Sunday, October 2, 2011

What's Wrong with My Face

A photo of me, warts and all - but this was on a good day. You wouldn't think someone as vain as I am would put a truly hideous picture of myself on my blog, would you?
“What’s wrong with your face?” a middle-aged, rotund, rough-looking server asked me at a restaurant – the kind that’s sort of the Chinese version of a greasy spoon diner. “Do you have allergies? What have you been eating? My God, it is serious. You must
eat lots of chocolate and fried foods and game and seafood and exotic fruits. You really need to cut that out of your diet, you know. Don’t you want to be pretty? Have you ever been to see a doctor? I know someone whose kid had the same problem and they went to this miracle healer...”

It’s amazing how some things never leave you. This monologue is something I’ve heard countless times before (most recently about a month ago) and probably will hear over and over again for the rest of my life, from the exact same kind of person – nosy, meddling, middle-aged, Chinese women.

(Tangent: Don’t get me wrong. I am sometimes a nosy, meddling, [mostly] Chinese woman. But I generally try not to be offensive. This is a glaring example of how conflict can arise in a bicultural person’s life, because while these people either don’t think or care that my skin is a personal, private issue [perhaps due to the belief that they are being helpful], my mostly Canadian sensibilities are always shocked, irritated and offended that they are so rude.)

I am often asked what is wrong with my face/skin because I have eczema. I was born in Hong Kong and had no issues with my skin until I immigrated to Toronto at eight months old and developed this problem, which I haven’t been able to get rid of since. It’s a hereditary skin condition that is very unsightly and extremely uncomfortable. Symptoms include stubborn rashes, redness, skin edema (swelling), itching, dryness, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing, and bleeding.

Are you turned on yet? ;P

It has been labelled as a “disease of affluence” (AKA a disease that occurs most in well-off countries), along with other increasingly common health problems such as severe allergies, asthma, heart disease, obesity, alcoholism, depression, etc. Some people are able to outgrow it, but many people are not. There is no cure for it and even the causes are not that clear. The causes, symptoms, and how it can be controlled is unique from person to person.

Throughout the years I’ve been to all kinds of doctors, healers and medical practitioners, with no good or long-term results. My mother has spent a significant percentage of her income on my skin, for visits to all kinds of specialists (dermatologists, Chinese doctors, homeopathic and naturopathic healers, etc.) as well as all kinds of medicines and treatments. Every time someone told us that they knew of someone who achieved good results with a professional, we’d faithfully make a trip there and try the treatment for at least the better part of a year. We have done everything we could, followed all the treatment instructions to a T, with utter meticulous care, and nothing has helped.

It just is what it is.

Growing up, I was always made to feel (from medical practitioners, strangers, acquaintances, family friends and certain family members alike) that it is my fault, having such horrible skin. I am clearly culpable because I obviously can’t suppress the urge to scratch rashes, to avoid the foods that trigger my symptoms, or to follow treatments properly. I am the way I am because I evidently have no self-control.

“And no one will like you,” I was told as a young child, “When you go to school, the other children will want to hold your hand when they play with you, and they will recoil in horror when they feel the scaly rashes on your skin. They will be disgusted when they see it. You need to stop eating all that chocolate and stop scratching your rashes or no one will like you and you will have no friends.”

This kind of judgement has led to all kinds of emotional issues in me all throughout childhood and into adulthood. I’ve always felt intense shame that I am this way, and it has led to intimacy issues as well as (at one point) rather unhealthy self-perception and low self-esteem. I’ve even seriously considered not having children because this condition is hereditary and it would break my heart to pass it on.

Every time someone (especially people I don’t know that well) says the kinds of things to me like the first paragraph of this post, I want to scream. Every time someone says to me I shouldn’t scratch my rashes, I want to tell them to shut the f*ck up, because they haven’t ever felt the overwhelming, cloying, sanity-sapping itch that grates at me from deep inside. Every time someone tells me to not eat certain foods I want to tell them to go die. Do they think I want to look like a reptile? Do they think I made the active choice to suffer so much? Do they think that, if there was a way to ensure I would never have to deal with this again, I would not have already done it? No, I don’t want to go see your goddamned doctor. After nearly two and a half decades, I’ve seen enough already. None of them work. Leave me alone.

Fortunately, my defiance has somehow always been a positive force in my life, oddly enough. Through blocking the outside noise and just concentrating on myself, I’ve sort of made peace with my situation, and like magic, my skin is not as bad as it used to be. I’ve learned that, contrary to what lots of people have said, for me, it is not a dietary issue at all. Rather, my emotional state and my stress level seem to have something to do with it. I have not found a solution and I still have to live with this condition, but I am okay.

I’m telling this story because I haven’t really spoken about it before – at least not on my blog – and October is Eczema Awareness Month (but so, apparently, are February and November – hee!). This condition, as I’ve mentioned, is becoming increasingly common, especially in first world countries, and I’m hoping that by promoting awareness, more people will support eczema research. Because it is not usually a life-threatening disease, it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Even if we can’t find a cure in a while, I hope that researchers can eventually develop more helpful tools to deal with the issue, be it meds or treatment systems.

For more information, please visit:

Eczema Canada
The Eczema Society of Canada
The National Eczema Association

1 comment:

sista from another mista said...

There's a shoppers ad on your blog! How prophetic!