“There is a story within every illness and something to be learned from listening to it…Much of our pain is rooted in our deafness to spirit. We remain in an ongoing struggle to break free from the illusions of who we think we’re supposed to be so that we may live the life we are called to live and become the person we were born to be.” – Life Is Your Best Medicine, Dr. Tieraona Low Dog
I woke up one morning a monster – pustules, acne, eczema, peeling, swollen lips, dryness, redness, splotches, bumps, roughness, dry cracked lips, and rashes. To my horror, the skin all over my face and body was unrecognizable. Over the next year, allergic conjunctivitis, dandruff, hives, and itchiness joined the team in waves. I’m talking I could peel off sizeable portions of my skin. One practitioner described it as 5 to 7 layers of rashes. So much of my skin was a rash that I often didn’t know where my real skin was anymore. I was literally a face of chronic illness, mistaken for a walking contagious disease.
Doctors shrugged it off as if unexplained skin disorders were common and since the steroids stopped working, my only option was to manage it on my own. In retrospect, I refused to acknowledge the signals that something was wrong. After I had my gall bladder removed, the eczema from childhood slowly reappeared. I restrained it with steroids like I used to, suppressing the realization that I may not grow out of it this time, hiding behind long-sleeved shirts and pants on bad days, concealing my body’s cry for help until it shrieked loud enough for me to hear.
Overwhelmed by the Whelm of Hopelessness
When you’re scared, critical, and untrusting of everything you breathe, touch, eat, feel, do, or say, a natural reaction is to isolate oneself. I lived in self-imposed quarantine suffocating in self-pity, judgment, shame, and saudade for untroubled times. Many a morning, I woke up desperately hoping I did something right, but the rashes screamed red and had spread. Who was I like this, and what can I have pride in now? The identity crisis was a heart-wrenching, humbling transmigration to a place where I learned to reassess what matters, love what couldn’t be controlled, and revere my body’s will to be well.
I took advantage of the rare moments when hope trumped despair by educating myself (delving into the research, reading about chronic illness, subjecting myself to lab tests galore), and dragging myself out of bed to see a wide variety of doctors and practitioners in Kelowna and Vancouver. My plan of action was a metamorphosing mishmash:
- I ate nothing and then everything and then only some organic things of certain food groups.
- I accumulated a store-worthy supply of vitamins and supplements.
- I dabbled in self-hypnotization, frequently involving the visualization of lemmings sucking the rashes inwards.
- I minimized any cleaning products that came in contact with me, went all-natural, and experimented with the ‘no-poo’ method.
- I absorbed oils and other concoctions externally and internally.
- I made a point of laughing every day.
- I mixed different pranayama exercises and meditation techniques into my daily light yoga practice.
- I immersed myself in an Ayurvedic lifestyle and diet catered to pacifying pitta/heat.
Turning Points After Going Around in Circles
Eventually, I found myself in a sad cycle. Every precarious upswing was accompanied by a corresponding downswing. I would meet each inkling of recovery with bubbletea and eggnog lattes, rationalizing them as rewards for having survived such restriction, then chastising myself and feeling like a failure for not being perfect. And stress only makes it worse. So when I took an opportunity to run a complex research study in Huancayo, Peru after a 5-year absence, I should’ve known that my skin would flare up worse than ever.
After rescheduling my flight due to the severity of my eczema, I arrived in Huancayo nervous and hesitant about how the new environment and my anxiety surrounding the research study would affect my skin. Within a single day, my skin started to clear up to the best condition in over a year. It’s become a pattern – my skin suffers a little every time I leave Huancayo and gets better overall every time I return, no matter how much stress I’m going through and even if I deviate from my diet. Huancayo used to cause health issues, and now it’s my salvation.