A while back I was invited to be interviewed for the spectacularly comprehensive eczema resource blog Eczema Blues. Eczema Blues is written and compiled by Marcie’s mum, who gave up her job to care for her daughter after she developed the particularly severe skin condition at the age of two weeks. I’ve pasted it below but please do see the post in full at Eczema Blues.
Eczema Blues: Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for taking part in my Friday blog series ‘Someone has Eczema’! Let’s start with you sharing a little of your eczema history, when did you get eczema?
Rebecca: Hi Mei, thanks so much for asking me to contribute.
I have actually had eczema all of my life and I can honestly say that, now I am in my 40s, I am finally coming to terms with it. But, I think that 40 years is far too long for anyone to spend in crisis about a skin condition. Yes, it can be physically debilitating at times, but mostly our lack of self confidence as eczema sufferers is related to a perception of how we think we look – so I started the Beczema blog in the hope that I can go some way to changing the way fellow eczema sufferers think and feel about going out into the world.
My eczema has not always been severe. I have had months where you would not even know I had it, but then it hits me out of the blue and really takes hold. When I was a child, it was mostly located in the usual spots – inside of elbows, backs of knees, feet – but also some very visible patches around my mouth and eyes. In recent years, it has struck my face more than it has anywhere else.
Eczema Blues: Share with us the visibility of your eczema: Is the eczema in patches, lesions or visibly apparent?
Rebecca: These days my eczema affects mostly my face. Flare-ups usually begin with intense itching, swelling and the appearance of random hives. Then it gradually worsens as the days go on, the swelling becomes more pronounced, deep creases develop around my eyes and my skin dries out to such an extent that it becomes visibly flaky, red and very sore.
Then my skin will crack – which is the painful part – sometimes making it very difficult and painful to even smile. Which is something I have had to teach myself to do even when I am feeling at my lowest.
Eczema Blues: How did your eczema affect your self-confidence?
Rebecca: During my school and university years my eczema was probably the biggest cause of anxiety for me. At school, I was called ‘porridge face’ and ‘E.T.’! Then in later years when friends all started using make-up, I was well and truly left behind. I couldn’t use anything on my skin except the big pot of white grease as prescribed by the doctor.
I think kids are actually much kinder these days; they seem to have a respect for others and a perception of people’s differences that seemed to pass people by completely in the 1970s. But, even so, the emphasis on appearance seems to have been heightened considerably in recent years – perhaps because we are ‘mis-sold’ an ideal of the perfect body by the media? The link between looking good and feeling good certainly seems to have taken hold.
According to a report in the UK, 60% of people have at one time or another felt ashamed of the way they look – and these are people with perfectly healthy skin. So, who can blame sufferers of eczema for wanting to hide away from the world. If folk with lovely stretchy, elastic, non flaky, non red skin are hiding themselves away because they don’t live up to the ideal – then, frankly eczema sufferers have a much better excuse.
Except, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that by withdrawing from the world, you are stirring up eczema symptoms and creating a situation for yourself whereby your condition is likely to get worse.
Two dermatologists from the US, Dr Richard Fried and Dr Fran Cook-Bolden have looked closely at the ‘Skin-Mind’ connection in the treatment of eczema. They have evidence that patients with eczema actually get worse when they are under times of depression or anxiety.
Not surprising to any of us who have had the inevitable eczema flare-ups around exam time, interviews, wedding days! But, while a withdrawal from public life might seem like the most comfortable option during really bad bouts of eczema, the sense of isolation that results from hiding away can contribute significantly to longer term depression.
The self-perpetuating viscous cycle that exists between skin and negative emotional states is a real problem and one that, if you can tackle and overcome to some degree can actually help and improve your eczema symptoms.
It has taken me nearly 40 years to get there myself and I know that it takes a massive effort to be confident with problem skin – lots of talking to yourself into things that you find uncomfortable.
But, take it from me, the pay-off is huge. I don’t know what my face will look like when I wake up in the morning, some days it’s fine but some days it looks like I’ve been stung by a swarm of bees and been given a chemical peel during the course of the night. But, one thing I can guarantee is that at least one day out of seven, I’m not going to look good.
So, after decades of hiding I have made a huge effort to break that link between looking/feeling good.
Eczema Blues: One final question – How is your confidence now and how has this journey changed your view of yourself?
Rebecca: I would love to say that I have totally tackled and completely conquered my lack of self-esteem and confidence as a result of my facial eczema, but the truth is – it is a daily battle.
If I am honest, I have to give myself a pep talk before any public events when my eczema is at its worst. For example, this weekend I had a party to go to – a garden party in the middle of the grass-pollen season! Naturally, my skin allergies and resulting eczema showed up right on cue. My skin was angry, red, and unbelievably itchy.
But, I put my best foot forward. Put a smile on my face and introduced myself to lots of new people – asked them questions about their lives and totally ignored the elephant in the room (well, the garden). And it worked. I didn’t allow myself to hide away in a corner like I might have done some years ago or make excuses for the state of my skin, I didn’t let it rule my life. Not only did the satisfaction from winning that particular battle feel amazing – I had a great time!
Eczema Blues: Thanks Rebecca for taking time to share your personal story.