By: Raelle Brown
Eczema triggers are like a full body sensation, like goosebumps but that rather itch and pain so deep in your vessels that you cannot get relief. You have to sit in the pain and learn to live with it to keep moving through life or even possibly, get some sleep at night because your body is most likely immune to basic Benadryl dosages.
Embracing my eczema has taken me 26 years. The only reason I made it to the extent that I can unhide my scars now so freely is because in the winter of 2018 I experienced a flare that I thought would never be clear again. Before then, higher antihistamines had always been my go-to along with topical steroids. I went through topical steroid withdrawal and it changed my entire outlook. During this time I was forced to search inwardly, both mentally and emotionally, something I firmly believe aided in my survival. I reminded myself of my resilience and how it comes directly from my skin condition. As of last year, I only deal with flares naturally, so it takes more time to heal, but my overall health has improved. These diseases (or dis-EASE) of a life made me tackle everyday life with much more confidence and will to fight through pain and still succeed. Because of these impacts to my mentality, I now see eczema as a part of me.
During withdrawal, I was also forced to research the root cause of my skin condition. I come from a very proactive and informed household and my parents always did the absolute best with what we had and knew. We always prioritized a holistic and healthy living lifestyle, which made it easier for me, as an adult, to take my health into my own hands. I do wish, however, that doctors had warned me about the side effects of constant steroid use. The only warning sign I got was not to use this medication on my face. I recognize that the medical field has a long way to go to properly care for skin diseases but it is the doctors’ job to care for and find solutions for their patients. I have learned, however, that nobody can care about you more than yourself and that is why patient advocacy is so important.
Growing up I was severely shy to the point that some people thought I was a mute. Outside of my social circle, I would freeze up and just stare, observe, and at times feel completely incapable of moving my lips to speak because of how shy I was. When I think back to these moments, I realize how anxious I felt during gatherings and while being around people in a semi-big city. If I had to be put in the spotlight, I would cry a lot or would completely try my best to avoid the situation. I distinctly remember during one occasion when I won a prize and I just cried.
Before when I would look back to these moments, I just shrugged them off as me being young and shy, like most people. Recently, however, I have seen a direct link between my behavior and having severe eczema. Now, I understand why I felt extreme fright when having simple human interactions. I was uncomfortable in my skin and having traumatic health experiences made giving energy to the outside world overwhelming. I still have these feelings to this day but I’ve learned to cope. Although I will always be an introvert at heart, I have grown to become partially extroverted and now, I don’t mind the attention when it is for a good cause.
Now, I purposely and purposefully want my eczema to be seen and make others uncomfortable about it. I want people to see that part of me that is not culturally accepted or appealing, and then make a calculated decision on how they want to treat me. My skin condition sometimes saves me a lot of time figuring out who the good people at heart are and who may need some work. I’m grateful if I can be a lightbulb to those who could use some time soul-searching. To be honest, this is a role that from a young age I’ve unrecognizably carried so it’s a natural undertaking.
Eczema has opened up many conversations with strangers because 9 times out of 10, if not more, they themselves or someone they know has this condition. This goes to show just how much awareness and representation is needed about eczema. Skin disease representation is important as a whole, but specifically as a black woman, it is very important because I know if I had seen someone that looked like me as a little girl, or even a young adult, I would have had much more confidence in speaking about the burden and the discomforts, rather than hiding it all of the time. We all need to see ourselves in other people who are fighting similar battles not to necessarily be inspiring, but to simply normalize something that is ACTUALLY normal because it is so common! A brighter light needs to be shined on eczema and I definitely see that happening. I am in disbelief that I am a part of this movement in the making, particularly with the National Eczema Association, but ultimately through the social media Instagram that I started, @wokewithinskin, that focuses on being aware of the internal effects of having my skin disease.