Jennifer Roberge is the founder of the award-winning Its An Itchy Little World blog and The Eczema Company. Propelled to find a solution for her son’s struggles with eczema, allergies, and asthma, Jennifer has established herself as the go-to resource on integrative and holistic methods, and the best natural products for healing both inside and out.
Most posts about eczema talk about treatment and prevention and that’s a huge piece of the puzzle. It’s undeniably important. But today I’m going deeper. I’m going to talk about the part of eczema that often isn’t discussed by physicians, friends or family. The Emotional Impact of Eczema.
Dealing with my son’s eczema was the single most difficult part of my life. It brought me to some very dark places emotionally, it nearly ruined my marriage and it left me feeling weak and helpless when I couldn’t soothe my little guy. Now, all the lack of sleep surely didn’t help matters, but overall, eczema was to blame and I’m not ashamed to say that I hit rock bottom and wallowed there in my own pity for a while.
Now, surely some of you are thinking, “pfft eczema, it’s just a little dry skin here and there. What’s the big deal? You are being way overly dramatic. If that’s the worst thing to have happened in your life, you’re lucky.“ Yes, in some ways you’re right. My son didn’t have an incurable terminal illness and wasn’t taken from this world all too soon nor did he have a degenerative disease. For that, I’m eternally grateful. But what he did have was head to toe eczema that made him appear severely burned. He was itchy all over his tiny little body. He wiggled around scratching and rubbing himself on furniture, jungle gyms and basically anything solid to find a moment of relief. He’d go into these itch trances where his eyes would glaze over and he’d scratch until his skin was rubbed raw, he’d bleed and then he just continued on scratching. At his worst point, he was three years old, and reasoning with him and asking him to stop scratching obviously was less than effective. Sometimes distracting him with games and toys worked, for a minute or two. Then it was scratch city all over again.
Again, you’re probably thinking “What’s a little blood? Kids fall and get hurt and draw blood all the time. Is it really a big deal?” Again, you’re kind of right. I’m not scared to let my kids get their hands dirty or be a little reckless, heck, I want them to be kids. Getting a little bloodied up from a fall off a bike or a scrape from a tree branch, no big deal. But in our case, my son’s scratching and drawing blood usually led to severe skin infections, which when left untreated, can actually be fatal, not to mention how they worsened the overall pain and discomfort of his skin. So, a little blood can be quite dangerous for someone with eczema.
Then there is sleep deprivation. Obviously, my son didn’t sleep very soundly, being intensely itchy can have that effect. But in our case, it wasn’t just my son that wasn’t sleeping well, it was my husband and I as well. We took turns sleeping with him to hold his arms in place and prevent him from scratching himself raw. Plus we had a newborn in the house at the time, so, not one person in our house was sleeping well, not one. A house full of non-sleepers took its toll. We were cranky and all emotions were heightened. Anyone with children can at least relate to the effects of lack of sleep. It wears you down and begins to loosen your grip on reality and you frequently find yourself hysterically laughing for no reason and alternately crying uncontrollably, at least that’s how it went down with me.
With my son’s skin, we were seeing a dermatologist, a few different doctors actually, but they kept wanting to increase his dose of topical steroids because his skin continued to worsen once we’d take the mandatory two-week break between treatments. I wanted to quit hydrocortisone cold turkey since it didn’t seem to be working for our son and my husband wanted to continue to follow the physician’s plan. And after all the cumulative lack of sleep and the stress of all that we’d gone through already, this is the point where our marriage was truly tested. We both felt so strongly about our son’s treatment plan that neither of us backed down and we both felt the other was completely in the wrong. I lost faith in my spouse and surely he did so in me. I was so outrageously frustrated at him for his unconditional belief in the medical system that I thought was failing us. And I was shocked and sad that western medicine did not have an effective solution for my son’s skin. I turned to holistic ideas and researched elimination diets and healing from within and this further divided my husband and I.
At this point, I spent more days in tears and despair than I did anything else. My marriage was rocky. My son was miserable. I was miserable. I saw no hope for relieving his suffering. Strangers stared at my son and gave me condescending looks probably imagining either he had some contagious topical illness or that I simply didn’t care enough to take care of his skin. I was angry this was happening to my son, to my family, to my life. I was jealous of other kid’s soft, creamy smooth skin. I was frustrated I couldn’t help my son find relief. I felt like a failure to my son and family. I felt overwhelmed by the skincare routine, trying new products, looking for triggers, modifying diets, researching alternative treatment options and the list just goes on…..and I was so, so, so tired.
Today, I know all these emotions are normal and expected. It’s how we look at them that makes all the difference. Back then, in the midst of all those dark emotions, things weren’t so clear. I have a very dear friend now, Marieke Bosche Larose of Your Novel Life, that I wish I’d known back then. She is a life coach and in earlier days, she had a child with eczema as well. She made this amazing, thoughtful, inspiring video from her perspective as a life coach now about what she’d tell her former self during those difficult times managing her daughter’s eczema. And wow, how badly I needed to hear her words back then and I hope they bring you some peace during difficult times.
Here are some of Marieke’s wise tips from her video:
- Trust your gut. If you have a feeling about what may be triggering your or your child’s eczema, take a closer look and follow your intuition.
- Acceptance, accepting what is. We can ease our suffering when we release our resistance to what is.
- Feel all your feelings. Give yourself permission to feel everything that you feel.
- Feel empowered by realizing you have choices in how you handle things. You don’t have to DO anything. Chose how you want to do it and know you are making a choice instead of being forced into something.
- Get support, reach out, connect with other people, share your story. Don’t live this by yourself because there are so many people living it. That’s what we’re here for, to support each other.
- Find the blessing and remember that this is happening for me, not to me. With that perspective, what can I do with it, what does it mean? What do I want to make this mean for myself or my child? How can this be a blessing for my family?
In the end, the emotional impact of eczema can be incredibly difficult to bear. It’s ok to have these feelings and it’s completely normal. Accept them, don’t fight them. Talk about how you feel and get help. The worst always passes. In my story, I’m happy to say that the cliché was so very true – after hitting rock bottom, there was the only way to go, up! My research and dietary changes worked wonders and my son ended up healing by 95% via natural means. Read more about what worked for my son here.
My son’s story ended up inspiring me to create a resource for others battling eczema, The Eczema Company, an online store where I share natural products that worked for us and countless other families. We have the best products for eczema all hand-picked for their ability to soothe and heal the skin. Shop for non-toxic skin care, soothing clothing, scratch mittens, wet wraps, alternative laundry solutions and more.
Looking for even more information on Eczema? The Eczema Company thrilled to be collaborating with Sarah on an exciting new ebook about the science behind eczema and how lifestyle changes like the Paleo diet can really help encourage skin healing. The Paleo Mom’s Guide to Eczema is packed with all the best tips for treating and preventing eczema and related skin conditions naturally!