My eczema flare-ups have two main stages: the worsening, which leads to peak flare-up, and then the recovery, which leads to clear skin. In the past, the two phases together have lasted a few days, a few weeks, or, terribly, a few months.
Not long ago, I was in the recovery phase of a bad flare-up on my hamstrings. They were no longer burning or unbearably itchy. But the skin was still swollen and dry. I completely forgot about my thighs, though, when my sister invited me to the spa for a massage. I would’ve never gotten a massage if my skin was actively flared up – massage oil on a hot flare-up would’ve been a terrible idea. But I should’ve waited a few more weeks to go get a massage.
I realized my oversight as soon as the masseuse put her hands on my bare skin. I was undressed, lying on my stomach, covered by a white blanket. And I felt so exposed. Eczema exposed. “Oh no, my legs!” I thought, “Oh no, oh noooo!”
She started on my shoulders and moved down to my back. Then she was massaging my waist. I was everything but relaxed. I felt so much anxiety – a surprising amount of it. And I felt shame about my skin. I felt guilty that I put my masseuse in a situation where she’d have to touch my flared-up skin. Would she be disgusted? Would she want to stop? Even worse, would she turn on the lights and stop the massage? Would she think it’s contagious? People still think that, right?
At this point, the masseuse finished massaging my arms and covered up my back. She repositioned the blanket and pulled out one of my legs. This was it. It all built up to this moment … and nothing happened. The masseuse massaged my legs like nothing was wrong. I assumed she was being very professional about it. I still felt bad for putting her in this situation.
Finally, the massage ended. She left the room and I got up to get dressed. There was a full-length mirror in the corner. I sped to it and looked at the back of my legs. And they looked completely normal. The room was dim enough that my flare-up didn’t stand out. I stood in front of the mirror and saw more than my reflection. I recognized my eczema shame. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized I felt shame regarding my eczema. I’d felt obsession, anger, frustration, and even pity. But shame? I was too confident to feel shame! But the last hour couldn’t be ignored.
“No,” I told myself. “Not OK.” I didn’t choose to have eczema and I’m not a bad person or less than anyone else for having it. I will not feel shame. I will be confident about how I handle it. I will have eczema confidence.
And, I will lower my skin expectations. Perfect skin is not necessary. Most people have blemished skin – and they get massages. Looking in the mirror of the massage room, I saw myself as I was – perfectly fine and appropriate for a massage.
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Photo Credit: nensuria via Getty Images
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