Alex Dawkins had a dream of serving her country. There was only one catch: she was born with severe atopic dermatitis (AD) and had lived with it all her life.
Published On: May 3, 2021
Last Updated On: May 4, 2021
Terin Philip just wanted a normal senior year of college — and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Terin shares her tips on how to stay engaged and connected if you’re a college student with eczema.
National Eczema Association (NEA): Where are you currently in school?
Terin Philip (TP): I am currently a student at Nova Southeastern University in the beautiful South Florida area. I started university in the fall of 2018.
NEA: What are you studying?
TP: I’m a biology major with a public health, pre-health and honors concentrations. I am on a pre-medical track, so I do more volunteering and clinical opportunities to solidify my passion for becoming a physician. For example, I currently volunteer at a clinic working with patients who are under the federal poverty line, and I also volunteer at an elementary school providing science lessons in a way the kid can understand and enjoy!
NEA: How long have you lived with eczema?
TP: I was officially diagnosed with eczema when I was seven years old. I still suffer from the symptoms now that I’m almost 21 years old.
NEA: What are your symptoms usually?
TP: I get very dry patches on my feet and legs, and my earlobes get very irritated. At the worst incidences, my face and neck flare up as well.
NEA: What was the hardest part about being in college when the Covid-19 pandemic started?
TP: When the pandemic started, there was a lot of uncertainty about how everything was going to pan out. I felt isolated at times, especially because classes were fully virtual and I was back in my parent’s house finishing my classes. There was no solid plan on how to go about this and what the future may hold (more than the usual post-college thoughts, haha). I just wanted a normal senior year!
NEA: What was the hardest part, so far, about managing your eczema, on top of school AND the Covid-19 pandemic?
The hardest part is definitely the social aspect of the pandemic. I’m graduating early and definitely wanted the opportunity to make my senior year the best it could be, such as going on a volunteer trip within the public health department and enjoying spring break after my MCAT. Not being able to connect more with my friends besides looking at them through a computer screen is at times melancholic, for lack of a better word. Maintaining a skin routine for eczema treatment is also hard, because I get too lazy to put the medications on at times or eat a healthier diet to manage flare ups. Even with these small complaints, I’m extremely grateful that my family and friends are safe and healthy for the most part and I can’t wait to get the vaccine when I’m eligible.
NEA: Did you ever feel isolated, socially, because of eczema and/or the pandemic?
TP: In regards to eczema, the isolation was certainly due to my own overthinking. I have great friends who reassured me at my worst flare ups and helped me develop the confidence I needed to succeed. I would try to cover the flare ups the best that I could, but it would still be on my mind. The pandemic increased my isolation dramatically, but one positive is that nobody could see my skin if I didn’t want them to.
What has helped your eczema more than anything?
The usual prescribed steroids definitely help with maintaining the eczema itchiness. For my face, I’ve been prescribed a non-steroidal topical Pimecrolimus cream that costs an upward of $400 without insurance! I’m lucky enough to be under my parent’s insurance plan, but I want to advocate for everyone to have access to what they need for their health – with or without a form of insurance. I also recommend CeraVe and La Roche-Posay products as they are extremely kind to the skin and can soothe eczema symptoms for sensitive skin.
NEA: Have you experienced any mental health challenges related to eczema (anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties)?
TP: As a college student, mental health is something that can sometimes be put on the backburner. Unfortunately, if you have eczema, flare ups are expected when you feel stressed.
One particular semester was incredibly bad for me. I was taking a plethora of difficult classes and was very stressed – anyone could tell! My eczema had never moved beyond my legs, but now my ears, neck and face had big patches of dry skin. It was very embarrassing to say the least, and I was uncomfortable to leave my dorm room. It made me sad to look in the mirror and see huge patches of dry skin that even makeup and glasses couldn’t cover.
NEA: What are the three most important ways you take care of your mental health and/or manage your stress?
TP: Mental health is an often overlooked process of overall health. When I wake up, I try to remember the small things I’m grateful for – it puts a lot of my stress into perspective.
Talking to my friends and family definitely calmed my nerves about whatever doubts I had with myself. I also make sure to get enough sleep! College students love to promote all-nighters and brag about swapping sleep for work completed, but it’s destroying their bodies in the long run. Go to sleep – your assignments will be done in the morning and your brain will thank you, I promise.
NEA: How do you think doctors could better support the mental health of people with eczema?
TP: I think having a support system in the patient-provider relationship is very important. Providing ways to cope with differing stressful aspects of flare ups would be essential for quality care. Eczema is not the worst chronic issue compared to other, more debilitating diseases – but it does impact one’s self confidence in a major way. Knowing that a qualified professional has the support you need means more than they know.
NEA: How would you change the way that doctors treat eczema today?
TP: I would love for medical practitioners to treat eczema holistically. So many things can trigger an eczema flare up (not to mention nothing at all), so knowing what could be some causes of them would be incredible. Also, if stress is a factor, having a myriad of options available for stress management is essential. Far too often doctors say that there is underlying stress and no way to try to treat that stress itself. Listening to the patient and having that patient-provider relationship is essential for better health outcomes and even health equity as a whole.
NEA: What do you wish you could tell other students with eczema about how to manage their mental health, especially during finals, and other stressful times?
TP: I know it’s hard to prevent flare ups, especially when stress is a major trigger. People saying “Oh don’t stress!” is definitely not helpful – I know, I’ve been there. It’s hard to do everything in a short amount of time, but prioritize time management and creating a schedule that works for you. Personally I like to finish my bigger projects and studying weeks earlier, so I can have time to relax a bit and focus on the smaller assignments with little worry.
NEA: Was there a moment where you said, “I’ve got this. I can do this,” in terms of managing your flares?
TP: Every single day! I’ve learned that, personally, I’m going to get flares from time to time, even with the proper medication, diet and exercise. I still wear shorts and short sleeves while brushing off any insecurities I have in my head about how my flare ups look. With the realization that everyone is pretty much focused on themselves, more than they are of you, it really freed me to be more relaxed about how I feel inside and out. Remember: you got this!
Terin Philip is a NEA Ambassador. Learn more and join NEA Ambassadors.