After a flare-up, I rediscover my skin.
“Look, how pretty my skin is,” I exclaimed to my husband. He was surprised, and no wonder. It’s not every day that I feel so confident. Usually, I don’t care that much about my looks. I’m a jeans and T-shirt person, and comfort is my main concern when choosing my outfit for the day.
But that day was different, because I had just gone through the worst eczema attack of my life. The dry, red skin patches stayed all over my body for weeks. I even joked I had scales, like a fish or a lizard. My blood felt like hot lava waiting to erupt at any random place on my body.
The worst thing about eczema is that it can take away the most meaningful thing humans can offer to each other: touch. I hate being touched when my skin flares up. All of my dressing choices come down to one thing: not to irritate my skin. Anything that comes into contact with my skin leaves rashes, whether it’s my handbag, the smooth surface of my laptop, or my husband’s hand.
Eczema is a monster, sneaking up on me when I least expect it. When it has me in its claws, there is nothing else. Just itching. I try to function normally, but inside, I’m suffering. In that, having eczema is not unlike being in pain. And no matter how much I want to scratch the itch, I know I can’t because it makes things worse in the long run.
Instead, I slather myself in nourishing creams, take cold showers, make sure my clothes are comfortable, try not to sweat too much, and just keep on surviving. I try to wrestle and tame the monster inside of me, to turn the hot lava of my blood into the life-giving substance it is. And after a few days—and sometimes even weeks—I succeed. The monster retreats in the same sneaky manner it came.
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I’ve never been able to call myself beautiful. I am not exactly ugly. I like my hair color (golden brown, with highlights in the summer) and my eye color (green). But I’m not a classical beauty either. My mouth is too small, my eyes are too close together, my nose is too big, and my teeth are too crooked. Growing up, boys were never interested in me (although that feeling was entirely mutual). Everyone told me how smart I was.
I liked being intelligent, but in the way people always want what they don’t have, I also wished I had the looks to match my brains. I wanted to be noticed. As ridiculous as it sounds to me now, it was how I felt at that time. And then the eczema came.
I was diagnosed with it as a teenager (pretty much the worst time to be diagnosed with anything that affects the skin). It was on the back of my hands and on the back of my knees. It got worse because I couldn’t resist scratching myself. Everyone noticed it—not in a good way.
Over the years, I’ve gone to many doctors. None of them could find a cause, and I never wanted to do an elimination diet. It’s likely that my eczema is a reaction to stress, temperature, or air humidity—or a combination of all these factors. I’ve tried light therapy and creams, but even when I got some relief, there was always a blotch somewhere on my body. While at least it’s under control now, I live with the knowledge that it will come back, as it always does.
Coincidentally, my father was also diagnosed with eczema a while back, and he told me, “When you had it as a child, I couldn’t relate. But now I understand. Eczema really is a disease.” I agree.
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People say there is no better feeling than when pain finally stops. I feel the same way after my eczema recedes. Without the distracting, painful itching, I can finally look at the world and take in the colors, smells, and sensations it has to offer. I can forget about my problem zones or less flattering features. I can revel in all the different textures I have available to me: the softness of my cashmere sweater, the firm but pleasantly cold surface of my favorite mug, the heaviness of the cover when I go to bed.
And then I can look at myself and discover all over again how soft and pleasant my skin feels to the touch. My husband and kids can finally put their arms around me and, in those moments, I feel beautiful like never before.