Reframing eczema: The exquisite itch
By Cymbria Wood.
Nothing hurts more than watching someone you love suffer, and the language of eczema is all about
suffering. The charming bonus? The language of its treatment centers on harsh restrictions: cutting
out certain foods, fibers, scents, even hot water. The verbiage is bleak.
But I have a secret. If language shapes perception, than there’s something about eczema you don’t
know. Because there are some intimacies that go beyond words. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve suffered
from eczema! Writhing in bed at 8 years old, dragging the rough seam of my pajama top between
my fingers until they bled. Now, at 35, I haven’t worn shorts in almost a decade. The last time I used
steroid cream both legs got infected – leading to yet another cream. Suffering is when the raw backs
of your calves start sweating under your skinny jeans (amateur mistake!) on crowded public transit.
I’ve woken up wailing at 2am trying to drown out or at least give voice to my screaming ripped and
purple skin. Believe me. I have SUFFERED from eczema …and allergies, and asthma. And I am not
alone. The classic comorbidities of eczema are well established and new research is expanding to
look at mental health connections to anxiety, autism, depression, etc.
Are we victims then? Born afflicted, cursed, diseased? And what then? Try to fix us through
restriction of pleasures, of sensation, and that one final terrible dictum… “don’t scratch!?” This is the
language of less-than, though born of love and the pain of watching your little boy or girl in very real
torment. But humans are hardwired for abundance and here’s my secret. What if it’s the world that
isn’t designed for us? GMO foods, pollution, chemicals… humans are really brilliant at engineering a
highly inhuman environment. What if your child’s eczema isn’t a genetic failure or flaw, but an
invitation for you to see him/her or even yourself as having magical access to that abundance? Let’s
look again at that pattern of comorbidity.
No need to get into the biological complexities of the immune system and/or its systemic
interactions, the common thread here is sensitivity. The language of eczema circles around the
discord and discomfort because everyone can relate to its very visible suffering. But beneath the
red, scaly skin there is an underlying intimacy with existence that can never be shared through
language. Your uniquely sensitive little girl can never truly describe to you the incredible comfort and
wonder she feels in every pore when she lifts her cheeks to the sun. You may never understand the
peaks of eager ecstasy your little boy will feel when his first crush brushes by his elbow. When I eat
a fresh garden tomato I become that tomato – with every cell of my being.
I promise you one thing. And I say this even after working Subway lunch rushes in those clammy
plastic gloves and absolutely contemplating the amputation of my inflamed, gnashing pinky. I
promise you I would never trade my own sensitivity, for anything. The world is going to hurt for all of
us, but only some of us will ever feel the overwhelming grace of its kisses all the way down to our
tiny itchy toes.
A conscious diet doesn’t have to be about restriction, not when our sensitivity gives us permission
to taste the universe in every pumpkin seed. Embrace the glory of it! Don’t scratch? I am not
advocating wild abandonment here. But you have to understand that sometimes, seriously, that
moment of relief is all we have.
Sometimes I tickle my left ankle to bring the itch up to the surface, priming the nerve endings. I thrill
to the anticipation as the itch ripens into its most abundant urgency, then give my ankle a light
fingernail teasing, searching out the sweet spot of the day. There are so few absolutes in this life,
but this is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. I let my head fall back and my eyes close as the ecstasy
takes over. The whole world sparkles as I dig in and chase that fine line between pleasure and pain.
I know I’ll cross it – every time. Eczema can be hell, but how many of us can find heaven inside a
sock, a tomato, or a single longed-for touch?
Dare to reframe eczema by challenging its language. We are all born for abundance, but there are
some of us who don’t have to reach as far to find it. This is my secret, my exquisite itch.
Cymbria is a Calgary writer/illustrator/designer who lives with eczema and her golf-mad husband – though not in that order. Discover more of her work on her blog BlankCanvasLiving.com.
If you’d like to learn more about raising awareness or sharing your own personal journey with eczema, email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us toll free at 1-855-ECZEMA-1,
or visit us at eczemahelp.ca