Eczema isn’t something I have ever had. My sister had it on the backs of her knees for a short period of time when she was little and I taught children who had patches of it, but as far as understanding eczema, that’s where my knowledge ends.
Since starting this blog and participating in conversations about beauty and confidence, I have followed people with adult eczema who are on topical steroid withdrawal because the treatment they were given as children has stopped working and they are stuck with flare ups, pain and life changing symptoms. They are people who share their worst days and their best days, who reach out to someone else struggling and in pain and say ‘hey, you’re not alone’.
Natasha’s interview allowed me to learn more about adult eczema and the impact it can have on a person’s confidence.
In your own words, describe your life with eczema.
My life with eczema has been a rollercoaster of emotions and physical pain. It’s been a lifetime of joy sucking, confidence destroying, life altering hell. It feels like every time I have wanted to enjoy my life, my eczema has decided to flare up. Even just walking to my corner shop for milk is filled with dread as I don’t want to have to look at anybody when no amount of makeup will hide it.
Eczema is a condition I have had to come to peace with in order to live my life.
I have suffered all my life. I remember not being able to do sports day at school because I couldn’t open my joints, being teased for looking like a permanent Halloween character, hating every single photo taken of me because of what I would see, struggling to get out of bed because of what it takes mentally to pull yourself together every day and gather enough strength to learn not to care about what people think when they look at you.
And then there is having to physically piece myself back together from cuts, infections and uncontrollable flake.
It took me many years to realise that I am to live my life with a chronic illness because dermatologists set me on a treatment plan for life on topical steroids, but then I learnt about a thing called ‘red skin syndrome’ when my topicals stopped working and I was flaring up every single day. Now I am on a totally different journey that’s more complicated than just eczema… as are so many others like me!
Topical steroid withdrawal is a life decision you take. It’s deciding how you want to live your life, and then living that life managing eczema. Finding the energy to focus on your life while wanting to scratch your face and body off is a constant challenge, as is finding the confidence to lead your life without caring what people think.
On a bad day, what is your eczema like?
Red, burning, relentlessly and crazily itchy. It takes a grip on your whole being – flaking, tight, oozing, cut, rough, bleeding, hot, sore, depressed, infected, try to stay in bed for as long as my family will allow me, zero energy, lying in bed in flakes and blood.
How has your topical steroid withdrawal (TSW) been going so far?
I tried TSW in my early twenties and was steroid free for two years but I ended up having so many infections and being so miserable that I gave up. I then did it homoeopathically, but it didn’t do me much good.
I really wanted to live life and do things that I saw ‘normal’ people doing like clubbing, drinking too much, creating a career for myself and have fun with friends so decided I would focus on that instead of sorting my eczema.
TSW is a life decision because it gets in the way of your life with complete unpredictability until you get through it. After that, you’re not meant to suffer again.
When I was 35, I decided the time was right to try again. I started again February 2019 after someone in my business shared her journey with TSW with me and opened my eyes to the possibility of life without eczema if I could go through the withdrawal. I started after my second baby was born and I’m still sticking at it.
This time round, I made sure I had better care around me both personally and medically because I wanted to be in it for the long run. I still value my first TSW experience though as it taught me about the importance of what you put on and inside of your body – and that partly led to my now business too.
You now use vegan and organic products on your skin. What difference have these products made?
I have a health and wellness business called Arbonne which involves vegan, botanical, pure and safe products, so I use those as much as I can to avoid the harsher more toxic products that are prescribed. My team and I also offer recommendations on how people can lead healthier and more fulfilling lives through helping their mental health and self worth – things that are so close to my heart because of my journey with eczema.
The products are amazing. They are the highest standard of skincare globally and independently verified. We formulate the products only with botanicals and essential oils so I know (and my clients know) that they are putting nourishing and results driven products inside their body and onto their skin. The products are also kind to the planet – you know you’re not washing anything toxic down the drain, we are not testing on animals and that means I am helping generations to come.
My skin feels so much more supple, repaired and glowing with these products and I know that others notice too! The makeup is like a treatment – it’s the only makeup that doesn’t burn my skin and offers around the clock hydration with full coverage, what us eczema sufferers need!
It’s great that you have found products that work for you. How has having eczema as an adult impacted your confidence?
Like crazy! It is a huge issue. I have been forced to work on loving myself more and not care about other people’s opinions in order to keep my confidence at a place it needs to be to be the leader, professional, wife and mother that I am.
I have taught myself to walk out of my house without putting makeup on, I’ve taught myself to accept myself for who I am and how I look so that I can have a relationship with my husband and I’ve had to teach my 4 year old son that you ‘can’t catch eczema’ and that he can still cuddle me even though it might not feel very nice.
You use your page to encourage and help others live a more healthy, balanced life. Why is it important to you to share these ideas?
Because we are in a world where everyone is stressed and people are looking for more time, more money and happiness! I believe my business is the answer to these problems, my team and I are on a mission to educate more people on how. We do this through sharing tips, suggestions, information and facts that educate people on their health or skin/hair/makeup via social media, through conversations we are always having with people we meet in our everyday life and through presenting to groups of people.
Why is it important for you to share every step of your TSW process on Instagram?
I had a life of eczema feeling alone, depressed and like I was the only one in the world going through this. Those feelings have made me feel the worst I have ever felt in life, and that drives me to use any means to raise awareness of it so others can feel part of a community and get educated about it. I thought I was the only person in the world who looked like this.
What’s also tough is that TSW isn’t officially recognised in some medical fields so it is down to luck as to which consultants you get assigned or referred to. This lack of medical support makes an already draining issue a hundred times more draining as you have to fight for your health to get noticed and for the treatment you deserve.
I have learnt the value and power of a supportive community through my health and wellness business. Pictures tell a thousand words and, with something as visual as eczema, Instagram can really get across how people are feeling and their journeys in a way that helps others going through it feel less lonely. It encourages a culture of support, advice, tips, education but mostly encouragement for us all.
When do you feel the most beautiful?
When I am with my husband who loves all of me. But for me personally I feel amazing when my skin is behaving. I haven’t learnt to love my eczema yet, but I’m working on it. The only time in my life when my eczema totally disappeared has been when pregnant, so I have always felt beautiful then (also because of the beauty of pregnancy anyway). I always look glowing and have smooth skin, but dermatologists have no research, knowledge or solutions to offer with this information.
If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?
Live it! Take risks, get out of your comfort zone as nothing grows there, show your children what is possible, to believe in themselves, always lead with love and how about stopping asking yourself ‘what is this doesn’t work’ and try asking ‘but what if it does…?’