Having to live with a skin condition can bring about a feeling of isolation, even when you’re one of many with it. A skin condition that is widely shared among people is eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. Eczema is a common skin condition that affects millions of people around the world, including nearly 10 percent of the population of the United States according to the National Eczema Association.
In case you're not familiar with eczema, it is a chronic condition that causes the skin to become excessively dry and itchy while causing blistering, cracked skin and skin discoloration. Although eczema is quite common, it's rarely talked about in terms of body image, mental health and how it can trigger anxiety and depression — but in reality, that's a huge part of living with the condition.
I’ve lived with eczema my entire life, and having the constant need to claw at your own skin is one of the worst feelings. You’re mentally trying to fight against self-inflicted skin damage but feel you have no other way to make yourself comfortable. With eczema, the skin becomes so irritated that, at times, I have scratched until my skin had bleeding open wounds, which have frequently left my skin scarred and discolored, causing a feeling of embarrassment.
Having had eczema in noticeable areas and having to find ways of covering it up also brought about a severe anxiety. For me, it triggers a feeling of not wanting to be around people or in social situations due to the noticeable change in appearance and constantly needing to pick at the irritation.
In my experience, living with eczema can be an attack on one’s self-esteem and often changes our self-perception. Eczema can cause self-doubt based on how you believe others view the condition and can give you a flawed sense of reality. It means wearing long sleeves, turtlenecks and pants in the summertime so the dark, distorted skin on my neck, inner folds of my elbow and behind my knees can't be seen and creates a groundswell of moments I feel I need to lock myself in the house. It means having a dark, irritated ring around my mouth while working in customer service trying to “look the part” when I felt like a beast.
Mentally, having a condition like eczema can make others see you as dirty or unkempt, although chances are people who have it are constantly washing to keep the skin moist or maybe just hoping it goes down the drain.
Although there are many different remedies, from holistic to over-the-counter and prescription medicines, those of us living with the condition have a never-ending period of trial and error to try to find a treatment that works. I have tried many holistic and prescription treatments that seemed to exacerbate my eczema and further irritate my skin. I have also tried and failed with many over-the-counter topical creams that did absolutely nothing as well.
Going through so many different options that seemed to have worked so well for others can also cause someone to grapple with depression. The reality is there is no one cure, and everyone has a different experience with their eczema. One person’s eczema may be due to dietary allergies, while another may be due to weather conditions or irritants in their laundry detergent. It is not a cut-and-dried solution, and it has to be treated based on the individual.
As society begins to move into an era when we acknowledge those who live with skin conditions, it’s important that body image is not seen as a linear ideology. Most people who live with conditions like eczema cannot cover the condition with makeup or certain fabrics due to the irritation that erupts from the skin as a result of contact.
By affirming the beauty of imperfection, it gives hope to the many who are living in the shadows in fear they are not good enough or attractive enough or that they are in some way cursed because they have anything other than the radiant, glowing skin that’s often advertised as the overall ideal.