You’re not alone. We can feel like we’re alone when we wake up with a nasty rash or can’t get a good night’s rest because we’re unknowingly scratching. When my skin is literally tough, it can still hurt when someone tells me to “just stop scratching.” Many of us deal with the shame of chronic atopic dermatitis caused by our uniquely tricky systemic nickel allergy or nickel food allergy.
Both our eczema and living with a food allergy can negativity affect our quality of life, impacting our self esteem, sleep quality, emotional and mental health. This can be especially challenging when our symptoms are on our face and visible to others. Everything we do is to treat our symptoms because as of yet, there’s still no cure.
Sometimes my eczema isn’t even related to what I eat. I can be persistently following the low nickel diet, eating at home with my nickel free cookware and stress, dehydration, lack of sleep, my seasonal allergies or using a new cosmetic product will make it appear.
Driving a lot for work, audiobooks are one of my new favorite joys. Preferring non fiction, lately I can’t get enough of Brené Brown‘s work on authenticity and vulnerability. I love how she proudly defines herself as a shame researcher and proclaims that “vulnerability is not weakness.” Her message about perfectionism always being intrinsically tied to shame resonates with my core being.
It’s been close to 9 years since my diagnosis and there are times when I feel overwhelmed. When I travel or I don’t have time to cook meals I can start to blame myself for my eczema and tell myself all that I’m doing still isn’t enough.
Negative self-talk is so destructive. When I get in that headspace I have to actively stop and remind myself how far I’ve come. Born with atopic dermatitis, one day at age 24 while under a tremendous amount of stress my eczema became systemic and started reacting when I ate foods that are higher in nickel.
I do my best every day and then wake up and try to do my best the next day, knowing some days will be easier than others. Yet I continue to show up and I am ever so grateful my food allergy doesn’t cause my anaphylaxis. Yet, I can still beat myself up and feel guilty after eating something I knew was higher in nickel or forgetting to ask the server about the specific ingredients. To overcome my own food allergy and eczema shame I try to tell myself it’s only one meal and one day. The last thing I want is to punish myself further than what my body is already doing. I’ve also had to come to accept my eczema will take 3-7 days to resolve when it emerges and engage in self-care and self-compassion.
There’s no perfect solution to living with a nickel food allergy. We can work diligently to avoid eating foods higher in nickel. We can carefully to try refrain from touching nickel, but nickel is in our water, air and soil. Realistically we can’t truly live with or without nickel as Barbara eloquently writes in the Two Faces of a Nickel Allergy.
While hiking in Southern Utah, my spouse and I found a beautiful patch of cacti blooming. Cactus only bloom when they are mature, under the right conditions of sunlight and cool nights. Some cactus species take years to bloom, ranging from 15, 30 to 100 years in the case of the puya raimondii, yet they still bloom and let the world see their true self. We are all beautiful and strong no matter what our skin looks or feels like.
What do you do to overcome guilt or shame related to your eczema and/or food allergy? I’d love to hear any tips you have in the comment section below!
I am honored to be recognized as one of the Top 40 Food Allergy Blogs and Top 20 Eczema Blogs to follow in 2018 from feedspot.com. I couldn’t do this without you and others within the allergy and eczema community. Thanks for sharing your story. I truly believe the more physicians, our co-workers and family know about our unique allergy the closer we’ll be at finding solutions. None of us can do this alone.