My Relationship With… Eczema

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Ever since I was a baby, I have had eczema. As a child it was just painful and inconvenient, but as I grew older it began to knock my self-confidence too.

People often think that eczema is ‘just dry skin’ and can be fixed with some moisturiser, when it’s so much more than that. It is relentlessly itchy, and can be more painful than you would imagine, to the point that simple tasks like washing your hair or running water over your hands can cause agonising pain. At its worst, I’ve had to bandage my hands up for an exam so that I could write in slightly less pain.

I don’t know at what age I became aware of what people might think of the eczema on my skin, but I have distinct memories of pulling my socks up as high as possible to hide the eczema on my legs even when in primary school. By the time I was in secondary school, I was painfully aware of it and the fact that my skin wasn’t perfect. At such a vital time in a teenager’s life, this had a great impact on my self-confidence.

In school I was desperate to be one of the ‘cool girls’, who during PE would always have their skorts rolled as short as possible and their rugby socks down low, yet my eczema had me doing the opposite in a desperate attempt to show as little skin as possible.

I have been to doctors and other specialists throughout the years and tried countless moisturisers, steroid creams and medicines, all with very little success.

Although questions never have any ill-intentions, when people ask me, ‘why are your arms red?’ or, ‘what’s wrong with your legs?’, they make me very aware of how obvious it can be. They make me feel like I stick out.

Throughout the years my eczema has had various bad flare-ups. From flare-ups on my ankles, which had me always wearing socks to cover them, to on my arms, that had me covering the redness with foundation (which then inevitably went orange and made it more obvious, leading me to wear cardigans to cover the eczema even in 25 degree heat), I’ve spent my whole life feeling self-conscious about it.

My two worst flare-ups were on my face. During winter when I was 17, I woke up one morning with eczema on my chin and within a week it was all over my face. I tried several moisturisers and eventually came across the Palmer’s body moisturiser which cleared it up almost overnight. I applied this religiously two or three times a day for a year and never had problems. A year later at 18, the same thing happened, except this time it was so much worse. My face was swollen, red and sore. Flakes of skin would fall off of my face like snow and the moisturiser was no longer working. I would walk through the corridor with my face down so that nobody could see it.

Me in Peru with a swollen face from eczema. Credit: Megan Crossman

Foundation only emphasised the dry skin, so that didn’t help. I felt horrendously self-conscious and this time it wouldn’t go away. My GP prescribed me a steroid cream that left my skin raw and weeping. Eventually I found the Aveeno moisturiser which alleviated a lot of it, and after two weeks in Peru (seven months later) I finally started to notice a difference – the heat and humidity worked wonders. It was only fully cleared up after four months in Australia, almost a year after the initial flare-up.

That was a whole year of not wanting to show my face to anyone or wear any make-up. Not only was it painful, but it had such a bad impact on my self-esteem that even months after I was still trying to recover the shreds of my self-confidence.

Now, at 21, I still have eczema, but it is nowhere near as bad as it was. It is always on my hands and flares up with stress, which means that during exam season it can often hurt just to open and close my hands. The nature of my job (a lot of hand washing) also causes my eczema to flare up, which causes a lot of pain. It’s just something I have to get used to.

As a teenager I would hide my hands from people and avoid holding hands, but I no longer fear that. Currently I have eczema on my wrists and the inside of my arms, but I still wear short sleeves.

A year ago I never would’ve considered showing this much of my legs at a summer ball. You can hardly see the scarring anymore, but if you look closely you can see the eczema on my ankles. Credit: Megan Crossman

The hardest thing for me was the eczema on my legs. I was 20 before I felt comfortable wearing a skirt or dress without tights anywhere other than on holiday, and for a while I had to get really drunk first in order to not feel self-conscious about it. It’s probably not even that obvious to other people anymore, but for me it’s all I see.

While the eczema itself isn’t that bad on my legs anymore, I have a lot of scarring. As a kid my mum used to lather me in Sudocrem that I would wipe off in stripes to make myself look like a zebra (I had to make it fun somehow). It was a really badly affected area. Now I love to wear dresses and skirts.

It has taken me a while to get to this point, and I still look in the mirror sometimes and hate what I see. Unfortunately, the scars will always be there, and I will probably always suffer with eczema, but I no longer let it affect my life the way that I used to.

One day I hope to look into the mirror and love my scars rather than hate them. I definitely think I will get there one day.

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2019/2020 Travel Editor, third year English with psychology student with a love for travel and giraffes.

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