This is a new series focused on personal journey with eczema while managing a certain aspect of life. Today, we have Annie Fox, M.Ed., to share how she managed her eczema during her teenage years. Annie is an internationally respected educator, award-winning author and a trusted online adviser, specializing in helping teens become people of good character who’ve got the social courage to do the right thing online and off.
Marcie Mom: Hi Annie, thank you so much for for taking part in my blog series ‘Someone has Eczema’, a series which I hope will encourage many others with eczema who have similar struggles with various aspects of life. You had eczema from 3 years old to teenage years, can you share with us how severe your eczema was during the teen years?
Annie: Because it’s been quite a few years since I suffered from eczema, I really have to think back. And I appreciate the opportunity to revisit this time in my life through your questions. I remember feeling very self-conscious during the summer when everyone was wearing shorts and sleeveless tops. (I had eczema behind my knees and on my arms. Sometimes it would flare up on my neck.) During my teen years there was always that thought, before I chose something to wear “How can I hide this?” I also tried to use a “cover-up make up” which irritates the skin and usually makes things worse. I remember during my piano lessons, trying to hide from my teacher, the eczema on the backs of my hands by pulling my sweater sleeves down over my hands.
Marcie Mom: Teenage years are difficult for most people, for the adjustments they have to make during high school years. Dermatologists have told me that self-esteem is a concern for teenagers with eczema. As you are also helping teens, can you help parents to understand what are the pressures facing a teenager, and a teenager with eczema?
Annie: As a teen I was very aware that my mom was probably as self-conscious about my eczema as I was. She often told me, “Don’t scratch!” I can still hear her saying that after all these years! LOL. She didn’t understand how itchy the condition can make you feel and that the scratching, for me, was often an unconscious response. I’d be scratching my arm and I wouldn’t even be aware I was doing it. Until she reminded me… again and again. It’s not helpful for parents to be watching their teens so closely. Teens are often self-critical enough. They do not benefit from having yet another “critic” on their case. Stress has been found to have a connection with inflammation. For that reason alone, it would be extremely beneficial for parents to do whatever they can to add to the calmness in the family rather than add to the stress your teens are feeling about their appearance and whether they “measure up” to their peers or to your standards for them. Be compassionate. If your teen’s eczema is a problem for you (because you’re embarrassed, etc.) then you, the parent, ought to get some support in dealing with your anxiety about the condition. That way, you can be most helpful as a support person for your teen.
Marcie Mom: I’ve worked on a Teen Eczema series in this blog with dermatologist Dr Lynn, who has explained how puberty affects our skin, the common skin conditions for a teenager and how sports and skincare/shaving affects eczema. Annie, how did you manage your eczema during your teen years and did the additional skincare effort/routine/prevention create social/ emotional issues?
Annie: None of the prescribed skincare efforts helped for me. Fortunately I have a very outgoing personality and I, as mentioned, I was adept at “hiding” my eczema. I doubt that very many of my friends in high school even knew that I had it. The emotional part of it (which was the major piece) was something I “managed” through my creativity. I wrote poetry and prose. I composed music. I did a lot of theater in middle and high school. All of these avenues allowed me to step outside of myself and were very helpful whenever I felt sorry for myself because of the eczema.
Marcie Mom: One final question – how would you advice a teenager with eczema to manage the social/emotional side of eczema, and communicating with his/her friends about it?
Annie: I think today’s social climate makes it easier for teens to be real with each other. Think about it, everyone has something that makes him/her different. And as a culture we tend to be more open and accepting of those differences than we were when I was a teen. Today it’s not unusual for a teen to say to his/her peers: “I am gay.” Or “I have ADHD.” Or “I have Aspergers.” Or any of a hundred conditions/syndromes. Being straight up honest with friends is the best way to manage stress and anxiety. Then you can just be yourself and not hide.
Marcie Mom: Thanks Annie for taking time to share your journey with us, teenage years are so difficult even for those without eczema and those with eczema would certainly appreciate your advice.