There are many things that can cause two people to drift apart from one another and lose connection. There are many reasons why it might be difficult for someone to connect and make friends. For me, that “thing” was living with atopic dermatitis most of my life.
I never expected this to be a factor in my relationships growing up. After all, we all want people to love us just as we are, whether that is with healthy and radiant skin, or not so healthy skin. Unfortunately, health conditions of any kind can make having any kind of relationship very difficult, if not impossible at times. It can rip apart all of your relationships, from romantic relationships to friendships, and even family in some cases.
I have been blessed with having an incredible and supportive family throughout my whole journey with atopic dermatitis and other skin and health conditions, but not everyone is that lucky. On the other hand, aside from my family, most of my time for the past 7 years when my condition got to its peak has been spent alone. I lost all of the people I once called “friends,” people I thought were my friends for over ten years suddenly disappeared because my health problems got to be “too much” for them. When they weren’t supportive, and I expressed my disappointment and sadness, they said I was selfish, and those words cut deep and have stayed with me since. None of them even bothered to try and understand, and just didn’t see it as a big deal. “It’s just skin,” by far one of the most annoying and destructive ideologies for those of us who deal with this daily.
One of the worst things about having a visible condition like atopic dermatitis is the shame and just feeling disgusting all around. This takes a toll on your mental health all around and completely destroys your self worth and self image. Most people with this condition struggle with this to some extent. It destroys our self worth to the point we feel disgusting all the time, and this makes us feel unworthy of love and support, even though we need it most, especially during a flare up.
Isolation has made up a big part of my journey. I have spent so much time alone that I get nervous about any human interaction now. I struggle just going out to the store and being in public, let alone trying to make friends. It is a little difficult to make friends when you feel like you have to explain your condition and why you look the way you do to everyone. It feels diminishing most of the time. I have had countless strangers in public ask me “what is wrong with your face?” which makes for a very uncomfortable and awkward moment.
I’m not sure that this ever fully goes away, or that we just get used to living with it, but for me personally it has actually gotten worse in many ways over the years of living with this condition. I have felt very lonely most of my life and feel that it is difficult for others to understand if they have never had to deal with anything like it. Being diagnosed with any health condition can be extremely terrifying, knowing that you will have to potentially deal with it for the rest of your life and that there is no quick cure. This affects all areas of our life, and it can truly be debilitating.
Along with skin conditions, there are many things that can manifest as a result as well. Mental health is a very big one in this. I have struggled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD for most of my life, and it directly correlates to my skin and overall well being. It gives a whole new meaning to the words social anxiety for me, as it gets to the point that any sort of human interaction is just terrifying. This shouldn’t be the case.
As human beings, we all need connection, it is something necessary for people to thrive. We are meant to connect to one another and have and receive support. This condition can completely take that away if you let it, and doing it alone is just not ideal. As much as I do love being alone most of the time, as I am a huge introvert, it still gets lonely even for me. I like to think that I’d be okay with being alone my whole life, but that’s just not the case. I still seek that connection and want to have it.
I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis at a fairly young age. I had dealt with it since I was a child to some extent, but it worsened during my teenage years, especially after losing my hair suddenly at the age of 17. This impacted my entire life, and I had no idea just a “simple” skin condition would change my entire life and cause so much destruction.
Even as a young child, I remember being bullied and people a making fun of me because of my skin. I always had some kind of rash, and it loved to show up on my face for the whole world to see. Not only did this impact my self image and self esteem all around, but it impacted every other area of my life, relationships and friendships included.
When I was a teenager, I loved to be around people and have fun. I was a fairly social person then and enjoyed being active and having fun. This all changed the worse my skin got with atopic dermatitis and TSW (Topical Steroid Withdrawal). I became more withdrawn and isolated myself. I didn’t want anyone to see me when I was flaring up. I started to struggle going into public for even the simplest of things, like grocery shopping. Don’t even get me started on hanging out with someone or going out on a date!
I have spent most of the last 7 years alone, besides my family, while going through TSW and dealing with atopic dermatitis. This made it extremely difficult to connect with anyone. I stopped even trying at some point. I started to subconsciously believe that I was not worthy of that kind of love, support, and connection. This has been an incredibly difficult toxic cycle for me to break, but one I have been working on and continue to daily. Most days, I am still afraid to even get on a zoom call with someone, but I push through it, and am happy and proud afterwards. The truth is, we just have to somehow push ourselves out of our comfort zones. That is how we grow. I’ve embraced the fact that I may always have skin issues, but that does not make me any less of a person. I am still whole and I am still enough, whether my skin is flaring up, red and itchy, or smooth and silky and perfectly clear.
I still struggle with connection, but through the journey I have also made some incredible friendships that I will treasure forever. There is no other feeling quite like having someone truly understand you and understand the pain you go through on a daily basis. Those connections and that kind of support are priceless, and make the journey worth it.
Although I still have to work on this daily and anxiety still takes over sometimes, overall I have become much more at peace with who I am as a person, and have learned to stop letting my skin define me. I have good and bad days, just as everyone else does, and I do my best to flow with them. Everything in life ebbs and flows, and there will always be darkness, but that means there is also light coming up after. It is tough to work through all of this, and I still have to do regular therapy, meditation, yoga, hiking and spending time in nature, etc, but it is much more well managed overall.
I still sometimes hear those voices in my head of people making awful comments about my skin, and it stops me in my tracks. It makes it hard to leave the house, and it makes it hard to be seen by anyone, but I have mostly learned to push them to the back of my mind and move forward, one step at a time.
Having atopic dermatitis is not easy, and it is something that alters your entire life, but you find ways to somehow work with it and live with it over time. You just have to remember that your skin does not define you, and you are perfect just as you are in this moment, whether you are in a flare or have perfectly clear and beautiful skin. That is the only truth, and that will never change, no matter what your skin is doing. Your worth is not defined by your skin, and once you realize that, your relationships will start to reflect that as well. You will naturally start to attract people who are on the same frequency as you. People who support and love you just as you are, and see far beyond the skin.
After all, beauty truly does come from within, and as long as you continue to shine your light — you will always be beautiful just as you are, in this moment.
Don’t ever let your skin or any other illness make you believe otherwise.