Amara Howe: the effect of eczema on my mental health

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Amara Howe: the effect of eczema on my mental healthAmara Howe is a writer on topics of love, sex, fashion, health, and feminism. Find her on Instagram and Twitter, where she uses #eczemawarrior to document her battle with eczema. Here she recounts how the skin condition has affected her mental health…

 

There are flakes on my keyboard right now. Unfortunately, it’s not my Kellogg’s from this morning wedged in between the keys – it’s my skin. No matter how much you try to remind yourself your skin doesn’t define you, having to sweep up your skin every morning isn’t exactly the definition of fun.

I first developed eczema when I was 18 – I’m 25 now. That’s seven years of itching. 84 months of scratching. 2,555 days of bleeding. 61,320… you get the picture.

Now I’m sure you know what eczema is, but for those that don’t, it’s a medical condition in which the skin becomes itchy, red, dry and cracked – for no apparent reason at all. I mean just the other day I thought my skin was finally having a breakthrough moment telling me I’d endured enough scratching for a lifetime when BAM – a flare.

For some, eczema might just be a little dry patch on the back of their hands but for me it’s a dry patch which has somehow managed to reach everywhere besides my feet and my buttocks – praise Jesus for this gorgeous peach. Jokes aside, it’s crappy.

As someone who approached teenage-hood with no boobs, a sweat disorder (that’s another story) and extreme anxiety I developed body dysmorphia at a very young age… I even got a nose job. After years of battling this I came out the other side at age 18 where my adulthood began. A new job, a boyfriend, a great group of friends, what more could you want? It wasn’t long after my eighteenth birthday when I started to develop a small patch of eczema on my wrists.

While I may hashtag skin positivity and post photos of me and my wrinkly neck, I’d much rather take a photo of myself in my underwear without looking like Freddie Krueger’s gone at me.

Within the space of a year the eczema had spread all over my body affecting mostly my arms and neck. I was happy with my new life but having this condition meant there was a constant niggling in the back of my brain telling me I’d only be beautiful once my condition disappeared.

Seven years later and that niggle still exists. My skin is clearer than it used to be but seven years has taught me a lot, particularly when it comes to my mental health. Having always suffered from anxiety and depression, the wish to feel ‘normal’ had always beaten me down.

I know, I know – what is normal anyway? But when you’re a fashion graduate addicted to Instagram it is pretty difficult not to get yourself down about the fact you’re skin isn’t as smooth as a baby’s bum. Sure, Kendall Jenner might be promoting Acutane, but I’m still waiting to see those acne scars hun.

Don’t get me wrong – skin positivity is on the rise, from acne to vitiligo, psoriasis to birthmarks, people’s perceptions of beautiful are changing. But until you read or hear about it you probably wouldn’t know I have to shake my sheets free of skin daily, or that my boyfriend hoovers my skin weekly – I’m serious. While I may hashtag skin positivity and post photos of me and my wrinkly neck, I’d much rather take a photo of myself in my underwear without looking like Freddie Krueger’s gone at me.

From bloodied bed sheets to skin-covered floor boards, eczema isn’t pretty. While I’ve embraced the positives – I’ve made friends with fellow itchies,  I get paid to write about it, and I’ve found nothing quite comes close to an orgasmic scratch – I can’t embrace the condition itself. Why? Because it’s not me. It doesn’t belong to me, I don’t own it and it doesn’t own me (as much as I might think it does).

My body doesn’t hate me – it is trying to fight this horrible condition.

So what have I discovered? While the condition sucks it has made me realise a few things. I am beautiful. I have a lovely face, pretty lips, big eyes and a banging taste in fashion. It’s taken a skin condition to realise this but if it wasn’t for my eczema I know I’d still be hooked up on another flaw.

Sure, I might look like a lobster most of the time but some days I wake up and my skin is a little less red and I appreciate everything so much more. My body doesn’t hate me – it is trying to fight this horrible condition.

Focusing on the positives are hard but I promise you, having those good skin days make it all worth it.

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