Growing up with eczema was extremely lonely. I felt like I was living all alone on Eczema Island just itching to get off. Out of the 7 billion other people in the world living with this disease, I had met only one person with severe eczema. Her name was Patti, and we attended summer camp together. Unfortunately, Patti was older and therefore placed into an entirely different group at camp. This meant we never got to bond over the struggles of living with eczema.
As much as I tried to fit in with my fellow peers, my skin always stood out. I did the only thing I could think of … I hid. I hid from myself internally and hid from the world externally. In order to shift the focus off my skin, I hid through my weight. Eating my feelings was a huge comfort and helped divert attention away from my skin to my chubby cheeks and round stomach. I hid in sweatshirts and pants. My sleeves were pulled all the way down to my nails. I was covering up my eczema as it was trying its hardest to peek out.
I was never going to be “normal,” at least not in my mind. I felt there was no point in actually excelling at anything, whether that be school work, extracurricular activities or putting any effort into my appearance. This became my routine day in and day out. Hiding myself from the world through self-sabotage was my comfort zone. Sadly, this was my “normal” for years.
Enter social media.
Ever the late adopter, I was positive social media wasn’t for me. I remember loving the concept, but the sheer fact that you had to include a picture of yourself was enough to turn me away. Social media spread like wild fire right before I entered college. That’s when I knew I had to join, so I took the plunge and signed up. It turned out that social media completely changed my life. It was as if someone pulled up to Eczema Island in a multimillion-dollar yacht and yelled, “All aboard!” It was an oasis of sorts.
Over the years, social media has evolved into such a great platform. I realize there is a bit of a “Pandora’s Box” aspect to social media for some people. But for me, it was my special calling. Before social media, I would google eczema and read all the medical descriptions. But after social media, I was also able to read personal stories, look at pictures and watch documentaries about eczema. It was above and beyond anything I ever imagined. For the first time in my life, I knew I wasn’t the only person living on eczema island. In a weird way, it put me at ease. I saw people expressing their frustration. I watched video after video of people pouring their hearts out. I stayed up late many nights scrolling through pictures of rashes, infections and hospital visits. I read recommendations for new skincare products. I studied alternative medicines. Little by little, I came out of hiding. I began to develop a voice and feel empowered. I knew I had to do something. I wanted to tell my story, so I started my blog, itchinsince87.com, which has been one of my greatest accomplishments. Having people reach out to me from six out of the seven continents was astonishing. While my goal is to dedicate my life to finding a cure for eczema, I hope that my presence online can help others along the way. Social media saved me from myself, and I am forever grateful.
Ashley Wall is a freelance writer, blogger, content creator and self-proclaimed “criminal eczema investigator.” She’s also the voice behind “Itching Since ‘87” a blog about living with eczema, which has gained an international following.