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.