On Christmas Day, I sat on the toilet in my bathroom and cried. I didn’t want to get into the water. I wanted peace. I wanted to look myself in the mirror and see no scars. I wanted a task like ‘hopping in the shower’ to just be that simple. It wasn’t. The minute that water touched my skin, it became an ordeal. If you’ve ever dealt with a skin condition that just won’t seem to go away like eczema or psoriasis, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is far more than just dealing with being itchy or flare-ups during the change in season. What no one ever really shared with me was how the consistent struggle to treat my skin condition complicated my walk with self-love and care.
So I cried, a lot. By this time, my eczema had spread to my hands, thighs, face, back and my neck. I struggled with the way I looked and how I felt about myself like any other black girl. Between braces, puberty, being twice as tall as the boys in my class and ‘taming’ my natural hair when straight and silky was the norm, the “ you’re cute for a dark-skinned girl” compliment felt like a relief. At least they couldn’t see the rashes on my arms and my legs. I was the darkest, tallest person in the room and that made me a target for a lot of teasing and tough skin. I had to grow to protect myself.
Looking back, this was part of that "strong black woman" idea that we, thankfully, have started to discuss. My self-esteem wasn’t just low because I was a black girl, but it was also the trauma of growing ‘"tough skin"—mentally and physically—- that made it even harder. It was a vicious cycle of outbreaks and remissions that I never really talked about. As a black girl, you’re expected to just deal with it and if I couldn’t, I was being too sensitive. So when the teasing just seemed to roll off, I became numb to the attacks and criticism I heaped on myself.
I thought I grew out of that little girl, but when I looked in the mirror, there she was. I felt like everyone could see the struggle etched in my arms and the dark marks that appeared on my face. I started to feel less than sexy, and I avoided situations with partners where I could be vulnerable; lights off, not too much touching and I grew nervous when anyone stood too close to me. This was exactly what Anni Ferguson described when discussing black women and mental illness; I felt like I was playing a character, but I was unraveling. I couldn’t sleep at night and it made me anxious and stressed, which triggered my condition. I dealt with my skin for years, but why couldn’t I do that now? I needed help, but I didn’t know how to ask for it.
Tell a friend.
For me, my mother was the one who opened the door to the bathroom and insisted I get help. Some of us don’t have that family member to confide in, but opening up to a friend can push you to do the right thing. It wasn’t until I talked about my condition that I grew comfortable finding help.
Find a doctor who can treat the source, not just symptoms.
The steroid creams, daily routine, and random dermatologist visits weren't helping. I was looking at a body that I didn’t like and something had to change. Skin conditions like eczema are also triggered by your immune system, the first change was finding the right doctor. I used ZocDoc.com to research who was the best and if they took my insurance. For me, the food I was eating and my environment could be rendering a violent response from my body.
Get a first opinion and a second one.
I made an appointment with an immunologist to figure out if anything was triggering my eczema, but in the between time, I experimented with natural remedies like turmeric, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar and flaxseed oil known to decrease inflammation. I also tried products with fewer ingredients like Shea Moisture’s line for eczema and psoriasis. Also, there were benefits for having a doctor that specializes in your condition which I found was the best way to go for me. He introduced a new skin regime and gave me tips like moisturizing at least 10 times a day and investing in an air purifier that I never thought about. No one is one size fits all and feeling empowered to care for me properly came from figuring out what worked for me.
It is all a process, not a destination.
My eczema and the scars it left behind made me face myself differently. As an adult, I can look back and say that foundation of where I built my self-confidence wasn’t sturdy. I had learned to internalize my challenges versus talking about them and realizing my sense of self-worth wasn’t about how much I could ignore. I realized self-love right now is embracing my scars and self-love six months from now can look different.
My process for getting happier and healthier is just one journey, but feel free to comment your regimen, things you’ve tried or tag someone who needs it!