Right now, do you feel confident in your own skin? Do you harshly examine little blemishes? Or do you choose to rejoice your freckles or wrinkles? Today, my skin looks great, but that’s not always the case. There are times when I’m really embarrassed by my skin. Or I’m frustrated by my inability to prevent my eczema from flaring. A couple months ago, I experienced a new form of eczema around my nose and mouth. Luckily mask wearing fashionably covered this area of my skin.
Living with eczema is exhausting, itchy, and emotionally draining. Until recently I didn’t frame my eczema or systemic nickel allergy as a chronic condition. The reality is there’s no cure for either. Eczema is chronic. I’m reminded of this fact when the mysterious inch on my inner right elbow, or I’ll notice dry scaly red flakes on my face. Fortunately my eczema flare-ups are less frequent since eating a low nickel diet. Yet, the emotionally taxing toll eczema can cause is difficult to avoid.
Even when my nickel allergy and eczema is asymptomatic, it occupies my thoughts. I wonder if it’s lurking underneath my skin, waiting for my stress levels to spike, for the scale to tilt towards nickel overload, or the various other potential reasons. My nickel allergy and eczema does not define me, even if it definitely impacts my choices. The low nickel diet and lifestyle is more of a habit than a choice these days. I plan to eat low nickel or I choose to eat something higher in nickel and deal with the consequences. When in new circumstances or surroundings, like traveling or going on vacation, my daily routine is disrupted which requires heightened awareness of possible nickel contact and limited access to low nickel food choices.
There are also so many different types of eczema. Generally, my eczema is either contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis. However, this past winter I randomly started experiencing a different type of eczema. It appeared as inflamed, scaly, and red dry skin around my nose and mouth. Literally my symptoms started appearing out of nowhere for no reason. When I eat something higher in nickel, usually my eczema flares-up around my eyes, on my eyelids, above my upper lip and around my neck. Since this new eczema around my nose and mouth is different from all of my typical symptoms, I speculated if it possibly could be from wearing tight handmade face masks, that are so effective they make my face sweat when I walk and talk outside in the cold weather. I also wondered if the cause could be a side effect of another medication. Lastly, I questioned whether it could be related to something I ate, stress related, or the dramatic seasonal weather changes. The possibilities for why I was experiencing this painfully itchy and embarrassing facial eczema seemed endless.
Luckily, I had an appointment scheduled with my dermatologist, who diagnosed my nickel allergy in 2009 with a skin patch test. Within minutes of showing him my skin and recent photos, he diagnosed the inflammatory rash and prescribed me some antibiotics. He said the medical community doesn’t really know what causes this type of eczema, but women experience it more than men. In the end, I should have scheduled an appointment with him sooner, instead of speculating the cause and feeling frustrated. The course of antibiotics did their magic, so I no longer have red scaly and inflamed skin around my mouth and nose, it’s all gone!
It’s really difficult to pinpoint or identify the root causes of our eczema. This ongoing process, which can sometimes be fruitless, causes an emotional toll, or consumes more of my mental energy than I would like to admit. Even when I feel like I’ve got this, I know what works and what doesn’t work, I need to tune into what’s really going on in my body or my thoughts. The external symptoms are challenging as well. Someone who cares will notice my inflamed skin and ask me about it when I don’t know the answer or feel shame. In those moments, I’m reminded that I need to care for my whole self, including my skin. And in this particular situation, I was reminded that sometimes caring for myself is seeking medical attention.
Unfortunately we often judge ourselves way more harshly than anyone else. My internal critic may fixate on my outward appearance to the point that I ignore my nagging itchy skin. What can we do in these situations, especially when this conditioned or learned behavior tears us down and doesn’t benefit us? How can we reframe our self doubt and self criticism and instead revel in the beauty of our appearance by recognizing how far we’ve come. Conversely, maybe you’re newly diagnosed and starting to relearn how to live life with a nickel allergy.
With chronic issues like nickel allergies or eczema, it can be difficult to reframe the condition because of it’s chronic nature. If we had a stomach ache, we’d probably not judge ourselves, but take it easy, drink lots of water, and eat bland foods. I wouldn’t sabotage myself by eating acidic or spicy foods when my stomach is upset. Similarly, that’s how I try to think about my eczema. When I have a flare-up or experience other internal symptoms, judging myself or my symptoms isn’t useful, but can cause stress and make my eczema worse. Instead I try to proactively recognize the steps I need to take to feel better. I ask myself the following eight questions to help manage my eczema flare-up:
- Do I need to wash the affected area or shower (sometimes again) to eliminate the potential allergen or irritant?
- Do I need to hydrate my skin with moisturizer or a prescribed medication to reduce the swelling?
- Am I dehydrated or would drinking water help me feel better?
- Do I need to use different cookware or eat different foods?
- Should I pull out my food journal to try to identify if there was something I recently ate?
- How’s my self-care practice or have I engaged in something creative?
- Would making a change in my internal environment, such as changing my sheets, or dusting and vacuuming be beneficial?
- Is it time to schedule an appointment with my doctor or dermatologist to seek answers by trained medical providers?
Even though I’ve been here before, I don’t always know what my own needs are in the moment. My experience always teaches me the importance of intervening early and not ignoring the problem.
I hope you and I can continue to recognize our internal and external beauty, whether or not we’re experiencing an eczema flare-up or if we lack confidence in other areas of our lives.
What tips or strategies do you do to take care of yourself and your skin? Share your experience by submitting a comment in the section below.