I am addicted to scratching.

This post was supposed to be a gift to someone who suffered from eczema and also anxiety and depression. But I guess she has never read it so I decided to share it out to the public. Truth be told, my life is an itch and I am addicted to scratching. Mentally what follows are: I am restless, I feel isolated, I am prone to anxiety and depression. These are what this post is about.

I have been living with eczema since I was born. People always say I will grow out of it. Many kids did, but I don’t. I am glad to see there are actually lots of people being supportive and talk about their condition openly. However, at the same time, it is heart-breaking to see some of us have to endure more than just a skin problem, but also anxiety and depression.

I truly believe eczema, as a chronic skin condition like other chronic diseases, is a mental challenge. Somehow I often see eczema more like a mental issue to tackle than a physical one, one of the reasons is stress take up an important role in relapsing, and the whole healing process requires a lot of patience. Also, the relationship between eczema and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression is a Catch 22 situation. If your anxiety level is high, you will scratch yourself more and your eczema will not alleviate. But if your eczema does not alleviate, it makes you more anxious. Anxiety and depression are disorders that can come hand in hand, which I will elaborate later. For these, I want to analyse a little bit of the psychological process behind, and help all of us to live with it more objectively.

I would not say my condition is true for everyone because I can only experience and understood the skin I live with. But hopefully it can. My atopic dermatitis is mild to intermediate depending on a plethora of confusing factors including humidity, temperature, allergies, the amount of dust I have contact/ breathed in, the amount of sunlight I get, the food I eat, the amount of exercise I had lately, the level of stress I am under, the amount of water I drink lately, how many times I have scratched myself, the quality of sleep, the time of my bath and maybe some more factors. I just know this is a disease I do not have full control. So when it get worse, logically I should not blame myself. But sadly I did.

Every time I think more about it, I care more about it, I get into the guilty trap and blame myself. I blame myself not being careful at night and scratch till I bleed. After scratching for comfort, and later it get worse, I blame myself. Besides that, I keep reminding myself how my condition is and some areas are still red and itchy, very itchy. I am not satisfied and I am angry. Why does this happen to me? Why no one understand? Why do I have to suffer? Why? If these thoughts happened to be inside my mind and I cannot get rid of them, I can guarantee I will not be able to sleep properly that night. And, it will further aggravate.

A book called ‘The Examined Life’ by Stephen Grosz has a paragraph that is elaborating on what I am saying, even though he is talking about grief, it fits. He says,

‘They suffer more because they both expect to make progress, to move forward certain stages. And when they don’t, they feel that they are doing something wrong, or, more precisely, that there is something wrong with them. They suffer twice- first from grief (dermatitis) and then from a tyranny of shoulds : “ I should have pulled myself out of this,” “(I shouldn’t feel so itchy and painful today)” and so forth.There is little room here for emotional exploration or understanding. This way of being leads to self-loathing, despair, depression.’

We blame ourselves and expect more than we should, this becomes a cycle. Anger and despair feed on these thoughts. To make things worse, many of us bottle up our feelings because many people give out the wrong advice. But the feelings does not fade away, they can become anxiety and depression. This explains why I am angry. Also, because of this misunderstanding and anger, I scratched more because I got the irrational thought ‘I just want the rashes go away’, and sometimes I become violent to myself.

Now, it becomes clear that I should not do that. Acknowledging we have no control of our skin conditions and viewing dermatitis in a more realistic way. Eczema is still a bitch, but it is no longer our fault, not entirely. Letting the guilt and blame out, is one more step to objectively living with it.

Today I woke up with blood on my hand and an open wound that should be healed by now. I thought about the things above. I laughed. If this happened before, I would be so sad and blame myself and promise myself to be really careful at night. I did not, I forgive myself, I just told myself ‘shit happens’. I get a more realistic look of my condition and I feel optimistic and hopeful, that this is true. If this is something you cannot control, why spend time blaming yourself? I heard people mentioning this before, but I never thought this can apply to eczema as well. Because I always got the illusion that I have complete control and that is why I blame myself when it get worse. No, I do not have full control of my body, neither do you.


I got off the wrong bus

I just got off the wrong bus.

I was carrying all the food and bottles over my shoulders, and holding a big plastic box bought from town in my hands. Annoyed and exhausted by the fact that I should have been on my way home. My inner voice finally burst out a bitter shout, ‘what now?’.

Now, right in front of my eyes are bushes and trees. To my right, is a river with a line of houses at the far end. There is a bridge over the water, connecting people from both sides. With rays of sunlight coming from above the houses and a bevy of birds flying across the sky. I stared at the tranquil and peaceful setting.
There is no point complaining when serenity surrounds you. The peace is beyond words to describe but easy to understand. Precious, contagious and wonderful just like a baby’s laughs.
This must be the power of nature.

Four important things I learnt in my 10-day Retreat

I still remember the day I went out of the 10-day meditation camp and I was on my way home and I was on a bus, I was so happy I was smiling. I mean, I was so satisfied with my life I smiled for no reasons. This is like an euphoric state but I attained it without taking any drugs. Looking back this sounds really crazy. But also because of this, I concluded meditation can do wonders.

But first of all, let me tell you the whole 10-day meditation camp was not as fun as expected. I did not wear enough clothes because I thought that’s summer and outside was 30 something degrees. So yea, I should be fine without a blanket. I did not expect they would have air-conditioners! Oh well, I caught a cold. And before I got ill, I had my period coming. All of the things added up I did not know what was I doing for the whole 10 days. Four days of menstruation and then three days of coughing and breathing difficulties. Also around five days of insomnia because we were forced to go to bed at 10 and woke up at 4am everyday. You have to understand I am a night owl, sleeping at 2am I would tell people I have make it an early night. So, it did not go very well.
However, I learnt a lot about myself and I gained a lot of insights. I am taught how to breathe in a way that I am in control of myself to get into a semi-conscious state. It is a very relaxed state but you still have control of your breathing and aware of the surroundings. This breathing exercise is also one of the top secrets to reduce anxiety and stress. It is more than just an exercise but I think this is an easy explanation for people who have never did meditation before to have an idea how it is like.
So, before all these wonders  I am told not to expect anything because if you expect something and you did not get it during the camp, you may get disappointed, get upset, get angry, have all sorts of inappropriate emotions arise from your mind and this will affect your body as well. Even though I was instructed not to expect anything. But of course, I did have some expectations, I just fine tuned them down and expected less. I was hoping to understand how meditation can help get insights and maybe get a better understanding of myself.
In that ten days, I was dozing off in more than one occasions, embarrassing enough one of the helpers came to me and asked me to wake up. More than once. Ashamed? Not ashamed. I was not paying full attention to follow the instructions most of the time. I even got a vivid lucid dream in one early morning. Because according to my body clock I was supposed to be sleeping but I told myself not to, but I don’t really have enough mental energy to tell myself to breathe and concentrate, and that’s how my lucid dream happened. Looking back it is quite an epic fail but in meditation camp we don’t count failures. My expectations came true and actually I got more than that. I believe meditation is just a self-reflection exercise, we all end up run into ourselves, our own ideas. The below are my ideas and those are some important ideas I have pondered for years to grapple and I would like to share with you.

1. Self-discipline

First,I learned about self-discipline is very important. I did not like rules but if I promised my teacher to do something I will finish it, reluctantly. I also have an impression of being an obedient child but of course, no one really like to be told what to do all the time. I was just being obedient on the outside. I am not the type of person who will do whatever people say. So, my mind always wandered away and live in my dreamy little world when people asked me to do things I do not want to. This actually persisted for many years and I did not think there is anything wrong. But this 10-day camp told me I am not being constructive. Part of me want to do this while part of me want to do that. I have been living like this for years and I have no questions about it and how does it happen or how does it affect me. Obviously the result is, I can spend years doing something but still stay at a certain point making no progress. That is because I do not want to do it, I just pretend I want to. One of the reasons is I promised my parents to study hard and so I did, even though I don’t want to. I force myself to. But part of my brain is not cooperating and so, I become the so-called ‘workaholic’ The one who works for days and nights and have no social life and have no personal life. That’s not constructive, not effective. This is all just a show. A show to tell everyone surrounding me that I am studying. This 10 days camp told me, it is time to learn how to concentrate and work hard, if I really want to succeed. And self-discipline will be the key.

2. Stay Focus

Also, very luckily, meditation is a concentration practice. It requires you to focus on one point and then a smaller point and a smaller point. Ignore other things, just focus on that smaller point. This simple task is what meditation really is, it requires mental energy and a state of mind that is focused and relaxed. I taught me how to focus.

 3. Objective thinking

Besides self-discipline and how to concentrate on one task, I learnt to think objectively and get into a positive state. My mum is quite a negative person and she has the tendency to imagine all the worst scenarios and over-think everything. Growing up with people like this, you will also become anxious and paranoid. At least I was. I don’t know how does meditation stop me worrying. But getting into that relaxed state certainly does have some calming effect. I learnt to focus on the things that really matters and let go of the thoughts I have no control of. This I called the real positive thinking. In the western culture sometimes people would have zero-tolerance over any kind of negativity. This becomes a sickness, as no one can have a great day every day. We have to acknowledge the negative feelings we have some time to time. Otherwise, negative feelings will build up and explode. This is what I called the fake positive thinking. By thinking objectively, you observe your own emotions and do not react to it. You get into a positive state by having a brutally honest understanding of what is going on, is what give us a sense of control. Meditation taught me that.

 4. Be your authentic self

One final point that is all added up from the previous points is, I learnt an important lesson being human. Success is always defined culturally and there is no big deal if you cannot be seen as successful by other people’s standards. Before I was really sure I want to go to the retreat. My parents thought I was crazy and this would be a waste of time; my friends thought there was something wrong with me. I only know this will be an eye-opening experience, I did not have a very deep thought about WHY I have to go. The retreat I went to is free. Without the financial concern, I just want to try it. According to my mum, I will become a monk one day. To my friends this is something bizarre. I also hesitated for a second the night before the camp when I was packing my luggage. ‘Am I sure I really have to do this?’ No, not really, but why not?  So, I went. I realized, there must be a lot of people in the past, before I exist, before my mum exists, before your grandma exists, they meditate. For what, who knows? But what do they get? A lot of important worthy precious lessons about life. I am reminded from time to time that we are not born to be told by the society how successful we are. We are not born to fulfil the desires of your family, your culture. All these are just purposes created by some humans. Life is not as short as our deadlines tell us. Ask yourself, what do you really want to do? Let go of what other people want you to become, but remind yourself the amazing things you want to do. To do what you need to do and do not let the society to repress you to become someone who are not. Because you will not be happy. But of course, under the condition not to hurt anyone, including yourself.
This requires self-awareness and self-awareness is what meditation is about.