I was thinking one night whilst I had a quiet moment, which isn’t often with 3 boys in the house, about My school days with eczema and all the issues that came with that.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing.
Looking back now, I guess I didn’t have a really bad time at school, but I put this is down to my skill at avoiding problem situations and the fact that I had built a completely false persona. If I hadn’t made so many excuses and gotten so adept at avoiding things, I dread to think how much worse things could have been for me.
As it was, I missed out on a lot. From the age of around six or seven I remember starting to make excuses for my eczema and it stopped me doing so many things at school and out of school. Things like sleepovers; I couldn’t attend them because of all the creaming I required and the issues I always had with my skin. So basically as far back as my school memories go, my memories of making up excuses to cover up my eczema go too.
In hindsight, maybe I could have gone to sleepovers, and probably a whole lot of other activities when I was invited but I was always just too embarrassed about my dry skin. As a child with chronic eczema, it was mortifying. I had the sort of eczema that flaked everywhere, I STILL DO. If I took my shirt off all the skin would go everywhere. And through the night I scratched so much I would bleed on the sheets. So, over time whenever I got asked to a sleepover I made an excuse up not to go.
Looking back, people must have thought I didn’t like them because I hid my eczema so well, they had no idea that this was the reason why I stayed home. Even my best mate didn’t know that my avoidance was due to my embarrassment about my eczema. Very sadly I seemed to think this was the better way to go.
It’s incredibly hard for a small child. From the age of around seven, we suddenly become very aware of fitting in. Prior to this, we are happy to be ourselves, express ourselves as individuals, and to stand out or be special. When school starts we become hyper self-conscious. No longer do we want to stand out; we want to be accepted, we want to be the same.
And children who stand out, get singled out, and as much as we would love to think that people are better these days, these children get teased. Kids of all ages and both genders can be cruel to others, even if they don’t mean to be.
The nightmare that was summer
In summer when it was really hot everyone would be in shorts and t-shirts, but I would have long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Everyone would ask ‘Are you not hot?’ ‘No,’ I would reply ‘I don’t really feel the heat, I’m always cold.’
This was hilarious of course, because in reality I was sweltering, and this made my eczema worse, making it all flare up and causing me to scratch more. It was a never-ending scratching/flare-up cycle.
But I only allowed myself to scratch when people weren’t looking.
Swimming like a ninja
I seem to spend my whole days just avoiding anyone finding out I had eczema. They must have known because I couldn’t hide it from my face, but I didn’t want to show them the rest of my body. Swimming was a nightmare; I made every excuse in the book to avoid it, such as letters from mum to excuse me from swimming, forgetting my swimming kit, being sick, hiding in the locker room etc.
I think I went through five or six years at school and only went swimming once or twice. And on those occasions, I was a ninja, I was like some kind of escape artist or the Flash. I was the first in the pool to get my skin wet so people wouldn’t see how dry it was. Once I was in the water no one could tell, then I was always the last one out, hoping everyone would be finished in the locker room before I had to get out.
Even sports day was a nightmare; the thought of having to put on shorts and show everybody my legs filled me with fear. Out of my whole dry, itchy body, my legs looked the worst; they are still my worst part today at 46 years old.
When I had to play sports, I wore the longest socks in the world and pulled them up over my knees, so no part of my legs was showing. And again, this was only after I had made every excuse not to take part. Which was a shame because I love sports.
We lived by the sea so every summer the children would go swimming and sunbathing. Naturally, I couldn’t do either. Well I could, and I very much wanted to, but my fear of what people would say always took over, and stopped me. I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the questions about my skin, and the fear of losing friends and being laughed at always won. When you suffer from eczema you need all your energy to simply look after your condition, never mind dealing with other people’s insecurities. I should have become an actor with all the stories and excuses I made up.
READ ONE OF OUR BEST VOTED ARTICLES: ECZEMA AND DEPRESSION-HOW TO COPE!
When girls started to notice me
When I got to the ages of 10-13 girls started to play a role in my life. I started to notice them, and they started to notice me. Fortunately for me, I was a likable character, so I was a popular boy at school and had lots of friends, but none of them knew my secret. None of them really knew me or knew how bad my eczema was.
But the time did eventually come when I got a serious girlfriend. I was always lucky with the girlfriends I had, that they didn’t mind my eczema. And I was even luckier when I married my wife, that she was okay with it too.
I have met some very caring and understanding women in my life, and I use this to teach my son who unfortunately suffers from eczema too, that it never stopped me meeting and marrying a beautiful caring woman. And I hope the fact that I never had any issues with my eczema and girlfriends will give him hope and ease his fears.
Stopping the cycle of fear now
Though I know easing his fears won’t be that easy as my constant childhood stress about swimming and PE have shown. It would be natural for him to feel the same. But everyone has to learn these things for themselves; no one can tell you not to worry because you will. It will get easier for you, I can promise you that, but it takes a lot of courage to overcome these fears.
When your eczema is bad, you will feel still feel partially self-conscious for the rest of your life. Even at the age of 46, I don’t even like undressing in front of my wife and she’s the most caring person in the world. And when I go away in a hotel I worry the sheets will be covered in blood or loose skin from me scratching. I flashback to the insecure boy I once was, and in that moment, I am him again. My school days with eczema were hard! I’m sure of one thing, I’m not the only one who found this. It still has a lasting effect on me today.
So, there will always be that bit of fear inside you all your life. The key is not to let it overcome you and paralyze you from doing the things that you really want to. I have achieved so much and have a lovely home, good job, beautiful wife and three amazing children, and some fantastic friends.
Looking back, I wish I hadn’t missed out on so much. I wish I could’ve worried less about it, and just said ‘Who cares?’ And there probably were friends that I could have trusted with my secret. But the amount of anxiety and fear and stress that I suffered was enormous for a young boy, and at the time I couldn’t see beyond that. It’s not fair to have to ask that from anyone.
Over time I have learned about things in life that are more important, and this is what I want to teach my son.
I didn’t let eczema beat me. But it’s always there in the shadows (or hiding under my clothes) still trying to pull me down. I just don’t let it win anymore. It will make you a stronger person and more determined to achieve, but part of you must always fight to keep those nagging little fears at bay.
We have had lots of people contact us about issues at school with ACNE for teenagers, We have an article about ACNE which may help anyone who’s suffering from bullying due to acne. Read our article here.