Healing Pains

I’ve been working incredibly hard on my journey of using holistic methods to heal my severe eczema naturally. (You can read my story here.) It’s been about half a year since I’ve begun this healing journey, and I’ve only now started to feel the huge benefits of all the hard work I’ve been putting into my skin. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing much of the healing progress that’s been building inside me for the past 6 months finally start to manifest on my skin, and it feels nothing short of amazing. The itchiness has decreased, the pain is becoming more manageable, I’m regaining functionality, and for the first time in a long time, I feel like it’s actually possible to live a normal life again one day.

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For months, my skin was constantly red, inflamed, itchy, and raw like the photo at left. After a ton of shedding, I’ve been able to heal through some thick layers of eczema and reach the result at right. I can tell I still have many more layers to go, but the progress so far has already made a world of difference.

I’ve been waiting and waiting to finally see these changes, and it feels great! But now I’ve realized there’s a whole mountain of new challenges that come with the progress — They’re healing pains. For the past half year, my confidence was shattered, I wanted to be invisible everywhere that I went, and I learned how to live every day in pain. Now that I’m regaining a lot of the functionality I lost during that time, I’m re-learning how to do even the most basic things without the huge fears that surrounded them for the past 6 months. Accomplishing what I once thought were mundane tasks now feel like huge milestones in my healing journey. It’s an exciting transition to make, but very scary nonetheless. Here are 3 amazing accomplishments I recently conquered for the first time in 6 months:

 

1. I wore contacts

I used to wear contacts every day. A lot of people do… No big deal, right? But as part of my healing, the eczema on my face and eyelids was constantly peeling and flaking off, so I began wearing glasses daily in hopes to make every effort to physically hide my face from the world. My glasses became a barrier between anyone that wanted to talk to me and my own self-consciousness, embarrassment, insecurity, and physical discomfort. Even though the actual effectiveness of this protective shield was probably all in my head, wearing my glasses instead of contacts every day made me feel a little more invisible, which is all I wanted to be.

The first time I drummed up the courage to wear contacts again required my fair share of deep breathing and self-affirmations as I stared at each little contact floating around in its case. I couldn’t believe my face was going to spend the day without its security blanket. That meant that people were actually going to be able to see me. They were going to see my flaky eyelids, my peeling cheeks, and my disheveled jawline when they talked to me. But as far from perfect (or even healthy) as my face looked, I looked and felt a hundred times better than I had felt even a week prior. I was apprehensive, not a bit excited, but I felt like today was the day… and I did it!

 

2. I wore a new sweater

With the comfort level of my skin being so sensitive, I developed a daily “eczema wardrobe” full of clothes that covered my body where I needed, that were made of material that was least irritating to my skin, and that provided easy access in case of a bad itch attack or emergently needed skin care. I wore this collection of the same 15 pieces for 6 months (and sometimes I wasn’t even that comfortable in them, but they were better than anything else I had). There were a lot of times I really missed wearing my old clothes. I could never just pick out a nice outfit to make me feel good because I couldn’t risk irritating my skin. When I met up with friends, I felt like everyone looked so cute and comfortable, and I always looked so gray and eczema-y. Whenever I left the house, I’d have to think about how long I’d be away from home and if my skin would be ok in the clothes I was wearing for that long. Clothing was no longer about style, self-expression, or fun — It was all about eczema.

A few months ago, I bought a new sweater from my favorite store and told myself, “Even though I can’t wear this right now, I’ll be able to wear it one day.” With my skin becoming noticeably more comfortable day to day, I decided I was ready to finally try on the new sweater, but it felt like so much more than that. The night before, I planned to wear it the next morning and spent the entire evening reaffirming “I can do it.” When I woke up that morning, I took a deep breath as I laid in bed and thought, “I’m doing this.” It took me about an hour to do my routine skin care, and then I was ready for the big moment — I put on the sweater. And I was fine… for a whopping 5 minutes. Then I had an itch attack.

I tore off the sweater because I couldn’t handle it and my skin needed to breathe. It felt like the longest 20 minutes ever. Scratching but trying not to scratch, reminding myself of all my progress, repeating affirmations like “I’m strong” and “I can do this,” and lots of deep breathing. Once it passed, I sat on my bed feeling grateful that it stopped but tired and defeated. So many parts of this healing process feel like taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back. You feel triumph one moment and then fall on your butt in the next, and even little things like putting on a sweater become physically and emotionally draining.

I was so scared to put that sweater on again. Even if the itch attack had nothing to do with the sweater and all to do with bad timing, the challenge was just as much mental as it was physical. But I was determined. I had been prepping myself for this since last night, for God’s sake. I sat on my bed, talking myself up some more before I stood up and stared at the sweater laying rumpled in my closet. Now I really wasn’t happy about it. Feeling scared and overpowered, I even reached for another top in my closet from my trusty eczema-wardrobe to wear for the day instead. Thankfully, I stopped myself and thought about what putting on that sweater really meant for me.

I mustered up the courage to put it back on. It was intimidating, unnerving, and mentally daunting, but that’s what healing is sometimes. I was very uncomfortable at first, and that’s what healing is sometimes too. But healing is also about moving forward and progressing to things that you couldn’t do before, and putting that sweater back on was one of them. I was able to wear it all day, and it felt like just the sweetest success. It felt like a tiny taste of freedom to express my (little bit of) confidence through my clothing again. It felt like I could maybe love what I looked like again one day. It felt like taking my first, scary step into a life that wasn’t completely dictated by my eczema for once.

Since The Sweater Day, I’ve been actively trying to wear new items that are still comfortable enough for my skin, but outside of the small box that was my eczema wardrobe. Above is me 1 and 2 weeks later, with all items worn branching out from my eczema wardrobe. I’m still not always the most comfortable, in eczema wardrobe or not, but part of healing is learning to embrace the discomfort and progress because of it.

 

3. I went for a long walk on a sunny day

My healing process made me fear 2 things I’ve always loved: exercising and being outside. For the past 6 months, I actively avoided any type of exercise because sweat would make my skin so itchy and irritated, sometimes even burn, that I became legitimately fearful of doing activities that would potentially cause me to sweat in any capacity. At times, even direct sunlight for a few minutes too many was too much for my skin to handle. I became a healing homebody forced to enjoy the beautiful sunny days from my bedroom window.

As my skin gradually healed, grew stronger, and could tolerate more, I looked forward to the day I could enjoy the sun how it was meant to be enjoyed — outside. It wasn’t until recently that I finally felt comfortable and confident enough to try running errands around my neighborhood by foot (something I’ve always loved doing but hadn’t been healthy enough to do for a while). I spent the day walking around town, basking in the sunlight, and soaking up that much needed vitamin D. It was the best day I had had in so long, and not only because I was doing something that made me happy, but because every step of the way was a reminder of my healing progress; a reminder that I couldn’t do this before, but I can now.

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At left is a photo from walking around my neighborhood. It was so refreshing to experience my beautiful city again. At right is me 1 week later. I was feeling well enough to take my dogs to the park and play with them—something I wasn’t able to do even a few weeks prior.

 

Current Update on Me

The first of these healing pains was a totally new experience for me. I had been so focused on making progress, I never would have imagined that progress would bring with it new challenges. But these challenges were the definition of a silver lining. Instead of having to adapt to the deterioration of my skin and health, I’m slowly learning to adapt to the improvement of those things. While I know I still have a lot more healing to do from here, reflecting on my progress so far is beyond humbling. Yes, I’m still itchy, still in pain, still aching. But even so, every day I feel more grateful than ever.

Yeah, eczema sucks, but it doesn’t have to all the time — These new challenges have motivated me to live life on my own terms and really show my eczema who’s boss! Follow me on Instagram below (@cassie_dilla) to keep up with my #EczemaFriendlyAdventures, and know that, you too, can live an #EczemaFriendlyLifestyle#HappyHealing!