Eczema brings a rash of problems, but there is one silver lining

I reach out for the shirt I’ve been eyeing for the past two minutes, biting my lip, the anticipation drowning me. I feel the shirt, rubbing the rough fabric between my fingers, and I frown. Of course, this won’t work; the shirt is not nearly soft enough. My grandmother approaches me from behind. “My,” she says, “what a lovely top.”

“It’s too itchy,” I say. The temptation of trying it on is great, but the knowledge of how it’ll feel on my skin is already scratching against me, and I hesitantly pull my fingers from the cloth.

“What about this one?” My grandmother questions me from across the boutique. I peer towards her, already shaking my head. My eye for irritating fabric has strengthened over the years, and even from a distance, the materials crawl over me and tickle my neck.

I have Eczema: a genetic rash that becomes rough, inflamed, incredibly itchy, and at times, bleeds. Eczema is worse during the warm summer and dry winter months, but the inflammation occurs constantly. Eczema is something you learn to live with —  you have to, it’s genetic. Even with steroids and cream, the rash is always present, and soon enough, the itchiness is just a normal occurrence.

Learning to adapt to Eczema is the hard part. It’s like a cat: It does what it wishes, whenever it wishes to do it, and if you’re not okay with it … well, you just don’t have a choice in the matter. One day, you’re fine, your skin is clear, but by the next, it has spread across your entire arm; that red, blotchy, dry, moist mess stretching from your elbow to the tips of your fingers.

If you have Eczema, you understand completely. If you don’t, then hopefully this will help you understand. People without Eczema see people with it as some sort of disease … of course, Eczema is a disease, just not a contagious one. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Is that contagious?” or “Do you have HIV?” My response is always “no,” of course, (unless the question is, “Does that hurt?” or “Does that ever go away?”). I’ve been asked those questions so much I barely even react anymore.

During the crisp winter months, when the aggravating rash creeps up your collarbone and tugs at your throat, wrapping tautly around your neck like a rough-textured bow tie or a fuzzy turtleneck sweater, you can’t help but laugh at the stares you receive. At this moment, my fingers are cracked and peeling from Eczema, and I suppose I’ve gotten used to the glances — Eczema victims all know the look: the furrow of the brow, the “trying not to stare.”

Eczema victims also know the pain of finding the perfect shirt but realizing that the material is just too scratchy — most of this occurs with sweaters. Eczema victims have all learned to find comfortable clothing that is still striking … I suppose you could call that a blessing. 

It could always be worse. My sister almost died from Eczema — hers is much more serious than mine, meaning she often gets staph infections. It was a horrible day for my family. She recovered, but as is the case of all of us with the disease, she is always dealing with the annoyance of  having it.

Despite the hardships Eczema brings to its victims, is it truly such a horrible thing? Yes. Yes, it is. But, Eczema makes us unique. It gives us something to converse about, to complain about. We have learned, after some time, to adapt. We have to eat different foods, dress differently, put on a lot of lotion, avoid slicing lemons, wash our hands frequently, try not to wear jewelry too much. I am a swimmer, and chlorine is possibly the worst thing for someone with Eczema, but I have pushed through, learned how to calm the inflammation and swim anyway. Eczema victims are powerful and smart. We have overcome this “skin disease” — at least somewhat.

So in the end, yes, Eczema is horrible. It’s genetic — sorry, kids — so there’s no escape from it. It can cause death. However, sometimes life gives us unexpected things, things we do not want but still have to live with, and that’s not always a bad thing. A balding head isn’t bad, a slow metabolism isn’t bad, nor is a fast one. A big nose isn’t bad, chubby feet aren’t bad, and a glowing red rash isn’t always bad … because at the end of each day, your uniqueness makes you YOU, and that’s the beautiful thing that more people need to understand.

At last, I eye another shirt … the shirt. I reach out for the fabric, squinting with eagerness. But then my fearful expression turns into vibrant happiness, a glowing smile spreading across my lips like creamy butter over warm toast, because the material is soft. “Gree Gree!” I holler across the store. “I found it!”