I have forgotten what it feels like to have healthy hands like these.
Like most fellow sufferers, I have spent A LOT of money, thought and time searching for that “miracle cure.” A cure that I’m afraid just doesn’t seem to exist. Using conversations, interactions and correspondences with others who have eczema as a reference, it seems that there is no universal cure. There is no miracle cream… even a prescription one. I have found topical solutions that help, but they are not a cure.
Having eczema makes you question many, many things. If you’re on a real mission to heal then you have most likely paid much closer attention to what goes into your body and what goes on your body. You probably have quite the collection of health and beauty products. You’ve become an expert in bandaging. You know which lotions make your skin crawl and then explode. You become paranoid about most things that you come into contact with.
“Am I allergic to…. WATER?” “What’s in this lotion?” “Are the baby wipes eating my fingers?”
You’ll even look at the public restroom bathroom’s soap dispenser differently…
Maybe it is your dog. Maybe it is dust mites. Maybe you should lay off the chocolate. Maybe you should visit an allergist and get tested. Maybe the dermatologist won’t lump you into the masses of others who suffer the same ailment (Eczema)…but in a different way?
I’m having another outbreak. I have worn cotton gloves all day. Just looking at my fingers makes me somewhat angry…but that emotion, of course, makes them worse. After pouring over a year of thought into the cause of what makes my knuckles, my fingertips get this way, I am convinced that no topical solution (alone) will heal them. No prescription medication will make this condition go away forever. No lotion, soap or mass produced miracle cream, gel, spray or ointment will give me relief, because my hands are so sensitive. There’s something about the chemicals in those “health” and beauty products that makes my fingers puff up like kielbasa sausages in a cast iron skillet. They feel like they’re on fire, too…those fingers. Fingers that ooze out some seemingly endless supply of itchy tonic. Ooozey clear (water??) that weeps from your pores…pores that have busted open to allow the itch to escape.
How can I describe to you what this feels like (unless you are a fellow sufferer, of course)? Let me give you a scenario:
Just as embarrassing as acne to a teenager, you now feel like a Biblical Leper. You’re ashamed to go to the grocery store because you don’t want the cashier to gawk at your hands while you delicately fumble for your debit card in your wallet… hoping that you don’t make a mistake and bump those sausages into the side of your purse—causing excruciating pain. You’re hoping your fingers don’t start bleeding onto the steering wheel on the drive home. You’re hoping you can manage to get the key into the doorknob of your home without dropping it. You’re going slow, because your skin will split open if you use too much force. You sigh once inside, thankful that you can now return to your room to slime your hands up again…if you can get your pants down to use the bathroom first.
This above description is not one that I have imagined. Simple things are a struggle. You are forced to slow down and be delicate…mindful…patient.
In this image you can see where the top layer of my skin has flaked off. There is a pocket where the itchy oozy blister once was. That’s how deep they can get… and this is a minor incident.
The most massive liquid filled blister I have ever had. It took weeks for it to heal.
The ooze. The wound. The pain.
Ooze that keeps on comin’
If you scratch, it will erupt.
The liquid filled blisters, just below the surface of the skin. The first stage.
All of the fingertips on my right hand are currently affected.
No matter how much you want to, it is NEVER a good idea to scratch OR to PICK off the flakes of skin. Use nail clippers to trim back any loose, dried skin flakes instead of pulling and picking them off.
Here’s what is left of my pinky fingernail. Sad little guy…
As a non-sufferer, you might look at my hands at times and think, “Woah girl. Get yourself some lotion, ASAP!” I probably would if I were you. I might also think (if I were you) “Ewwwww. What is wrong with her fingers? I think she must not be taking very good care of herself.”
Better yet, if you saw my fingers today or most recently, you’d probably think that I never washed my hands or that I was just out digging in some dirt because they are scabbed up in the colors of the Earth. My medicine gets under my fingernails and is always turns a pleasant shade of brown once dried.
It seems, through my reading and interactions, that other sufferers seem to have it all figured out for themselves. The most common solution, they write, is either a gluten free or dairy free diet. Celiac Disease keeps popping up as an answer too. I tried the dairy free diet myself after being told by my allergist that I’m allergic to cow’s milk. Heck, I even stayed away from ALL of the foods that came back positive as an allergen. It did not work. Was it a placebo affect? How do I know?
As I was showering tonight, it dawned on me how much having eczema, specifically Dyshidrotic Eczema has changed me. I kind of giggled at the thought that eczema has made me a “dirty hippie.” That thought, of course, arose from my fears of judgement from others. People probably do see me that way. I don’t conform well. I don’t use shampoo. I don’t dye my hair. It is grey. I am 33 years old. Sadly that’s enough to put an American woman like me out on the far reaching branches of what is socially acceptable.
Then I realized that most of the things I do that could generalize me as a “hippie” began because of the eczema! I don’t use shampoo because I became paranoid about the chemicals that I couldn’t pronounce that were in MOST commercially produced bottles of hair cleanser. I use “all natural” toothpaste and deodorant. I learned about medicinal herbs. I began making my own bread and eating more whole foods. My consciousness shifted.
The first in my collection of dermatologists confirmed that I tested positive for an allergy to Quaternium-10 and Caine (Betaine) which are found in many shampoos, soaps and lotions. I remember, when I was first aware of these allergies, standing in the grocery store reading the ingredients of shampoo after shampoo… they ALL had these chemicals as an ingredient. What was I to do? Well… you can see what happened. I went “pooless.” I now do not use shampoo at all. I use water. (Apparently there is a “No poo” movement going on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_poo)
All of this thinking led me to feel the need to write to YOU, my fellow sufferer. What have you found works in your life to manage your eczema? What daily habits and methods have you adapted because of it? I’d like to share a few of mine with you. I truly do hope that they will also help you. Please comment with your successes and failures. My hope here is that we can help each other!
So… here are a few things that I do to manage “The Beast”:
LIMITED, SHORT SHOWERS
Alas, the dreaded shower!!!! SCARY WATER!!!!! What to do, what to do??? Well… I was recently asked this question by a writer in the UK who interviewed me about my eczema. After sharing my story with her, she asked “How do you manage a shower when your hands are in the middle of an outbreak?” My answer was: ” First, I limit the number of showers I take!” Do you really need to bathe every day? Maybe you do. Maybe you’re an artist covered in paint (oh…the thought of paint on my fingers makes me squirm!). Maybe you work a job that causes you to sweat profusely. Maybe you are constantly in the public eye, working a job that requires you to be presentable at all times…In my case, I’m a stay at home Mom with dishpan hands. I do not shower every day. I’m a pretty natural person (Earth Mama) so this does not really bother me. Our boys don’t seem to mind either.
When I DO shower (lol!) I have a few methods to my madness. If I am in the middle of one of my cotton gloved routines (Wearing gloves inside and outside to keep medicine/moisture on my fingers and potential nasties out of my open wounds), I will wear my gloves in the shower. It works out pretty well, because I’m in there washing off the gloves from the day’s journey first (of course) and because it allows me to pretend that the gloves are a second skin of sorts… a protective layer. Wearing the gloves in the shower allows me to imagine that my hands are flawless and that I don’t need to worry about how the water will feel when it hits my wounded skin.
Another method I have found works well for me, when I do not wear my gloves in the shower, is to put on my coconut oil gloves. Before the shower, I drench…I mean DRENCH my hands in coconut oil. This wondrous creation (I. LOVE. COCONUT OIL!) acts as a sort of water repellant… allowing the water that my hands come into contact with to bead up and roll off. Many of you who are fellow sufferers will understand why water on your wounds can be so scary. First of all, it can actually HURT. Then, there is the crappy after affect that can happen if you don’t immediately moisturize after you get out of the shower: AKA- Your skin instantly dries out as the water evaporates.
I have also found that taking a comb with a pointy end into the shower helps to scrape my scalp and move my hair around, when my fingers can’t do it. (Note: my no poo hair loves the coconut oil, and so far we have no problems with our shower drains or plumbing because of it)
Oh sweet, sweet plantain. A few months back I took a class on tinctures, salves and herbs. It was through this class that I discovered the wonders of a plant that is probably growing in your back yard RIGHT NOW! And they call it a weed!
Here’s an article I recently came across about Plantain:
“Because it draws toxins from the body with its astringent nature, plantain may be crushed (or chewed) and placed as a poultice directly over the site of bee stings, bug bites, acne, slivers, glass splinters, or rashes. Bandage the area and allow the plantain to work its magic for 4-12 hours. Plantain may also be used to create a balm for emergency kits, or an infusion used as a skin or general wash.” The coconut oil I now use is an infusion of plantain and coconut oil. It is green 🙂
I have used Plantain several ways, and the best way that I have found to utilize it to help heal my eczema is most definitely a SPIT POULTICE. To make the poultice, first I find a young, tender leaf (the older leaves are fibrous, fuzzy and harder to chew). I then wash the leaf and chop it up finely with my teeth like a rabbit. I do not swish it all around my mouth, but instead keep it just behind my front teeth. Then, when I feel like I have enough chewed to cover the area I plan to apply it to, I spit it directly onto the wound.
Because I do not have the luxury of sitting (covered in my own spit) in a chair like a Plantain Princess while it works its plant magic… I have adapted to several ways of covering the poultice to allow it to heal. My favorite way is to use MORE PLANTAIN to wrap my fingers (which is where my eczema exists). I spit my poultice and then take the other half of the leaf that I didn’t chew and wrap it around the poultice and my finger. Then, I pull a Plantain seed head up by the stalk and wrap it around the leaf and my finger, tying it within itself at the end.
A freshly wrapped Plantain middle finger. The pinky finger has just finished its treatment. Plantain poultice is still sticking to it.
The plantain poultice and wrap after it was removed from my finger.
Note: the end of the second video is a bit awry because while I was filming, a woman fell asleep at the wheel and ran into a telephone pole on our road. She came out of it okay. I was mid-sentence when the wreck happened, so the last sentence of this video should say “Leave it on for about four hours.” 🙂
Plantain is edible. You can put it into salads and make a tea out of the steeped leaves– and more. Don’t fear it!
After about four hours, when you remove the poultice and any bandaging you have created, you will find that the Plantain has turned your red lesions BROWN. This is good news. It is not pretty, of course. It will look as if you have been digging in the Earth. The Plantain, if you have put it onto your fingertips, will most likely have gotten under your fingernails too. So what, really? Do you want to heal? Then live on with dirty looking fingers!
I have found that the brown color that the Plantain turns your eczema patch is proof of healing. Congratulations! You now have SCABS! When the brown scabs fall off (lovely) you will see an improvement in the condition of the skin below. No more ooze. Still some redness and inflammation…but MUCH better! Try it. Seriously. It is much cheaper than a prescription medication, that’s for sure! ; In fact, Nature has gifted it to you for FREE! There are a few different varieties of Plantain out there. I use Narrowleaf Plantain, because it is growing in our yard.
Being in Nature always helps me to focus and SLOW DOWN!
I am convinced (at this time) that the particular cause of my eczema is not a food or an allergen… it is anxiety. Stress. Low self confidence. Since the ends of my fingertips make typing uncomfortable, I often write my thoughts down in a journal. It is random notes, ideas, thoughts, things I want to remember, things I want to think more about…write about. It is chaos and disarray. I often pick it up and flip through to the nearest empty white page. It is a fine example of what I feel represents my mind at times.
I am very confident in what I have spent much time and thought thinking about when it comes to my specific case of Dyshidrotic Eczema. You see… there is no one cure. I am sorry to have to believe that, but I think it is the truth. The “Cure” is different for everyone, because we all have separate minds. What causes your mind chaos? Are you regularly stressed out?
I want to share with you my thoughts about myself and my particular case of DE. I would be delusional to think that these thoughts would resonate with every one of you. I will confidently say that in my case, the CAUSE of DE on my fingers and fingertips is most certainly a physical response to mental distress. Specifically one of anxiety and lack of confidence.
I am the daughter of a narcissistic mother. I recently read a book entitled, “You’re not Crazy, It’s your Mother.” This book describes my past. Shortly, this book and my discovery of Narcissistic Personality Disorder helped to change my life. I’ve been on a winding path of self-discovery.
I have learned that it is very common for daughters of narcissistic Mothers to have Narcissistic tendencies. Imposed and programmed into them by their Mothers. This explains so much about me. I am working each day to make sure that the last statement no longer applies. This discovery, among many other life altering events has caused my anxiety and stress levels to skyrocket. I am working each day to shed off a new layer…and that is what I see when my fingers start to peel… I’m shedding off an old layer and I will grow stronger. My skin will heal. This will not last forever.
Note the “Skin” effect.
“Take Care of Yourself.
Set your self F R E E”
“Treat your body and your mind as one.”
“You have to heal your MIND to heal your BODY”
The above quotes are notes to self from my notebook of chaos. I have recently realized that I have to be sure to take care of my body while working so hard to take care of my mind. I can’t take care of JUST my mind. If I do that, my body suffers.
A view from our garden.
EAT (and grow!) WHOLE FOODS
The food you put into your body is so, SO important. What is your diet like? Do you cook at home? Do you eat out all the time? Are you a processed foods junkie? Surely you have noticed how people are “waking up” to discover all of the toxic crap that is placed into the commercially produced, machine spat food that we have the fantastic luxury of easy access to? I think there’s something to that. So, my family and I have adopted a “whole foods” system of eating. Whole foods=real foods. Foods that have minimal ingredients are best, of course. Foods that come from our garden, where we know that no GMO’s or pesticides have been sprayed, are our favorites. Foods that do not come processed in boxes or plastic are important for your body. Nature’s gift. Feed yourself wisely.
Berkey Water Filters RULE!
DRINK MORE (filtered) WATER
This is a message that my body sent me. I received the message after I put it together that I had made a routine out of drinking everything in our house EXCEPT for water. I was regularly waking up, drinking coffee all morning. Beer in the Afternoon. Wine at night. Not much water mixed in there unless I had regimented myself a bit too much stimulant. Great. Thank goodness I caught that one. How could I miss it, though? Isn’t that the question I should be asking myself? I should have been treating my body better.
Then I realized that I should have been treating MYSELF better. I have been holding on to way too much. I’ve been focusing on the bad instead of the good… holding myself down with pessimism and negativity.
Thanks, Buddha. You are wise!
You’re why you’re suffering. — A song I really connected with. (This is a great live band, too!)
I was causing my own personal Hell by allowing my focus to shift into the deep, dark hollows of that depressive state of mind. I have to refocus. I have to be strong. I cannot be afraid. I must give myself confidence. I must let my past worries go, and not dwell on them.
I must not scratch when my pores fill with itching fluid. I must watch the fluid rise, but never burst it. I must not scratch the itch. I must not wring my hands in misery. I must be strong. I must take care of myself. I must value my own self worth.
Don’t get too angry at your hands. Try, instead, to send them love and healing. In my own experience it has helped me to imagine that the ooze pouring out of my hands is the negativity itself escaping my body. I then imagine that the flaking layers of my skin is actually a shedding process. I am shedding my old, downtrodden self. My skin is getting uglier only to become more beautiful– I’m like an ugly duckling 🙂
Find your own inner peace and try your best to focus on something more positive than what you’re going through, fellow sufferers. I know ALL too well how hard it is to stay upbeat and positive when everyday life has become a struggle for you. Your hands are what connect you to the world in many ways. Through touch we connect with others. It is certainly depressing to feel as if your body has taken that away from you. Peace and an upbeat perspective have certainly helped me to overcome those feelings of sorrow and disappointment. Find what works best for you, dear sufferer, to relieve those negative emotions, thoughts and feelings. Your mind plays an important role in your health. Fellow sufferers, Take care of yourself. Heal yourself. Love yourself. Set your Self free.
Love. Grow. Heal.
I would be remiss not to mention the EXTREME love and support that my soul mate and husband has provided to me during my multiple outbreaks (and psychological traumas). When my hands were at their worst, he did the dishes, cooked our meals, fed and clothed our children, did the laundry, did the vacuuming and STILL managed to maintain our garden and farm. I am so thankful that I was playing pool that night at the bar 😉 You are a magical soul, my love.
I would also like to thank my friends over at The Doomstead Diner forum for their caring support and plethora of resources during my time of self discovery and healing. One day, I hope, there will be a chance for us to transition our online community into a thriving, real life community.
For more links, articles and resources about natural remedies to everyday ailments, natural living and more, please visit the non-profit organization that I fully support and contribute to: The SUN Project: Sustaining Universal Needs. Furthermore, if you like what you’re reading here at The Butterchurn and want to show your support, a donation to The SUN would be greatly recognized and appreciated. (We are a newly birthed non profit, so hang in there as we continue to develop our website)
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