The relationship between eczema and work is one that hits a particularly strong personal chord with me, and surely many others with eczema. Learning how to deal with both in parallel and understanding how eczema and work interact with each other is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges someone with eczema will ever face.
Stress is a common trigger for eczema flare-ups -- and in my experience, it always has been. Yet I never could understand what it meant to “reduce your stress.” Whose life isn’t stressful? Who are these people who live a life free of uncertainty about things that matter to them? How are they not affected by it? As I have gotten older, I’ve realized perhaps there are truly ways to conquer these inner conflicts that cause us stress. Maybe it is meditation, finding time for yourself, sharing our troubles with friends and families, and a host of other constructive ideas. I do not know that I am a master of these tools, though I am trying to slowly learn them.
Over time, though, I have become exceedingly well-versed in how difficult managing stress and work can be and how we can use this as a building block for our own self-confidence in a surprising way.
Many of my worst experiences with eczema came at the time of my life when I could least afford a flare-up. As I finished high school and throughout my undergraduate studies, and even heading into medical school, I feel like my life became a never-ending cycle of itching, pain, and a sleep cycle ruined for years on end due to eczema. For years I yearned to simply sleep a full night peacefully and rest.
Going into medical school from college is challenging. Doing it with eczema felt like being asked to succeed at something inherently difficult while being reduced to only a small fraction of your best possible self due to your condition. My memories of my struggles of those times are so strong that I feel like they have never faded.
I still remember taking my MCAT examination, the most crucial entrance standardized pre-medical examination, and trying to keep my concentration while itching. When I had to take the exam to get into radiology residency, I was afraid of the exam itself, but even more so, I was afraid of taking it while not being allowed to take my cream into the examination room due to the rigidity of testing site rules. It was so stressful knowing that having an eczema flare-up in the middle of a test could decide my entire professional future while not having access to creams that I had become so dependent on.
Obviously if eczema is triggered by stress, taking the actual examination seemed like a guaranteed time to be stressed and then have a flare-up. A flare-up would then be a likely way to sabotage your testing experience, and as a result, perhaps your whole future. The very thought of it was anxiety-provoking in itself.
The worries about a flare-up increased my stress outside the classroom as well. I still remember my dread of every surgical rotation I was on, knowing full well the strong soap we used to sterilize our hands prior to entering the OR would only surely dry out my skin for hours on end without relief. A common trigger for me, and I imagine others, is disrupted daily schedules, particularly with respect to sleep. As a medical trainee, disrupted daily schedules, and particularly sleep schedules, are basically a prerequisite to our training.
Maybe they are out there, but I don’t know that I ever personally found the magical solutions to these constant battles playing out on the field of my life between eczema and my career aspirations. What I have found is that the strength and self-belief it required of me, and built in me, gave me a silent tool that I could rely on in everything in my life and career, both inside and outside the scope of my battles with eczema. Whenever challenges in my life arise -- whenever there is a complex situation that’s unclear, difficult to solve, and where the odds are strongly against me -- I always come back to the belief I can figure out a positive way forward.
I always come back to that belief because what could be harder than what I have already to overcome in dealing with eczema and my career at once?
No matter how hard something seems, even if I myself feel daunted by the challenge, once I remember how hard I had struggled through eczema to create a career for myself, I suddenly feel confident that the challenge that otherwise may seem overwhelming is nothing at all.
People with eczema often feel they are fighting a silent battle that no one understands while trying to build a life for themselves. Very likely you are fighting a battle that most may never see. Yet you are also building a strength in yourself along the way, and seeing that it in yourself can provide you a tool to rely on to positively persevere forward towards all the pursuits in life that matter to you, both inside and outside your career.
Even today, after surviving all the difficult memories I have described and successfully finishing all my premedical and medical studies, medical internship, radiology residency, and radiology fellowship (that’s 14 years of my life), I find myself now cherishing the chance to seek out new career opportunities and challenges. I almost look forward to the chance to apply the strength I found in battling eczema to new career challenges to push myself. Sometimes I sincerely doubt whether I would have that constant yearning to keep finding new challenges in a constructive way had my career not been so shaped by a seemingly endless cycle of itching and pain.
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