By Ashley Ann Laura, as told to Stephanie Watson
I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis when I was two years old. I don’t remember many of them at that age, but my parents definitely do. The redness and bumps on my face have been evident in almost every photo of me since that time. It’s very clear from those photos how much the condition really affected me.
I remember sleeping with my dad trying to stop myself from scratching my skin all night long. I missed a lot of my school days, especially when they got so intense.
There were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t do because of the eczema. It kept me from playing sports, hanging out with my friends, and doing what “normal” kids do. Many tears were shed during that time.
Finally, there was a moment when the eczema became dormant. It was the best two years of my life up to that point. For the first time, I was able to lengthen my nails and wear short-sleeved shirts. I really thought my eczema was gone. But then, on a family trip to an amusement park, I fell seriously ill and my eczema came back with a vengeance. My dream of being eczema-free is gone in a matter of hours.
Tests and treatments
Since eczema and allergies are closely related, I had an allergy test done. My doctor made all these little pricks on my back and put different materials to see if I had an allergy. There must have been 50 or 60 different marks on my back. I was allergic to just about every one of them, including trees, grass, and even certain types of rubber.
I went to a lot of doctor’s appointments from elementary school through high school. But from high school to college, I gave up on doctors because every visit was the same. I would go into the exam room, the doctor was looking at my skin, and within 5 minutes I was going out with a prescription for topical steroids.
Steroids will help temporarily, especially when atopic dermatitis is getting really bad. But it seemed like a band-aid, because in the end it would come back worse. Then I will have to go through the whole process again.
I had a love-hate relationship with the mirrors growing up. I haven’t felt good about myself for a very long time. it was hard. Eczema has affected me physically, socially and psychologically. I felt so lonely because I thought I was the only one in the world living with this condition.
My healing journey
November 2014 was the beginning of my healing journey. I was in the middle of one of the worst flares of my adult life. I tried following the same routine of using topical steroids, but this time it didn’t work.
I said, “Enough is enough” and began to do my own research on eczema. I learned about topical steroid withdrawal and started following this process. She was harsh. I have used steroids for over 20 years. When I left them, I developed severe withdrawal symptoms that left me bedridden for about a year and a half.
I lost half of my hair and part of my sight. My skin looked like a mixture of snake and elephant skin. I slipped so much that I always had to clean my bed and every corner of my house. It was as if my body was going through the process of changing itself.
Halfway through my stimulant withdrawal period, I entered a clinical trial of the biological drug dupilumab (Dupixent). It was a game changer. With this drug, I was finally able to start enjoying life. My skin was the clearest it’s ever been. I felt normal!
In 2017, my skin was so good that I started withdrawing from dupilumab. I wanted to see how my skin would do without it. I wouldn’t recommend this approach to everyone, but I was confident that my body could heal itself.
I am not currently taking any medication. I’ve been focusing on more holistic practices like meditation, therapy, exercise, and eating foods that make me feel good. I learned what worked for me by seeing what worked for others.
take back control
The biggest lesson I learned during my trip is that my eczema is connected to my emotions. Many people say that stress causes their eczema. For me, anger, sadness, and depression are the cause of that as well. As I become more aware of my feelings, I see how much they affect me and I learn to control them through meditation and breathing.
Years ago, I let eczema take over my life. I was going to go into the itch cycle and my whole world would collapse around me. I lost a lot of who I was because of that. I don’t remember much of my childhood because the eczema was so painful and I used up a lot of what was good in my life.
I’ve completed a full 180 since then. When I started accepting my eczema and figured out how to deal with it, I got my life back. There was a point when I started referring to my eczema as “it.” I became my best friend. When she caught, I would ask her how we can work together to heal. By personifying and communicating with my eczema rather than seeing it as my enemy, I began to heal more quickly.
I still feel bad, but my atopic dermatitis no longer controls what I do on a given day. My condition is no longer the deciding factor in what I wear, where I go, and who I hang out with.
In 2015, I started calling myself an eczema warrior. I’m a warrior, in a sense, because I bravely beat my eczema (more mentally than physically) and still do. I have dealt with eczema. I’m proud of her and I’m proud of what we’ve come to do together.