I was having one of the best days of third grade. During reading hour, I had the privilege of sitting in the teacher’s rolling chair at the round table in the center of the room. Once in a while, the highly-coveted fabric-covered seat was offered up as a reward. Such a reward is always taken pretty seriously when you’re eight.
I kept my eyes fixed on my book, feeling extra focused as my sandaled feet pushed off the floor and allowed me to continuously swivel. Three boys stood up from their desks and gathered a couple yards in front of me. I could feel them watching me. I flipped the page. I brought the paperback closer to my face and tried to pretend I couldn’t hear them whispering.
“What is it?”
“Do you think it’s a bug?”
“It looks like poop.”
“I dare you to touch it!”
“Ew, no way!”
I felt someone moving closer. The slight breeze of the movement was enough to blow the page upward. I hoped it was just a classmate passing by to use the pencil sharpener. But it was silent reading hour. He was gone in a flash, not before taking an apprehensive poke at the birthmark on my ankle.
Freckles dot my skin, this particular one just happens to be larger and darker than average. The birthmark never bothered me at all. I hardly even thought about it, aside from the times when my mom stood next to my doctor as they examined my left ankle, discussing whether or not the blemish needed to be removed with a laser.
That day, I wanted the birthmark zapped off right away. I begged my mom to have it removed. It wasn’t cancerous, she said. It could do no harm to me, she said.
In fourth grade, I wore socks that reached above my ankles.
In fifth grade, I wore pants to school from September to June.
In sixth grade, I wore ankle bracelets of thin braided rope that gave me a rash.
In seventh grade, after the rash began to prompt more comments than the birthmark I was trying to cover, I cut off the rope and decided to stop caring.
In eighth grade, my dry hands started to crack and bleed in the winter.
In ninth grade, my eczema heightened and I couldn’t hide.
At the end of the summer before the start of high school, my classmates and I spent a day at school for orientation. We took a tour of the building, played icebreakers with upperclassmen, ate lunch, and took our school portraits. I wore a new shirt— a dressy printed black and purple top with spaghetti straps. All day, I received compliments on it, followed by, “What happened to your face? Did you get sunburn?” and, “Your face looks dry, why don’t you put some lotion on it?” I spent the day explaining eczema to my peers. A few weeks later, I received my school pictures in the mail. I didn’t think anything could’ve topped the metal-mouthed smiles of my middle school days. In those pictures, I at least smiled. In these, a cute shirt and carefully curled hair was not enough to distract from my visible discomfort.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes skin to become dry, red, and itchy. It can be triggered by cold, dry climates, and contact with irritants including certain types of soap, laundry detergents, and synthetic fabrics. My eczema flares up in the winter and during stressful times, which only adds to the stress. When the skin on my face is flaking off and there are red blotches from my cheeks down to the bottom of my neck, I have trouble looking people in the eye and carrying on a conversation without wanting to crawl out of my skin and hide in someone else’s. I try to control my eczema as well as I can by using Dove soap, cotton sheets and pillowcases, and avoiding super long, hot showers. My go-to moisturizing product is Aquaphor, though sometimes it becomes necessary to use stronger prescription steroid creams.
I’ve found heathy eating to help keep eczema at bay. I used to avoid vegetables at all costs, but now I willingly eat spinach and drink kale smoothies. Nutella on bread has become a once-in-a-while treat instead of a breakfast option. The gym is now a priority instead of an activity for a free afternoon. I’m trying to be kind to my body by eating healthy foods, running, building strength, and trying to stick to a proper sleep schedule, but hey, this is college. I’m doing the best I can. My ultimate goal is to be at peace with my body.