Ok, here is it… I’ve been dreading this post because of all the terrible close-ups of my face, but here it is. My December, 2017. My worst face rash outbreak to date. Also, trying to get these images and captions in the right order has been a nightmare… I really, really hope this gives everyone else out there hope that things CAN be worse, and yet also get much, much better with time and self-care.
“Slowly, ever-so-slowly, flakes of skin are peeling away to reveal light pink, thin, scar-tissuey fresh skin. I’m very nervous that I’m going to have another reaction that will torture me with itchiness to the point where I start scratching my face again and reset the healing clock.” (a draft I wrote a few months ago and never published)
It has been some time since my last flare-up. I wasn’t able to pinpoint the culprit that time, which is always a bit scary – what if I encounter it again? What if it’s something I eat or touch at work and I’ll encounter it again?
The best advice I can give is that once the itching starts, do not scratch! The more scratching, the more chance of a full-blown skin eruption and the longer it takes to heal. Instead, I try to simply tap the area (my eyes or forehead, usually) and ignore the hot, prickly/burning sensation. It’s a struggle, but the threat of waiting two to three weeks for my skin to return to normal is a good motivator.
Here is what the skin on my right arm looked like back in 2013, as the skin was trying to heal. The initial hot, burning flare-up had come and gone, I scratched and scratched to find relief, and it turned the area into a full blown patch of eczema. I was worried about lichenification, however the roughness didn’t last and the skin became thin, soft and fragile as it healed. I moisturized constantly, because if it dried out it would flake, crack and bleed.
By some miracle, if you saw my arms today you would never know the struggles I had back then! My arms are smooth, with uniform color. The uniform color thing might not sound like a big deal, but it is to me. All of the constant skin issues, particularly during summer, left my skin splotchy. Here’s a picture from late summer in 2013, after my arms had almost fully healed.
The pink, babysoft skin in the crook of my arms looked like it belonged to someone else. It didn’t affect my confidence too much, as evidenced by the sleeveless top, but I still noticed when people stared.
Although skin seems to heal at the speed of slow, time truly does heal most wounds, and for that I’m thoroughly grateful.
Well, after almost three years of relatively symptom-free living, I thought I was pretty much out of the woods. As the months passed and I stopped getting itchy and rashy, I slowly incorporated more and more medium-to-high nickel foods back into my diet, and my body seemed to be able to tolerate them.
Unfortunately, a cluster of small life events seems to have brought back facial swelling, facial rashes (which look like a repeat of my childhood eczema), and some light itchy forearm bumps.
Here is what it looked like at it’s worst, the morning after Christmas. It’s almost like I’m wearing a thick pink Phantom-of-the-Opera mask that has the added bonus of flaking, oozing, and being downright annoying.
I didn’t want to immediately jump back to nickel being the culprit, after all I’d been doing so well and was healthier than ever! However, it was hard to ignore the evidence:
- Diet: My husband and I switched to a plant-based diet around the end of summer, and have been increasing our leafy greens, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, while almost entirely eliminating meat and dairy. Lettuce, dates, cashews, raspberries and a myriad of other high nickel offenders were back on the menu, seemingly with no problems except feeling light and healthy with fantastic bowel movements.
- Season: We left the humid summer and wet autumn behind for the cold, harsh dry Wisconsin winter. I should have been drinking more water to compensate, I should have been moisturizing more regularly, but I didn’t.
- Stress #1: Two key players at work announced an end-of-year retirement, which prompted by boss to apply for one of the positions and sowed some questions about how my department would be restructured. Unfortunately, it’s all still up in the air so it’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking how my career will look in 2018.
- Stress #2: I started practicing martial arts again after a 5 year hiatus (which, coincidentally, is probably around the time my original rashes appeared), and have been feeling anxious about my physical fitness and ability to remember/perform some of the moves.
- Wild Card: I got an ear piercing to celebrate my birthday in November, and although my piercing is 18 carat gold, who knows if it or the piercing tool contained enough nickel to create a catalyst reaction and push my body into nickel overload.
It was at the start of December that I started waking up feeling puffy-eyed, although not badly, and began to once again feel itchy around my eyes and surprisingly, the rest of my face.
It’s looking like I will be scaling back the leafy green intake in 2018, and doubling up on the moisturizing. I picked up some Curel lotion specifically for eczema skin and it’s been a godsend. My mother also took pity on me and sent along some Manuka Cream, which I think is made from honey. It definitely helps slick down my patchy/flaky skin. That’s one annoying part of the healing process, you look like a a lizard person who is constantly shedding their skin.
Fingers crossed I can kick the rashes asap in 2018!
Thanks to Katy, this small project has turned into more of a full-blown movement. I had the chance to be part of the first photo shoot she held, one of the first to be photographed. The challenge? It wasn’t a glamor shoot. It was solely for the purpose of capturing that part of ourselves that we feel the most uncomfortable with. By exposing it, we were declaring to the world that we aren’t afraid, we aren’t going to hide behind a societal image of what beautiful is.
Needless to say, I chose to photograph my rashes, those old friends… Those really old friends. The kind that you can’t stand sometimes, and just get under you skin. The kind that are there for you, whether you want them or not. Ultimately though, you’re grown to accept them as a part of yourself… (Sorry, friends. I’m trying to make a metaphor and it’s going horribly). Basically, they were my poison of choice.
I’m pleased with the results.
At the end, we took a group shot. It was a powerful reminder that even though we can seem so confident on the outside, we are all different body shapes, and ultimately all have different physical insecurities.
It’s been a year long struggle to adapt to this new skin. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so ugly, so often! Good thing I have such a great attitude, right? You can thank time and patience for that. As someone who used to think of themselves as being decently objectively good-looking, it was downright depressing to realize that now when people did a double-take of my face, it wasn’t for my stunna looks.
My attitude had to do a complete 180. I could no longer get by just batting my eyelashes, flirting, or by being cute (although I still try!!). Better to be liked by everyone for my scintillating wit, interesting conversation topics and great personality than liked by a few because of my flawless appearance (heh, ok, I was never that vain. I just thoroughly enjoyed the skin I was in).
It’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions. My boyfriend has been a huge help, and his support has really helped me see myself through his eyes, and still love what I found.
My friends, who let’s face it, have always enjoyed my hilarious sense of humor, have uplifted me by laughing at my self-depreciating rash jokes and never acting repulsed, although they totally would have been within their rights!
One person in particular who has helped me learn to love my body the most has been my amazing Scorpio-sister and fellow rash sufferer Katy Daixon, of Katy Daixon Photography fame. She started The Body Project, an inspirational, feminine movement encouraging women to be themselves, love themselves, and express themselves however they want. It solidified the subconscious thoughts I’d been slowly rolling over in my head for months–that I can still feel beautiful, that I am not “damaged” because of my health or otherwise, and I absolutely and unequivocally have an innate right to act in a manner in which I feel most comfortable and true to myself.
As if feeling itchy all over isn’t terrible enough, I spent an entire morning lying in bed chatting with the boyfriend and apparently itching my face non-stop. I didn’t realize how badly I was scratching my face up! Fortunately, caught myself in a mirror before I did too much damage. Being itchy is the worst! (I’m trying not to itch my arms while typing this… arrrghhh….)
February 2013: In the weeks leading up to my Urgent Care trek, my mother had been encouraging me to blend up a myriad of healthy greens and fruits as a way to boost my tired, dreary immune system. I dutifully made a green smoothie every morning, following her advice, but I remained tired, my nose kept dripping, and my rashes, if anything, appeared to be getting worse.
With this diagnosis of a dietary nickel allergy, suddenly this all made sense. One of the main no-no food groups are delicious, dark leafy greens. I’m talking kale, collards, mustard greens…. All power-boosting, antioxidant monsters of health. Excellent nutrition, but too much nickel for my overloaded body to handle.
After the Big Revelation, I went overnight from a veggie-loving vegetarian to an almost exclusive meat eater. Talk about a life change…