Thursday, February 19, 2009

Walking a Mile

Everyone has to deal with something, right? Diabetes, MS, ADD, anorexia, something. I've been pondering writings about life with a live-in lodger of some ailment. I thought, "What would I think about on a daily basis if it were me? Could it be me?"

I've told you my main health thing - eczema. Does it compare to some of the really life-threatening illnesses? Does anyone's specific ailment compare to another's? Sure it does. Be honest. We all count our blessings that someone else's cross isn't ours to bear. And when you are at whatever YOUR worst is, is it not a personal hell for you that seems no one else will ever experience? It's not selfish to me to feel this way. How we express it is a different thing, but I'm not writing about that expression. I'm just giving you a glimpse of me living with my own thing - daily.

What do I think about.

1 - Clothing choices.
Never wearing anything synthetic. At my best, I can get away with it. At my worst, it's 100% cotton, baby. There is also never wearing anything sleeveless without a shrug or something tagging along, unless I am on a distant island where no one knows me and I therefore don't care what they think. Years of topical steroids have thinned my skin so that it looks like I have some sort of stretch marks, when really it's a loss of elasticity in places. Needless to say, summer can be maddening. Why care? Have you shopped lately? I can't escape the sleeveless shi(r)t but do I want to dress like I'm 80 and about to plow? Yeah. I do have strong feelings about this.

2 - Food choices. I love oranges and tangerines and orange juice. LOVE THEM. Haven't had them in years upon years. When I was pregnant with my first child, I saw clearly the effect the acid from this fruit has on my skin. So no fresh oranges (for my kids either). Or apples. Or pears. Or acidic anything. Kind of limits the wonderful fruit choices. Other foods to beware? Anything with milk in it. But milk isn't good for the digestive system of many of us anyway, so maybe that's a good thing.

3 - Pregnancy choices. Part of the reason why baby #3 is a hard decision to make is because of what I may have to live with. Your favorite rough leather purse? Smooth as silk compared to how I can be. When I am in full flare-up mode the comments range from "Are you wearing makeup? Looks nice!" (I'm not.) to "Were you burned in a fire?" Yep. Been asked that at least twice. A great self-esteem builder.

4 - Living at the doctor's office.
I was born with eczema but I did not look like it nor did it affect my life until college when I lived off campus with a couple of friends in a house where animals used to live. I'm not allergic to them, per se, but dust is all the dead cells people and animals leave behind. Mites eat that up and dig deep into carpets and such. I am allergic to the mites. And trees. And grass. And winter. And spring. And summer. After diagnosis, I was predictable. Mini flare ups in certain places on my body at certain times of the year. Livable. After pregnancy, I was unpredictable and remain so. Stress, food, fabric, anything can set me off. I am on my 5th dermatologist since my 1st pregnancy but so far he's a keeper. Still, after a while, your skin knows your tricks and the meds don't work like they used to and you may even have to just find a new doctor and start all over again. Allergy shots - 2 years, twice a week, 20 minutes per visit - didn't work out.

5 - Permanency. Scratches on me leave permanent marks, unless I get a plastic surgeon to take care of it like I did last time. Ever itched so bad but tried not to scratch? It's hard, huh?

6 - Fragility. If you cut me in any of the places where my skin is thinnest, I will easily be hurt. I've been cut by the pricetags on clothes. That's how fragile my skin is. My family's touches can be too rough sometimes because I bruise very easily. My personality is strong because my first line of defense is not.

7 - The future. Old people are wrinkled. I'm already living with less-than-youthful skin. Where exactly is left for me to go? I try not to think about it.

For me, the crap going on inside of you that doesn't show has a blessing built in because it stays inside of you. I wear mine on my sleeve literally. When it's bad, I can't sleep. I am scratching without even thinking. Skin is all over the place like I'm leaving trails of pepper everywhere I go. (Am I grossing you out? Stop now.) Scratching leaves me vulnerable to staph infections which I easily get. I retain water to the point of not being able to wear shoes or, once, even walk at all. Moving is painful because of the lack of elasticity in the skin. My skin is thick because, oddly enough, eczema is about skin trying to repair itself and it does so quickly on top of itself. This, ironically, makes me a REALLY fast healer.

The thickness of my skin makes me hot which makes me sweat and sweat keeps the itch cycle turning. Showers must be cool, not hot, and yes showers, not baths because you can't be in water too long. And if there is anything in the tap water, I will know it because it will sting my skin like someone rubbed salt on a wound. And intimacy? Who wants to cuddle up to that or show it to anyone else? No. That goes into a coma too.

At this moment, I can feel my eyelids because they are the affected place right now. Funny thing is women love my eyes. They think I am a whiz with the mascara talking about the way I blend so perfectly. It's not my doing, ladies. God did that blending for me. In full flare-up mode, I look like a model.

You know how that perfect outfit makes you feel? Nothing needs to be adjusted. Everything falls in the right place whether you are sitting or standing or bending over. You look good and you're comfortable so you are free to concentrate on whatever task is at hand. You walk around confident that your outfit is doing its job to not make you self-conscientious in any way. Walking around in my skin is the opposite of that. It's like walking around in an outfit you have to constantly adjust. I am always, always, ALWAYS aware of myself.

I'm not looking for sympathy or anything. Just putting myself in someone else's shoes of writing about having to live with an affliction and how it affects my daily life. We all have our thing. Eczema and I have gotten used to each other and I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

What are YOU living with?

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