Grace Ridgway is raising awareness of just how much skin conditions can affect mental and physical wellbeing, after her eczema stopped her from leaving the house, driving, and even holding her boyfriend’s hand.
Grace, 23, began suffering from eczema as a toddler, which her parents controlled with emollient therapy.
Her condition wasn’t too serious until she started high school, when her eczema began to flare up on her upper lip and around her temples.
Over the years, the condition became more severe and spread to her hands. After having a patch test, Grace discovered that not only did she have atopic dermatitis, she also had contact dermatitis, meaning that she has allergies to certain substances that would flare up her eczema.
These include substances contained in perfumes and fragrance derived from citrus fruits.
Her skin became so raw and painful that everyday life became difficult. Everything hurt – driving, washing her hair, drinking.
At one point she locked herself a way for a year due to how her skin was affecting her confidence. She met her boyfriend, Jim, in 2017 and they began dating in February 2018, when Grace’s eczema was at its worst. She struggled to hold his hand as her skin was so painful.
But this year, Grace has found a routine that helps.
With emollient therapy and a biologic drug, Grace’s skin has begun to clear. Her skin condition isn’t cured, but for now the treatments are helping.
Grace wants to share her story to reveal the impact of eczema hits more than just skin deep.
‘Once you have eczema, you have it for life, and the condition can flare at any time,’ explains Grace. ‘I was always aware of the fact that I had eczema growing up, even when symptoms were not present.
‘I have always been conscious of fragranced products however did not keep up with my emollient therapy, typical teenager.
‘During secondary school I suffered with the condition on my upper lip and around my temples, and experienced bouts on my hands during the winter months.
‘It wasn’t until I began working part time at a local pub that the eczema on my hands became constant, and I was later given a patch test and discovered I had contact allergies.
‘Despite consistent attempts to manage my hand eczema with topical steroids, my condition persisted and eventually began to spread across my body.
‘Once I started secondary school and my eczema began to worsen on my hands and face, I became conscious of my condition and was careful about the products I used.
‘My eczema hugely affected my personal life and confidence; I went from being a young woman that loved makeup and buying new clothes to a person that lived in a shell, never applied makeup, rarely washed her hair due to the pain of the water hitting her skin, and was limited to cotton clothing.
‘I became a shadow of my former self and I am so happy that I am now beginning to find that person again.’
Grace has also found support in her partner, who understands when her eczema causes her distress.
She says: ‘In terms of intimacy, he is extremely understanding and often tells me that he doesn’t even see my eczema, which is lovely to hear.
‘There have been times when I haven’t been able to hold his hand or give him a hug due to the pain I’ve been in with my skin.
‘It also made it particularly difficult for him as he was very conscious of hurting me, but we have thankfully got through this difficult time together and are stronger than ever.
‘Suffering with eczema has limited my life in so many different ways; I have to be conscious of what I am eating, drinking, wearing, and the conditions that I live and work in.
‘There was a period of time that I couldn’t drive due to having little movement in my hands, and during this time had to be cared for mostly by my boyfriend and mum.
‘The simplest of tasks proved difficult, from washing my hair to lifting a drink to my mouth. When your condition rules such simple aspects of your life, it’s difficult to even think of doing anything further such as exercising or socialising.
‘For over twelve months I was reluctant to leave the house and unfortunately my friendships suffered as a consequence.’
Since regaining control of her skin, Grace’s life has transformed.
She’s got her confidence back and is able to socialise.
‘I lost myself whilst suffering with this chronic skin condition,’ says Grace. ‘I am so thankful that my current treatment approach has enabled me to re-establish my social life and begin to rebuild old friendships and discover new ones.
‘It is all about creating your own environment that suits your skin in order to better manage the condition.
‘Having clearer skin has given me my confidence back. I think that in suffering with my skin I came to accept myself more so than before.
‘Before my eczema flare ups, I would wear makeup every day and would hate the makeup-free face staring back at me, but now I have come to accept myself and the skin I’m in.
‘My relationships, both romantic and my friendships, have really improved since my skin has settled. It has meant I am able to leave the house, socialise and explore.
‘I am so very passionate about raising awareness of eczema and other skin conditions. I could never have imagined that it would impact my life the way it has and wish that I had the support of the medical professionals I do now.
‘The most important thing when you are suffering with a skin condition is to ensure that the professional help and guidance available is right for you.’
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