was once a cute natural smokey eye was now me looking like a red panda. Still cute, but in a terribly different way.

I realized something was actually wrong when it started itching. 5 hours after that first itch I was seated in the dermatologist’s office. He walked in, looked at me, and said “Oh you must be very uncomfortable.” Little did I know he was describing my next four months. He told me the pain would settle down and gave me a prescription for desonide. That tiny tube of steroids was my most prized possession for the following month.

The inflammation and itch went away. I was healed. I was so grateful for such an easy fix. I could move on and never look back.

On March 15, exactly three months after my first flare-up, down to the day, I woke up with bloodshot eyes. This was when I received the first lesson of my journey; healing is rarely ever that easy. And then the real flare-up began.

On March 16, I woke up with eczema patches on my jaw and under my eyes.

On March 17, my face became swollen and bumpy from all of the patches.

On March 18, my eyelids began to swell.

On March 19, my vision started to decline from my swollen eyelids.

It was progressing every day and I had no clue how to make it stop. It began to take over my life, typical of chronic illness to be so selfish. But the constant pain and inconvenience wasn’t the worst part, it was the fear I felt every morning when I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize my reflection. Eczema was holding me hostage in my own body.

I was doing everything I could to identify the cause of this flare-up. I bought new sheets, new makeup, new moisturizers, new antihistamines, and new air purifiers, slept on the couch, slept with the windows closed, slept with the windows open, and slept at my friend’s house with the windows open with my air purifier, got a mold inspector, got a doctor, got prednisone. Everything was a threat, and absolutely nothing was working.

Two weeks later my lease ended. I quit my job, packed up all of my stuff, and drove from New York City to Oklahoma City. I was probably going to do all of that anyway, but I was half in half out about it. I couldn’t make up my mind if I should leave New York or stay. This crisis gave me the push I needed to feel 100% confident in my decision to go. That was when I received the second lesson of my journey; sometimes life just goes ahead and decides for you.

I arrived in Oklahoma City hoping the fresh start and fresh air would calm my eczema down. Nope, it didn’t, so I called my integrative doctor whom I enlisted years before to treat my PCOS and hypothyroid. The next day I hid the steroids in the back of a cabinet and started an elimination diet where I cut out all gluten, grains, sugar, yeast, dairy, eggs, soy, legumes, nightshades, alcohol, and processed foods.

The itch started to lessen after one day on the diet. Three days later the redness began to calm down. I finally had a glimmer of hope. The one thing I didn’t think to try, my diet, was what healed me after all. Food is medicine. After weeks of being terrified of my reflection, I was now excited to look in the mirror every morning and see the progression of my healing. I wore my eczema with pride because it was a symbol of my strength and determination to heal myself.

It took months, but I got 1% better every day. That was all I needed to keep moving forward. I was fortunate enough to take a season (or three) to hibernate, heal, and herd myself onto a completely new path. I watched the sunset every day, learned how to exercise, got a service job, and most importantly, started to post about my diet and healing journey online. I began to cultivate a community of people who also live with chronic illness. It has become my passion and purpose.

It took jumping into the unknown and persevering through my lows to receive the third lesson of my journey; you have to enter the cave to find the treasure.

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