Published On: Jan 7, 2021
Last Updated On: Feb 2, 2021
My bed sheets were covered in blood marks from scratching off my skin in the middle of the night. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I told myself.
I was usually optimistic. I could persevere through most obstacles I faced, except for the one that had come to dominate my life – eczema. Even the strongest of human beings are still just that: human.
I had eczema for as long as I can remember. In fact, I don’t think I ever have even known a life without it. I have no memories of ever looking at hands and seeing skin that resembles anything close to normal.
I had eczema for as long as I can remember. In fact, I don’t think I can even remember a life without it. As a child, I often found myself giving up my favorite physical activities such as swimming. When my eczema flared as a result of them, it seemed my decision had already been made for me, it was just no longer worth it.
As I finished high school and entered my pre-medical studies in college, my already severe eczema further descended into a spiral of pain, itching and sleepless nights. This was all at a time in my life when I could quite literally least afford to be anything less than at my best if I wanted to survive on the way to medical school.
What I thought was ‘normal’ was anything but
For years, I felt like a lonely warrior stubbornly fighting against an endless ocean of adversity that I always suspected deep down was so much larger than myself.
I went between dermatologist to dermatologist — often at some of the country’s most respected medical institutions — without relief.
I still remember a visit to the University of Michigan, where an entire team of medical students — as I was only a year away from being a medical student myself — seemed almost dumbfounded by the severity of my eczema.
I finally started to realize that what I accepted as normal and routine in my life was actually anything but normal. I was even told I met criteria for inpatient hospitalization, which I did not even know existed for eczema until then.
I found it almost humorous that during the time when people thought I should have been hospitalized I was actually running around campus drowning myself in every cream ever invented while writing application essays and taking MCAT practice questions.
After graduating and being admitted to a medical school — in retrospect, quite miraculously given my health — I eventually found a dermatologist who could help me help myself.
Though my eczema still requires daily care, discipline and maintenance, slowly but surely, he took extra time out of his schedule to calibrate a cream regimen tailored to my severe case.
From challenge comes courage and resilience
Years have passed since my darkest time with this lifelong struggle, yet I still remember it better than what happened to me last week. There are times when these memories remind me of a place I never want to visit again.
Countless hours, days, weeks, months and years of unrelenting physical pain led to a perspective and emotional scar that burns like a fire long after the physical pain has finally faded.
Sometimes, I feel like a lonely warrior somehow surviving an experience that I shared only with the walls around me in my bedroom, the songs on my playlist, and the hidden turbulent waters of my mind.
I never chose to live with eczema; it chose me. But I did manage to find my own strength from it. I find strength in knowing that if I can overcome eczema, I can overcome whatever new challenges lay ahead of me.
For many of us, including myself, eczema is a secret war we wage all by ourselves, neatly tucked away from those around us with silence, a fault within our bodies that we hide from others.
It doesn’t have to be. It can be a source of pride, a reminder of what we can overcome. Living with eczema has taught me that our humanity is not what makes us weak, but what makes us strong.
Eczema may choose us, but what we do with it and how we choose to face it, that remains up to us.
Vineet Khanna is a musculoskeletal radiologist practicing in Columbus, Ohio. He enjoys traveling, listening to Indian music and spending time with his wife, Nidhi.
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