When I think back at how I’ve come to terms with my chronic skin condition, I see a rocky road with a few U-turns, traffic circles, winding paths, and slopes. I’m still on the same road, but I’m further ahead from where I began my eczema journey. I’ve experienced specific stages within my chronic eczema journey that have led to my acceptance of my condition.
Prior to knowing I had eczema, I was confused about my skin. I’d go through a flare-up and have no idea why it began or if it would end. And I definitely didn’t know how to control my flare-ups. I didn’t even know the word “flare-up,” for crying out loud! In this first stage, before my eczema was diagnosed, my skin situation was a complete mystery to me.
Eventually, my skin flare-ups were often and bothersome enough that I sought medical help. I saw a dermatologist that told me I was dealing with eczema and also tested me for skin allergies. My first discovery happened in my mid-20s when I found out I had a fragrance skin allergy. This was a big deal, because my skin condition stopped being a mystery and I finally had information that could help me.
I’ve gone through the discovery phase a few times in my life as I’ve found out about new skin allergies or skin issues. Although the discovery phase is exciting for me each time, it always leads to my realizing I have new things I must now avoid, moving forward. I see others around me consuming things freely, and it frustrates me. “Why must I be this ridiculous snowflake?” I ask myself. The older I get, the shorter this stage gets for me, I’ve noticed. I’d rather not feel self-pity and instead do something about it. Though, the frustration stage still often leads me to the following stage. …
“Nah, I’m OK! I can’t actually be allergic to sandals,” I told myself, even though they literally caused the tops of my feet to flare up terribly -- a spot that had always been clear of eczema. The denial stage is expensive and reckless. It’s cost me many expensive makeups, creams, fuzzy sweaters, scarves, necklaces, earrings … the list goes on and on. My skin allergies range from dust mites to metals, fragrance, and other ingredients that are in common products. I’ve denied my allergies a few times -- as if denying my impending eczema reaction will stop it from occurring. It doesn’t -- I only hurt myself during the denial phase.
The control phase is almost as exciting as the discovery phase. I am informed about my triggers, and I can do my best to control my eczema. When I found out I had a fragrance allergy in my mid-20s, I changed out my products (e.g., shampoo, conditioner, face creams, etc.) and the eczema on my face cleared up within a week. A week! I remember feeling so excited. Having success managing my eczema makes me feel in control, and although I am never in full control of my eczema, it feels pretty great.
All these phases have ultimately led me to the acceptance phase. I find out I have a new skin allergy and I’m excited about the news, but then feel bummed by my necessary lifestyle changes. I disregard my allergies and make matters worse with my skin, until I stop my nonsense and instead use my skin allergy knowledge to control my eczema. Having improved skin makes me feel and look better, which is what matters the most. This realization and skin success lead me to accept my condition. I have chronic eczema that is triggered by a variety of skin allergies, and it can worsen with stress. It seems so simple, yet I go through these phases every time something new happens with my skin.
Today, I am at peace with my chronic skin condition. But, because this is a lifelong condition, I tell myself it is natural and OK for me to go through the stages of eczema acceptance again.
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