What I’ve Learned from Living with Eczema for 25 Years
Eczema has been causing my skin to erupt in a bright red rash since the time I was an infant. I enjoyed a few blissful years in my late teens when my symptoms vanished and I thought I had outgrown the condition, like at least 80 percent of kids with eczema seem to do. But a few years later, it returned with a vengeance. My face was covered with a scaly rash, and my eyelids swelled so much that they crusted shut. That’s when eczema began to really interfere with my self-esteem and took a significant toll on my mental health. It’s taken a long time to make peace with the chronic nature of the disease and develop strategies to reduce its impact on my physical and emotional well-being. But living with eczema for this long has taught me some important lessons about the disease and life itself. Here’s what I’ve learned from living with eczema for 25 years.
Meditation can be a helpful tool
Meditation can be a surprisingly effective eczema management tool. I discovered this firsthand when the agonizing itch of a flare was making it difficult to sleep, and I decided to try yoga nidra (a type of guided meditation that induces deep relaxation). The meditation made it much easier to drift off at night, even while I slept in cotton gloves and socks to avoid waking up with bloodied scratch marks. After my first session proved successful, I started incorporating other guided meditations into my daily routine. This has helped me detach from my physical discomfort and get control over negative self-talk. It has also taught me to be more patient with myself. If meditation sounds overwhelming, I would recommend starting with a 5-minute guided meditation on a free meditation app. My personal favorite is Insight Timer. And if meditation doesn’t work for you as well as it has for me, remember that there are other ways to support your emotional well-being while living with eczema. This might mean taking up a relaxing hobby that keeps both your hands and mind busy, such as knitting, embroidery, or coloring books. You might also consider talking with a mental health professional or joining an eczema support group. The key is to develop a set of tools to help cope with both the emotional and physical sides of the condition.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach
I’ve spent years (and thousands of dollars) seeking remedies for my eczema throughout my life. My experiments with every treatment on the market, including elimination diets, lotions and creams, acupuncture, weekly injections, supplements, and immune suppressants, have taught me one thing, though: There’s no one “right” way to treat eczema. A “miracle cure” for one person can prove completely ineffective for another, and what works for you now may change over time. As a child, topical steroids would clear my redness overnight. But these creams stopped working when I became an adult, forcing me to explore stronger medications, like biologic drugs and oral steroids. I was wary of these medications at first, since I tend to prefer more holistic approach to my general health. But I realized that I needed to give myself some grace and leniency in order to find an option that would give me relief. I’ve since found a treatment regimen that’s working. Still, I know I may need to make tweaks and swap medications in the future. If your go-to eczema treatment stops working, try not to be hard on yourself. Eczema is an evolving condition that can present itself differently throughout your life. It’s not your fault if the medications that used to provide relief no longer help your symptoms. Treatment options continue to advance and there’s reason to be hopeful about the future of eczema research. Even if you feel like nothing has worked for your eczema in the past, connect with a healthcare professional to see if there are new treatments available for you to try.
Nothing is permanent
Living with eczema is a rollercoaster ride. There are moments when my skin is so clear and itch-free that I forget about the condition altogether. Other times, the itch interferes with almost every aspect of my life. The highs and lows have taught me that nothing is permanent when it comes to eczema and life should be lived in the moment. When I experience periods between flares, I try to appreciate all of the things my clear skin allows me to do. Swimming in the ocean without my skin burning, feeling confident at social events without hiding my face, and being able to fall asleep peacefully become experiences worth celebrating. Still, I know that eczema is lurking and will one day disrupt my life again. And while I endure nights of insomnia due to scratching and yet another frustrating flare, I try not to fall down the rabbit hole of feeling worthless and living in fear. I remind myself that, like times before, this will pass. Living with eczema has taught me to let go of trying to control every aspect of my life. While I wouldn’t say I’m grateful to have eczema, I am grateful for the character it has helped me build within myself. It continues to teach me to approach life’s challenges with a gentle strength.
Madeleine Tibaldi is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers health, lifestyle, and travel. She has previously written for The Houston Chronicle, Backstage Magazine, The USC Center for Health Journalism, and more. When not writing, she enjoys hiking with her dog, getting creative in the kitchen, and going to the beach.