Let's Talk About Eczema: My Story

Let's Talk About Eczema: My Story

Oh boy, don't I just love smiling! 

It's the one thing that I can do so effortlessly. My smile is my signature. If I genuinely smile at you (which happens 95% of the time, ‘coz that other 5% might be a forced smile, we gotta be real here), it's an indicator that we're okay, everything is good. However, it's said that just because someone keeps on smiling, it doesn't mean that everything in their life is okay and I am not an exception.

In my mind, I had always thought that I had no story to tell, till sometime last year. I also believe that most people thought and some are still thinking that I don't have a story until they get to read this. I wanted to talk about it on my blog. I had started writing and saved it on the Drafts list. It's been ages since then and I decided to revisit it today.

From around February, Ariela Movement were doing #ArielaStories and I was approached to give my story. I felt anxious but I knew that I definitely wanted to share it. Let's say that Ariela Stories paved the way for this article.

A number of people who read it were elated with the level of vulnerability as well as the aspect of self acceptance. There are those who gave their feedback to me, others shared their own stories, some living in Kenya, others living outside Kenya and that touched my heart because it reminded me of one key statement that we all need to keep in mind,  I AM NOT ALONE.

Here we go, what would you do if you woke up one day and your skin is abnormally itchy, inflamed and scaly? Would you freak out?  Cry? Get depressed? Find a witch doctor? Go to hospital Or wait for a few more days to see what happens next?

It was barely two weeks after our History class trip to the coast. We had lots of fun visiting the historical sites and had even more fun at the beach. Then one morning, I noticed some pimple-like structures, they were itchy and reddish. They were on my face (especially the area around the nose, cheeks and forehead), both arms and both legs. I thought that probably I had a food allergy and that the pimples would disappear after some time. A week later, it only got worse. This time, there was a whitish fluid, that would be considered as pus. It got more itchy and painful when I 'scratched' to ease the "kamwithua"  (or rather the itchiness, for my audience who might not have understood that Greek word).

I knew that this called for medical attention and so I paid a visit to the school dispensary. Y'all who've been through boarding schools, you know that every time you get into that dispensary, despite the condition you are suffering from, ibuprofen (commonly known as brufen) and piriton had to be on top of the drug list.

I got my fair share of the universal tablets and some ointment. That wasn't the end. The next thing that happened was the beginning of a real disaster. The nurse sterilized my legs and arms (by using methylated spirit and a cotton swab). The idea was to dry up the pus-filled pimples. For sure, the pus cleared but my skin became extremely scaly and dry. We had to stop the sterilisation but I still took the medication.

Meanwhile, my levels of anxiety, worry were way too high. Some of my classmates actually joked about the whole issue. That perhaps someone 'collected the sand beneath my feet when we went swimming at the beach". That was terrifying and sounded like the truth for some time.

Lemme digress for a minute here... We've all heard about the weird things that happen in the Coast region, since waaaay beeeck. How people turn into various animals, mwanzo ya kugeuka paka ndio yajulikana sanaa, wanasema paka wa Mombasa si paka, fikiria mara mbili kabla ya kumfukuza.. mara there are people who look at you with evil eyes that bring you misfortunes.

A week after applying the ointment and taking the tablets, the rashes were gone and I thought to myself, "well that was nothing serious".

Fast forward to the end of 2011, the rashes were back and this time round they got extremely itchy and had some whitish pus like fluid. It got so bad that I'd wake up at night and scratch to ease the itchiness. What happened next was that my arms and legs started becoming scaly, extremely dry. At that point, my parents tried to get medical assistance from every qualified doctor they knew of. For about a year, I was treated for bacterial and at times fungal infections. But each time I took the medication , the rashes would disappear then reappear a week or so after finishing the  medication. Miraculously, the pimples on my face and arms somehow disappeared and this was a great relief. Now we were left with the ones on my legs. They only got worse.

I got to campus and for sure, dressing up was such a task for me. My wardrobe was full of long flowing dresses, stockings (like a million pairs) and reasonably short dresses and skirts (that I wore with the stockings). My people,  wearing short dresses and skirts was a luxury that I could not afford. I was known for my long dresses, which I absolutely  loved because  they gave me the security I strongly craved. They were my safe haven. I risked being referred to as a "savedee". But that didn't mean much as long as my "unsightly legs" were covered.

During the second semester, I got to meet a lady on campus who also had a similar condition. She was on her way to hospital for an appointment with the Dermatologist. That was my breakthrough people.

Tuesdays were the days for Skin clinic. I was eager to attend the clinic. Come the next Tuesday, I was patiently seated at the waiting area. My turn came and I got to meet the Dermatologist. He did some examination, took a sample of the pus from the pimples and asked me to come for the results after a week. A week later, I was back and guess what!

All along I was being treated for the wrong thing. I was treated for fungal/bacterial infections while the issue was actually Mild Eczema. Though I didn't quite understand what that jargon meant, it was quite a relief that at last I found out exactly what had been troubling me. I had regular clinic visits and was on medication (I'm glad that at the University, I received the medical attention almost free of charge. Skin conditions are damn expensive to manage outchea).

Among the ointments I used were the Mediven N and Mediven S that people nowadays are using for skin bleaching. Can you imagine! And true to it, when I was done with using the ointments, the pigmentation of my legs was lighter than the other body parts. I didn't quite like it. I wanted the pimples gone. Not my tint 

About three months later, the rashes were clearing up but left behind black spots and a lighter pigmentation of my skin like I said earlier. All this made me so self conscious. I hated it when people stared at me and gave me that "Gosh, what happened to your legs " look. At times,  especially when it was hot, my face would start flaring up no matter how many times I moisturised it. Worse still,  my scalp was itchy, scaly and was flaky. Flakes ain't your normal dandruff.

People kept asking why my face was dry, why when I was plaited, my scalp was dry even after oiling, why I wore what I wore. I couldn't find the courage to tell them why. There are times I thought that probably my skin compromised my beauty.

I remember right after high school, I was helping out at a filling station. So this bodaboda guy kept staring at me, I had worn a short dress then. So he whispers to his friend (which wasn't really whispering ‘coz I heard all that he said) in Swahili "unajua watu wa AIDS wanakuwa na pimples Kama hizi" (AIDS patients have similar lesions/pimples).

That statement broke my heart. It showed me just how cruel humans can be. That evening when I got home, I cried and told my mommy that I wouldn't go back to work, I wouldn't wear clothes that show my legs. She did comfort me, made me feel better. That's when the idea of long dresses, stockings and jean trousers was actually born.

I remember one particular incident, I was attending a ladies hangout and I got a little late as I had to pick up my Shea Butter in town (a big thank you to Sheth Naturals, you've been so instrumental, as well as all other beauty products companies that have come to the rescue of people struggling with these skin conditions). While we were having some good time, there were two ladies seated behind me. I had placed my shea butter at my side and they noticed it. That's how our conversation began. They thought it was for my hair (my narutalista sistas) as they all had natural hair.

But I explained to them what it was for. That was the first time I was being so vulnerable with a stranger (two in this case) about me and Eczema. And Alas! They also had the same condition. Don't get me wrong. Please don't. But for a moment I was happy. Happy that I found "my people". I wasn't the only one living with Eczema. It was a strong bond built on a common base within seconds. It felt like we were triplets in the Eczema world. We shared our stories, how it began, what we've been through and the products that worked for us (Wetheo and Muthoni, you are loved).

For so long, I allowed false ideas into my head. It got worse ‘coz I would overthink about every little thing, the comments people made, the looks they gave me etc. I believed that I don't have the best skin, that having the spots compromised my beauty. But I thank God that the narrative has changed.


Once I started believing for myself that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made, then the lies started fading away. Today, I am confident in my own skin. Yoh, peeps!! Your girl now wears reasonably short dresses and skirts (with no stockings) Hallelujah!

It never bothers me when people stare at my legs and I feel bold when someone asks me to explain what happened to my skin. I no longer walk like I'm feeling ashamed of myself. I do not have a problem with my legs. If anything, the person who gives me a weird look, is the one who has a problem (I don't mean to be rude but it's the truth).

Self acceptance has truly worked for me among other things.  These include products for my skin regimen, which I'll talk about in the next article (you already have too much to read now).

Sending hugs and love to all people out there battling/living with different skin conditions.

You matter.
You are beautiful.
You are lovely.
You are not alone, even if you feel alone.

Wanjah Nyagah

A passionate writer, a lover of life. I am all about doing my part and leaving my mark.