Living with a skin condition

When I was born, my doctor assumed that I would suffer from asthma – which affected my mum, dad and sister. Despite having one of those jumbo plastic spacers to use with an inhaler, and the occasional trip to the GP surgery to blow into one of those peak flow metres, it transpired that I didn’t have asthma after all.

Sadly, the atopic conditions didn’t completely pass me by, and I ended up with eczema instead. When I was little, I would get rashes behind my knees and in the crook of my inner elbow, so my mum showed me how to apply e45, and even a basic hydrocortisone steroid cream.

Fast forward a few years, and we were living in Canada. Suddenly, all of my skin complaints disappeared, which also happened with my mum. Weird, huh? We don’t know whether it was the climate, fewer allergens, or the water, but whatever it was, it was a total delight. No more yucky cream; yay!

After moving back to the UK, it took approximately two weeks for my skin to start flaring up again.

It happens in patches, that creep across more of my skin if I can’t get it under control quickly enough. Anyone else who has suffered with eczema will know the absolute battle of the itch-scratch cycle, and the many useless tubes and tubs of ointment.

I get the worst flare ups when I’m stressed, which is why I was affected after moving back from Canada, as well as months later during my first year of university.

There are a couple of times that my skin has affected me more severely, which has also affected my mental health…

Our honeymoon flight was cancelled

We were due to fly from Heathrow to Calgary (Canada) in September 2015 for our honeymoon to the Rocky Mountains, excited to see Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise on a fly-drive holiday.

We checked our bags at the desk in the morning, and made our way through security to departures to wait for our flight. Hours passed. More hours passed. The flight was delayed. It was delayed some more. In the evening, it was finally cancelled. Something to do with the left phalange, maybe.

Either way, we were told that we couldn’t get our luggage back as it was going to stay on the plane whilst it was being fixed, and we’d just have to come back the following day for a rescheduled flight. Oh – and there were no hotels around Heathrow so we’d need to board a bus to *Gatwick* to stay there overnight, and then travel back in the morning.

Without a change of underwear. Fab.

But I realised that my steroid creams were still in my toiletry bag on the plane. This wouldn’t usually be a cause for concern, but I was totally worked up from the day of stress, and it made my skin flare up almost instantly. The drying air on the plane also didn’t help matters.

Within 24 hours, I had one of the most severe and quickest flare ups I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t start soothing my skin until we finally touched down the following evening in Calgary. I was devastated with the timing. I didn’t want to worry about being uncomfortable, both physically and being around people.

Since then, I’ve never travelled without my steroid cream in my hand luggage, just in case. Oh, and slightly irrelevant – a fresh pair of underwear!

Luckily my persistent application of my steroid ointment did help to soothe my skin, and it was looking much better within a few days. But it did bother me much more than even losing one day of our honeymoon due to the cancelled flight.

If I look at the photographs from early on in our honeymoon, I can see that I was hiding from the camera, feeling uncomfortable to document myself “looking disgusting”. I was truly in the most beautiful place in the world with my favourite person, and it makes me sad to admit that I let myself be controlled by the appearance of my eczema.

I got an infection before my allergy test

Another flare up happened after my GP decided that I should go for a skin allergy test to see whether my eczema was triggered by any particular allergens. I was referred to the outpatient dermatology department at my nearest major hospital at the time.

I get a bit nervous about medical things when I don’t know what they entail, so I was freaking out about the allergy tests. The referral letter was vague. I panicked in the days leading up to the test, so – you guessed it – my skin flared up again.

This time it got infected too, so I was not happy after my appointment. It wasn’t exactly great when I was there either, as I passed out as I was having the allergen samples taped to my back.

My dermatology consultant was concerned that my skin complaints weren’t being taken seriously enough by my doctor; not through lack of care, just due to it not being their specialism.

She gave me the most help out of any medical professional yet, even though she suggested bathing in (highly diluted) bleach. Obviously don’t try this without medical supervision and instruction!

I wasn’t able to shower for a string of weekdays when I had the 80+ allergens taped to my back, so my husband had to wash my hair for me over the bath. I didn’t like the lack of control, or feeling so “yucky”.

What about now?

From time to time, my skin does flare up. Particularly if I’m extra busy, or if I do a lot of cleaning (which is an issue when you love things to be CLEAN) which involves touching chemical products. The only true allergen that was positive in my test was nickel, but that’s in so many things that it’s almost impossible to avoid.

If I get a manicure at a nail salon, I often get beauty therapists commenting on my dry skin. Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed. Thank you for pointing out the fucking obvious.

It doesn’t help my self-confidence when that kind of thing happens, but I know that many people don’t understand conditions like eczema and how it affects people far deeper than their skin.

That’s partly why I am writing this story.

Commenting on someone’s appearance can be incredibly triggering. Just in the way it isn’t nice to fat shame someone, or tell someone they’d look better with or without makeup, it’s also pretty shitty making observations out loud about skin conditions, deformities and the like.

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Mental health blogger & speaker | MSc student mental health nurse
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