I’ve had eczema all my life.
I am writing this piece to help educate those without skin conditions on how it can affect sufferers on more than just the surface level. By the time you’re finished reading this, I hope you’ll think twice before asking someone, “ooh, what’s that?” when you see their red, flared skin.
Life with eczema is hard, and there are so many aspects to it you wouldn’t even think applied. Some of my earliest memories are of me screaming as I got into an oat bath or of my mum pinning me down to apply my creams. Oh, and me rolling butt naked all over a fur rug… turns out I was allergic.
For those who don’t know, many people’s eczema is allergy-related, so sadly, the cream that cured your aunt won’t necessarily cure me. This is hard mentally because there are lots of products out there promising a cure.
Growing up, I never had any friends with eczema. Throughout the years, I always felt like I had to hide my skin as I felt conscious of it, the long sleeves in summer, the foundation on my legs in PE, and the missed nights out, it’s safe to say eczema has always been a massive trigger of anxiety for me. What people without eczema fail to understand is yes, our skin can go through periods of looking amazing and glowy but this doesn’t mean our eczema is cured! It simply means we were lucky enough to get our skin under control for a while but the voice in our head is still whispering “this won’t last forever” and we start to worry a flare will erupt as soon as we allow ourselves to get comfortable in our unblemished skin.
I’ll never forget when I was a lifeguard at university. I sat on a poolside in 36c+ heat with leggings and long sleeves underneath my lifeguard uniform as I felt embarrassed of others seeing my skin. I’m sure at some point we’ve all done something similar or pretended its sunburn or to avoid questioning. Hiding my skin was easy when my flares were small, but when my eczema moved to more visible places, I decided I wanted to tell people what it was before they could ask. This was when I started sharing my skin journey online. Sharing my journey, I finally felt like I belonged, and others in hiding would message me and say I’d inspired them to share their skin journey too. The irony is that the one thing I always hid as I felt like the odd one out was the thing connecting me to hundreds of others online; it’s never too late to share, it took me like 24 years, but now I am happier and stronger for it.
This last year has been particularly hard for eczema and skin condition sufferers as constant sanitizing aggravates a lot of our conditions, along with the stress flares and emotional trauma of a pandemic.
Sadly, with such a visible condition and people being increasingly scared of illnesses, we’ve had to deal with more nasty stares and whispers than we’d like to. Eczema at the end of the day can suck, but it isn’t defining us; yes, there are days when it can be so painful it’s hard to get out of bed. But I want everyone to know it’s okay to ask for help. I’ve taken time off work as I couldn’t straighten my fingers due to how cracked and dry they were. Asking for help and being open about your skin is a vital step towards healing physically and mentally. We can’t always control our eczema, but we can control how we react to it. That is our power.
Eczema is tough but so are you, let’s unhide together.
You are not alone.