Advocacy isn't as hard as you think: here's how I make a difference in people's lives by sharing my story with politicians.
Published On: Oct 17, 2019
Last Updated On: Oct 15, 2021
I’m a fitness instructor who’s had atopic dermatitis (AD) since I was born. As a toddler, I remember feeling itchy all the time. Little did I know, AD would eventually take over my life to such an extent that it consumed my every waking hour and led to clinical depression and suicidal tendencies by the time I reached my 20s.
My childhood interests were fairly normal for boys. I enjoyed sports at school and became an avid enthusiast of fitness training, boxing and martial arts. I was signed up by a club, and I entered tournament and contests. But because I had AD, I had to take too much time off from my extracurricular activities and wasn’t able to realizs my full potential as an athlete.
During my teenage years, I had a major problem trying to conform to set of prescribed behaviours, assessments and progress. As someone with asthma and eczema—who was always itching—the last thing I wanted to do was to be cooped up in a hot classroom environment.
I hated the central heating during the winter because it aggravated my AD. In warm weather, it was quite unbearable. None of my teachers seemed to understand where I was coming from or what I was dealing with. Their lack of empathy towards me and my condition was startling and only fuelled my resentment and antipathy towards schooling.
By the time I was 15, my father was getting concerned about my lack of academic progress, my persistent bad behaviour, my anger management issues and bouts of violence. All of these were results of my skin condition for whenever eczema would flare up, it would aggravate my temper.
As my condition worsened, the doctors’ only solution was to provide my father with stronger creams and ointments. I became so depressed that I couldn’t see a way out of my predicament. I felt like a junkie reliant on powerful dosages of steroids. These were particularly harmful to my health, and I was aware of this, but there seemed no other alternative.
I would go berserk when I didn’t have the medication I needed—almost turning into another person. I remember frantically running around to various pharmacies desperate to find the required steroids ointment and creams. The limited supply of these ointments would infuriate me further. As a result of my anger, I was banned from at least a couple of pharmacies in my town.
Such heavy dependence on medication led to serve bouts of depression, isolation and alienation from my family and friends. I was in a very dark place, feeling helpless and not able to rely on anyone for help and support. And my condition continued to deteriorate.
I noticed all of my health care providers were sidestepping the issue. No one talked about the causes—they merely addressed the symptoms. Eventually, they said they couldn’t do much else, that the steroid ointments they prescribed were only making matters worse. I was 25 years old, had been reliant on the medical profession since I was born, and now it felt as though they were abandoning me. I couldn’t see the point in life.
After a while I thought, “I can’t do anything in a state of anger. Surely there must be thousands of other people like me? I can’t be the only one.” I soon discovered that there were millions of people in my situation sharing their thoughts and feelings about having AD. I found support among other eczema sufferers.
Eczema causes sleep deprivation, so while everyone in my family was sleeping, I was able to research more about AD. By surfing the net, I learned that there are a number of clinics and hospitals in India that offer treatments to eczema sufferers. This led me to find a treatment plan that didn’t involve steroids.
I found it in the form of Aruyveda, which means the science of life. It’s a Hindu treatment that dates back thousands of years before the advent of modern medicine. Ayurveda accepts that the body and mind are inextricably connected, and that when you meditate, you effortlessly enter a state of expanded awareness and inner peace that refreshes the mind and restores balance.
The doctors in India began treating me by rubbing oils into my body on a daily basis to heal my skin. The treatment also consisted of internal medication to heal my skin from within and expurgation to cleanse my internal system. This coupled with the Ayurvedic diet, which consists of simple vegetarian food—all of which have healing properties—ultimately did the trick.
Today, I am not fully recovered. But I’m not reliant on steroids either. I’ve learned that diet and the environment are two major contributory factors that affect my condition. While I was in India, I felt much healthier and happier due to the clean, fresh air of the Himalayas; an organic, vegetarian diet; and an abundance of sunshine for vitamin D. I also gained tuition in yoga, meditation, Sanskrit and learned the ancient art of Punjabi wrestling sword fighting.
Suneil Singh Duggal is an international personal trainer, yogic/Ayurvedic lifestyle coach living with atopic dermatitis in the United Kingdom. He works with professional athletes, children and stay-at-home mothers, and provides techniques to manage chronic illnesses.