The first time I truly conceptualized what living with eczema was like was in the sixth grade. I had moved permanently to a state that I initially thought was just an extended summer abroad. I started as the only new student at a school whose district was the only one that kept sixth graders in elementary school and freshmen in middle school. While I was busy getting to know new teachers, making friends all over again, and adjusting to my newly installed braces, my mom started noticing changes to my skin.
It seemed like my skin was in a state of permanent goosebumps. The texture wasn't rough and patchy and dry yet, but I could pick at the bumps. Then, my skin started to peel. Flakes of dry skin would stick under my nails in a grotesque, French-tip style, and hide between the hills and valleys of my mattress. The first time I scratched hard enough to break the skin and started bleeding, I was horrified.
I didn't want to go to school. I stopped wearing short sleeves and pants, which was relatively easy because my eczema rashes only showed up on my inner elbows and knees at this point. This was before the time I would need to slather my entire body with seven different moisturizers (one dedicated for each week) and put layer upon layer to protect my skin from, well, myself. I even had to keep my nails extremely short to ease the vicious clawing I'd get up to.
I block most of junior high out of my memories because from what I can remember, it was the worst eczema for me, and therefore, the worst time of my life. I often joke that around this time, I went to a total of nine dermatologists, eight of whom said the same tiring, soul-crushing response.
"I just don't know what to do with her."
It was absolutely heartbreaking. “Please,” I would say, morally shattered and broken,
“What can I do to live better than this?”
And while they affirmed that my case was terrible and they acknowledged it was painful for me, all they would do is prescribe me more steroids.
I didn't want to be reliant on steroids, but nothing was working. Even steroids. Rude. I would see my skin soothed for about a week before rashes flared up again and spread farther. I wanted to skin myself. My mom, who also has eczema, said the same thing once. The hospital had to tie her wrists to the bed to prevent her from doing so. If that happened to her, I feared that they would need to put me in a psych ward.
My eighth dermatologist was renowned in the pediatric world. We didn't even have to fly anywhere to meet him. I was in ninth grade. He took one look at me, prescribed more steroids, and offered a third remedy – an injection with monoclonal antibody-blocking properties.
It didn't work.
Ah, let me clarify. It didn't work the first time.
From then to now, my skin has fluctuated between better and worse. I deal with lotions and non-fragrance things and oatmeal body wash and products that claim to heal even the most intense of eczema cases, all so that I can wane off relying on steroids. Natural products this, natural remedies that.
As a junior in college, I booked an appointment with my ninth dermatologist. I'm not a kid anymore so I couldn't go meet with my last dermatologist ever again. Not that I minded, sorry to him, but he was just like the others. No. 9 was different.
She took one look at me and said that I shouldn't have to live like this, which, in the moment, really gagged me. Like wow, did she have to say it like that? But this dermatologist expressed a sympathy that the other eight just did not have. She told me my only solution was an injection with monoclonal antibody-blocking properties. It had been years, so I was like what is that? Again, I blocked most memories from junior high, but I didn't remember the shots my mom injected me with. The ones that didn't work.
The injection No. 9 gave me was a lot different from the ones the others prescribed. For one, my dosage comes in the form most accurately described as an EpiPen. Secondly, because I'm a real-life college girl, I have to inject myself instead of my mom doing it for me. I hate needles. I hate eczema more. So, for the past quarter, every other week, I have been injecting myself.
At my second check-in with No. 9, her happiness for me was so tactile and sunshine bright that I grinned throughout the entire meeting.
Clearer, clearer, and clearer. I really am happier when my skin is smooth as it was intended to be. I may have to be on this injection for my entire life, but if this is the result, I'll gladly swallow my fear of needles for 3 minutes.
For me, it works. It really works.
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Photo Credit: FG Trade / E+ via Getty Images
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