51-year-old Traciee Thomas from Gary, Indiana was born with eczema. With her eczema now under control, Traciee shared with us her struggles and triumphs while living with this chronic condition.
Growing up with eczema
I was raised in Gary, Indiana before moving to West Linn, Oregon. As a baby I had eczema flare-ups on my arms, legs, neck and scalp. But I was not really diagnosed with the condition until the second grade. The eczema spread over my whole body when we moved to Oregon – that’s when my mother decided to take me to the doctor and I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis.
I remember the sun irritated my skin, especially when I was sweating, so in the summertime I simply didn’t want to go outside. I’ve always worn long sleeves and high collars and I hated wearing dresses without stockings – I never wanted to show the horribly affected areas.
It’s been said that eczema tends to get worse under stress, but it is even more stressful not being able to communicate about it, and not finding anyone to understand how bad I felt or how uncomfortable I was. Growing up with sisters made having eczema even more difficult as they did not have the same condition and therefore did not understand. Our relationships were very contentious because of my internal issues related to my eczema, the outbreaks and how I saw myself. The constant fight and flight mode was exhausting. But it also gave me the strength to deal with all the talk outside the house.
Hobbies with eczema
People tend to gossip about it whether you’re a child or not. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, somebody had the idea that I should start doing gymnastics. Wearing gymnastic uniforms was one of those things that helped to get eczema out of my head and I had an out-of-body experience putting on that uniform. I’m still very active and outdoorsy now – I love hiking and doing aerial yoga. But even though I’ve always had a vivid and outgoing personality, and it’s easy for people to be drawn to me, I’ve always felt I had to go an extra mile in a hope that people would not notice how bad my eczema was.
Becoming a mother was a life changer. The focus switched from my life and everything revolving around eczema to focus on raising a happy son. My eczema symptoms also calmed down. Right now, I only have a small flare-up on my ankle and a little discoloration on my scalp. I still use a lot of lotion after a shower just to make sure eczema flare-ups don’t come back, and I try to wear mainly cotton clothes. Every time before buying cosmetic products, I read the ingredients carefully.
I remember reading a lot of books about eczema but they usually focused on preventative measures. I don’t ever recall seeing anyone with eczema before and I just gave up – I didn’t seek any associations or support groups. I decided that this was just something I was going to have to live with.
In general, I believe there is a huge healthcare disparity in the US and you’re not treated as thoroughly if you don’t have a certain type of insurance. The socio-economic disparity is very real here. The doctors are so busy that they don’t even help the patients ask the right questions. I’ve been very fortunate: since I got pregnant I haven’t used any prescription medicine. But I believe that having more public awareness about eczema would help improve the lives of people living with it. My ex-boyfriend’s daughter has eczema and she still reaches out to me. I usually tell her: “Continue to be your authentic self and advocate for yourself. If you feel that something is not going well and you’re not getting your needs met, then it’s up to you to be able to communicate those issues. You have far more resources at your fingertips than you think, and it’s really important to use those resources.”
You’re more worthy than you think
Growing up with eczema was a lonely and shameful journey. Lonely because you’re unable to fully understand what’s going on with your skin in order to communicate your discomfort and restlessness during flares. Shame because you look different in a world where looks are everything. I’ve been asked to take a family photo and expected to smile, when all I wanted to do was scream. My insides were boiling. I was enraged at the sheer audacity of everyone around me pretending I was OK. Growing up with eczema doesn’t allow you to be OK. It’s an all-day-every-day-wearing-on-your-emotional-state-of-mind disease and no one knows how to help. No one has the remedy; no one can make it just go away. But you want me to smile and bear it. Growing up with eczema requires strength, tenacity, boldness and perseverance. What would I say to my younger self? You’re stronger and more resilient than you think. You’re more beautiful than you look. You’re more worthy than you feel.
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