Writing by Rinny Power // Photograph by Pi Rawinad
I’m proud to say I have suffered from eczema my entire life.
Eczema is a shitty condition to have. It affects your skin, but it can have a multitude of other symptoms, causes, and triggers. The type of eczema I suffer from is caused by a lack of a special chemical called sebum—sebum is what keeps your skin from drying out. But since I don’t produce enough or any sebum my whole body is like dust city: my skin is dry all the time.
My skin then becomes susceptible to infections, boils, and school sores (amongst other nasty afflictions). But the worst part of eczema is the scratching. I scratch myself to pieces all the time. Then comes the cracking. When you scratch and itch the heck out of your knuckles or knees or ankles and then stretch your ankle or knee that skin will crack. Eczema cracks because your skin gets really, really thick in some areas; I had really thick skin on the front of my knees. So, when I straightened my knees the skin had to fold back in on itself. Folding plus scratching equals my worst nightmare.
That’s just the beginning. The physical symptoms and pains are just a quarter of what you go through as a child, teen, or adult with eczema.
As a young child I was frequently covered in bandages and band aids to protect my skin from infections—so of course other kids were going to notice. What’s wrong with your legs? Why are you scaly? Is this contagious? Variations of those questions followed me until abut grade four or five. I got to a point where I couldn’t even say “eczema’’ without bursting into tears.
The constant pain of straightening my legs or arms prevented me from playing sports and running around like most other kids. Even the slightest rise in temperature would have me sweating and ripping my skin to pieces. However, in about year six I learnt to hide it. I would wear long pants to school as often as I could. When flare ups occurred (and they did FREQUENTLY) I would pretend to be sick. I rarely ventured outside.
I vividly remember the countless times I would have to soak in an anti-septic bath, crying my eyes out. Pleading with whatever, higher power was up there. Asking them why? What I had done in a past life to deserve this pain? What awful things had I done to make this my atonement?
Nevertheless, over time I hardened my resolve. Things that previously hurt me to my core were shuffled away with a roll of the eyes. Like the times when I was younger, and I’d have to share a bed with my siblings. None of them wanted to share with me because I would scratch in my sleep. I would pick off scabs and bleed through the sheets. This was a blessing and a curse: a blessing because I would get a bed or couch to myself, a curse because nobody wanted to be near me.
Cruel questions from younger kids were ignored, answered with ‘’’cause.” Or ‘’it’s none of your business’’.
The other side of eczema that you won’t see (unless you have it or a close one has it) is the creams. The salves. The hundreds of different ‘’cures’’. I remember the dread that would fill me when trying a new cream to keep my skin moisturized. My mum would spot test it on my arm or ankle and we’d wait. Usually it took a few seconds for it to start stinging. My eyes would water and I’d jump back in the bath and wash it off. A couple of times it would absolutely burn and I remember once wailing to get the bloody thing off.
I knew from the beginning that there was no cure for eczema. I remember doctors telling me ‘’Usually, if you have it as a child you grow out of it when you become a teenager.” But with eczema it’s always hard. Everyone’s skin is different so there’s no guarantees.
I wished for the day when I could just get up, take a shower, and not have to apply a billion creams. A day when I could go swimming and running and not have to shower in between each (and of course, apply those creams). I wished for a normal life. To be a normal kid.
I want you to know though, that the ABC’s of eczema aren’t all bad. I’d say 94 percent of eczema is just plain shit, absolute ass, and rotten eggs—but that 6 percent is life changing! Seriously, even though I hate that I have eczema, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if I didn’t have it. Because it’s that 6 percent that has given me three things:
One, the ability to instantly relate to anyone who has eczema. Person with eczema = best friend. I’m not even kidding about this. Trauma really binds people together.
Two, the ability to understand other people and how they are feeling. Empathy. All the pain that I’ve gone through because of eczema has opened my eyes to everyone’s struggle, whether it be with mental illness or physical illness.
Three, the ability to accept myself. I am not perfect. I have dry skin, that is always red, scaly, and cracking. I am also a whole person and worthy of love.
So, I want to say a few things to people with eczema (or any other affliction):
Your illness does not make you less than.
The pain you’re experiencing isn’t some god’s wrath, it’s the unlucky hand of cards you’ve been dealt. But you are strong enough to play them and smart enough to make it work.
Your illness has no bearing on your intelligence, your value, your experiences, or your worth.
Your illness might shape you like mine has but at the end of the day you are not defined by it.
The ABC’s of eczema include a lot of crying, a lot of pain, a lot of bandages, a heap of trips to the doctor/specialist—but they also include empathy, relateability, and acceptance.[share]