eczema, exercise and activity, flare-up, food and nutrition, my journey, women's health

eczema with a newborn

white bed spread near a human foot during night time
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For the first few days after having my little one, I was on such a high of nerves and adrenaline that I felt great!  I had been on antibiotics while in the hospital, and after getting home my skin started to feel really dry. I started taking some probiotics and focusing on drinking lots of water (I knew getting enough sleep was a lost cause), and keeping my stress down.

Initially, my skin was calm enough that I had no problem doing skin-to-skin contact with baby Fi, but around week 4 or so I started to experience more flare symptoms- sweating, itching, redness- whenever I had the baby lay on me for too long. I started to have to wear long sleeves when holding her to not get overheated. I’m not exactly sure when this happened, but it may have also correlated when the humidity increased, and the temperature with it.

I’m not sure if it was due to the antibiotics, the temperature, the lack of sleep, the terrible diet I had in the hospital (think chicken fingers and ice cream for multiple meals in a day), or the hormone fluctuations but my skin definitely became more sensitive post-pregnancy. Though estrogen has been considered one of the reasons women can flare-up worse during pregnancy (see my post about pregnancy and eczema), after pregnancy the estrogen drops so it’s unclear what would be provoking my symptoms (besides the above mentioned items).

Either way I’ve had to be more creative about adjusting to life with a newborn. The biggest aspect I’ve had to cultivate is endless patience mixed with quick stress-reduction habits. My lackadaisical approach to getting house and life stuff done has been somewhat of a saving grace because my little one has wreaked havoc on my schedule. I’m exhausted in the afternoons, I have no idea what it feels like to sleep more than 3 hours at a time anymore, I tend to eat a bit worse now (mostly eating too many carbs and too much) because I lack the self control to stay as dietarily balanced when I’m sleep deprived. It’s something I’ll have to work on in the coming months.

I find ways to not focus on my skin when it’s getting all sweaty from holding her and I have learned to wear light layers or wrap a small blanket between her and myself when breastfeeding to avoid irritating the more sensitive skin areas like my stomach.

There are some inherently awesome aspects to having a newborn when you have eczema (at least in my experience). For one, I tend not to think about myself as much so I am not as aware when I am itchy. She keeps me busy to such an extent that even when I’m immersing my hands in water (which is traditionally a huge irritant) to give her a bath, I barely notice. Also, lately my core temperature seems to be evening out even as my skin fluctuates (which means that the hot, sweaty skin nights and cold shivers have been decreasing). I actually enjoy the cold temperature more than I used to, and I don’t enjoy basking in the sun for quite as long.

And overall I do think that my skin has been able to consistently heal slowly but surely. I feel as though I look more or less human again, what with the redness decreasing.  I think the hormones from breastfeeding are helping my skin heal to some extent; I know my hair has gotten shinier, which is an awesome boon.

eczema, my journey

rain and insomnia

selective photography of glass window with drops of water during nighttime
Photo by Mark Plu00f6tz on Pexels.com

My thoughts at 4am this morning:

Itch-induced insomnia has been a big irritant in my life lately. Once awake, the sweet whispers of my deeply creative but poorly timed imagination spring into gear and I’m left day-dreaming and pondering through all the remaining hours of the night.

Tonight, a mini torrential downpour has started after 4am,  and I am intrigued by how amiable my feelings are towards the storm this day. Normally a grey, cold (for summer), rainy day is grounds for temporary depression as I pine all day longing for the sweet golden rays of the sun, and its many bright possibilities.

But today, I welcome the rain. It comes on a day when I already plan to stay in, with warm (virgin) hot toddies, familiar movies, nourishing home food, and the best cuddlemates I could ask for beside me.

Today, the sounds of the rain drumming on the roof by my window are a delighting orchestral ensemble performing a liquidity symphony to my receptively excited ears.

Today, the inconsistent downpour reminds me of the magic of rain, the primal feeling of newness and cleanness, the rain washing away all the dirt and build-up of previous time to which I mirror by washing away all excessive build-up of thoughts and itchy urges.

Today, I embrace the celestial water overflow as the omnipresent benefactrice to my althaea offinialis, and let the staccato melody lure me back to sleep and into healing.

alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, food and nutrition, skin care

basil for eczema

green leaf plant on brown wooden surface
Photo by monicore on Pexels.com

I have decided to start a new series within the blog. I have had a deep and abiding love for herbs and gardening since I was a wee one (I used to try to collect dandelion roots to make my own coffee around age 12, despite the fact that I didn’t drink coffee. Anyway, I digress). As a result of said love, I have decided to really delve in and learn about an herb, and then I’ll hopefully try to use that herb to create something (be it edible, a body product, incense, or other) to use to help manage my eczema.

Currently, my garden looks like this below, so I’ve got a lot to work with (basil, wood sorrel, marshmallow, licorice, oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, raspberry leaves, chives):

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To start off this series, I collected basil from my garden last week. I have two types, sweet basil, and English basil, but I only used the sweet type.

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Sweet basil, or (ocimum basilicum), is an edible herb of which we eat the leaf and flowering top. It’s other names include St. Joseph wort, arjaka, and luole.

  • ocimum = ‘smell’
  • basilicum = ‘kingly’

Historically in Europe it was a symbol of love/romance and of grief, and it has associations with the Basilisk (it was thought to be poisonous in the past).

To grow it you need rich, well-draining but moist soil, and full sun. It can grow well in containers too if you don’t let it flower. The season to grow it is in summer.

For food: It’s usually used in soups, salads, with eggs, most red meats, in tomato sauces, or in general cooking. I’ve also heard of it being used in ice cream though I have yet to see or try it. It combines well with vegetables such as zucchini, beans, and mushrooms.

It’s key constituents include:

  • essential oils
  • caffeic acid
  • tannins (estragole and eugenol)
    • estragole can have a sharp/hot and numbing effect
    • eugenol is in cinnamon and cloves; it imparts a spiciness
  • monoterpenes
  • beta-carotene
  • vitamin C

It can be used to make teas, tonics, poultices, etc.

It is used to help with:

  • itches and pain (of bug bites and other small wounds)
  • removing heavy metals and toxins from the body
  • promoting the growth of hair, specifically oily types
  • melancholy/low spirits and headaches/stress (due to its antispasmodic properties)
  • fatigue if it’s steeped in wine (so if you are going for a glass anyway, might as well add some basil in there)
  • deterring flies (though I am not sure how well that works)
  • indigestion, stomach cramps, relieving nausea and vomiting, and easing gas (because it’s an aphrodisiac)

Given that basil is a pretty frequent herb in our savory meals already, (and because I can’t eat dairy currently for Fiona, so alas no basil ice cream), I decided I wanted to use it in a non-edible manner. As I’m always thinking about my skin, I decided to make it into a skin toner. I talked about it a bit in a recent post (korean skincare for eczema), but here’s a picture of it again:

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 8.56.26 AM

The final product was lovely. It was refreshing and smelled delightful. The recipe I used is here, and I did add a little witch hazel. It’s fairly gentle on my skin and in the future I may try it without any witch hazel.

Just in case the above link ever gets taken away, the recipe was as followed:

  • bring 3 tbsp freshly crushed basil leaves to a boil for 4-5 minutes
  • remove from heat and let cool to room temperature
  • strain leaves from mixture
  • add teaspoon of witch hazel (optional)
  • place liquid in a bottle (glass preferred)
  • store in refrigerator for one week

To use:

  • pour about a teaspoon onto a cotton ball and gently dab onto face as wanted, or
  • freeze and then use the cubes on face as a pore minimizer after a wash

 

 

alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, exercise and activity, flare-up, food and nutrition, my journey, NEA, pregnancy, relationships, skin biome, skin care, sugar, topical steroid withdrawal, topical steroids, topicals, women's health, wounds and infections

my deviation from the beaten path

gray pathway surrounded by green tress
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Today’s post is all about trying to convey what life with eczema is like for me. The first thing I need to stress is that my condition was not always this severe. I can remember a “before”, as my condition didn’t start affecting my skin globally until I was 21 or 22.

So how has eczema affected me?

  • insomnia – Some nights I was unable to sleep until 6am. More recently off and on I have difficulty sleeping from midnight to about 6am.
  • food paranoia – Given that I have legitimate food allergies to peanuts, pistachios and cashews, I know how to deal with food allergies that cause anaphylaxis. What I don’t know how to deal with is the thought that some common food might have developed into being the cause for the severity of my skin issues. Also sometimes I’ll eat something that is usually fine for consumption, and I’ll break out in hives in my mouth inexplicably and the next time I consume said food, it won’t happen.
  • many different diets – I have tried the gambit of elimination diets, auto-immune diets, vegetarianism, paleo diets, sugar-free diets, low-carb diets, detox diets, etc).
  • food-related social repercussion – You have no idea how frustrating it is to have people think I am “just being picky” when I am avoiding certain foods or diets. It’s usually when I’m avoiding gluten, dairy, or soy or other common American-diet staples. What I don’t understand is why people think I enjoy avoiding these foods… do they not know my undying love for pizza and ice cream?
  • intimacy issues – picture not being able to cuddle on the couch while watching a scary movie without covering myself in a blanket to make sure my skin doesn’t touch my husbands. Long drawn out hugs? Nope.
  • skin-to-skin with baby issues – I have adapted to the lifestyle of needing to put a barrier between me and my baby’s skin. When I feed her, I throw a cloth on or wear long sleeves before I put her head on my arms. When I have her in a carrier, I try to put a layer between her face and my chest, or else I know I’ll have to take her out earlier as my chest will start turning red, flushing, and itching.
  • exercise limitations – Up until my junior year of college I was doing many different sports and activities including soccer, track and field, long runs on my own, ultimate frisbee, generically running around like an idiot, etc. Post-eczema life, unless I can get a flare to calm down for months, cardio is a nightmare. Hell, at this point in time, just going for a long walk in the summer induces itching everywhere that takes at least 10 minutes in an air-conditioned building to relieve.
  • summer nightmare – See what I mentioned about walking above and now just add that to general life in the summer. I do well if I don’t move, and if I avoid direct sunlight. Though I also need sunlight for vitamin D (and in my previous life I loved the sun) so I’ll pop outside for a few minutes to bask in the sun’s warm embrace and then I’ll overheat and have to come inside. At least the itching only starts if I sweat.
  • pain (cracked skin) – During certain stages of a flare I dry out (especially at night or after washing my hands or other random times) and my skin will crack. The worst areas are my hands (which will fissure all over) and my ears, as well as sometimes under my eyes.
  • obsession – I spend so much time thinking about my skin and worrying over if I am doing something to make it worse, or not doing enough. It gets exhausting really.
  • career switching – I dropped out of my physical therapy doctorate program because I just couldn’t deal with my skin. I wasn’t sleeping, I was uncomfortable sitting (more on that in a bit), and I couldn’t stand being in an air-conditioned room (see below), or being touched or coming in contact with another’s skin, which made it incredibly difficult to practice the hands on aspects of PT. I am now still in a stage of making my own career, which while exciting, is stressful when I have to talk about it because it’s not a clear cut “oh, yeah, I do X” anymore.
  • fear of infections – As my skin barrier is compromised so often, the risk of infections, primarily Staph, is high. I spend a lot of time wondering if I am infected and worrying when I catch a cold or something that I have contracted Staph (again).
  • hand washing (pain/itching) – Imagine how many times you have to wash your hands or use hand sani when you are a PT student working in a clinic. Doing dishes is irritating enough. Sometimes even just taking a shower will irritate my skin.
  • cleaning frequency – Given that I shed skin faster than the average human, I spend a lot of time cleaning to try to not live in my own skin dust filth.
  • social situation aversion – When I am flaring, I have no desire to go out, not only because I worry about the stares I get for physical appearances, but also because it takes so much energy to deal with varying temperatures, varying foods, varying stressors, usually a lot of sitting, the inability to play/dance without itching, etc.
  • general discomfort (pain, itch, smell) – Eczema this severe is uncomfortable. The obvious is that it itches, and not like a “I have a random little itch” but more on the level of if a swam of mosquitoes bite you all over your body but instead of having angry welt-y bite marks externally, they are all inside your body and not visible to anyone. The pain comes from the cracking I mentioned above, as well as the pain of the self-inflicted wounds from scratching too hard. When I have a bad flare, I develop this scent that I call the burning rubber skin that I loathe.
  • depression and anxiety – It’s no surprise that aggressive and long lasting flares take an emotional toll. As I spend time in pain, itching, paranoid about foods I eat, avoiding people, and unable to exercise and play as I normally would, sometimes my moods take a nose dive.
  • money spent – From skin care lotions and moisturizers, general soaps, bath products (bleach, epsom salt, apple cider vinegar), natural house cleaning products, dry brushes, the rebounder, to the doctors’ visits, etc, this condition isn’t cheap.
  • doctor visits (dermatologists, endocrinologists, neurologists) – There is something very frustrating about seeing many doctors and still getting no relief. I have moved a few times in the last past 4 years and as a result have an even larger number of individual doctor visits under my belt. The general consensus? I am fine (as in no underlying crazy cause of my skin issues like cancer), but I have eczema. Oh and have I tried using steroids creams? -.-
  • hormone imbalances – Since I spent so much time inflamed, I usually have a highly elevated level of immune stuff, like my white blood cell count. When my skin first started going haywire, I also have high cortisol level, which made doctors think I had a hormonal imbalance and first order an MRI of my brain.
  • forever fielding questions – “Have you tried X??” “What’s wrong with your skin?” “Do you use lotion?”
  • excoriation disorder (dermatillomania) – Due to very often having flaky skin, I have developed a picking disorder where I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to remove dead skin from my body. It’s become partially therapeutic and partially me trying to exert control over my uncontrollable presentation.
  • scratching OCD – I scratch all the time. In my sleep, when I’m stressed, when I’m relaxing. I don’t even notice I’m doing it sometimes.
  • scarring – Go figure from all that scratching I’d have scars.
  • ring wearing/jewelry/piercings – I no longer wear my wedding band on my left hand because the ring finger on that side is usually swollen. I wear it on my right now. I also had to take out my belly button piercing, my nose piercing, and all ear piercings except tragus one because the skin started itching so badly around them all.
  • hot inflamed skin with cold chills/shivering – One of the worst stages of a flare is when my skin is constantly wet and weeping and heated, but I’m losing so much heat that I am internal freezing and will shiver uncontrollably.
  • winter is bad – It’s hard enough to regulate my body temperature without the weather outside being frigid.
  • sensitivity to pressure contact (sitting/laying down) – This made PT school very trying. Hell, going to a doctors office and laying on the table, or sitting on a chair for too long made my skin feel terrible and heat up and start itching. This is even through wearing long sleeves and pants.
  • nervousness = flares – Some nervousness is good for keeping our brains alert. Unfortunately, any little bit of social nervousness (like before a practical or talking to new people) would cause me to start to flare and itch.
  • wrinkly, swollen skin – Still not sure why this happens (maybe it’s a product of topical steroid withdrawal) but the skin around my joints especially, on the extensor side, starts to look like that of an elephant.
  • discoloration – From redness to drying out gray/white, I am a veritable human mood ring.

And since people love me and will forever want to help, here is a list of what I have already tried:

  • topical steroids (for a good 20 years as this was the main accepted solution to eczema for decades)
  • topical medicines that are not steroids (Elidel/protopic, etc)
  • oral steroids
  • lotions/moisturizers (cetaphil, cera ve, aquaphor, dove eczema line, exederm, burt’s bees, obscurely-named-other-ones, etc)
  • going moisturizer free (actually does help with the red/weeping stage)
  • ocean water
  • chlorinated pools
  • naturopathy
  • acupuncture (including herbs, cupping, and massage)
  • diet (gluten free, soy free, dairy free, vegetarian, sugar free)
  • phototherapy (clinically done in light boxes, and just being in the sun)
  • antihistamines
  • sleep aid pills
  • yoga, meditation, and deep breathing
  • coconut and sunflower oil
  • bleach, epsom, and apple cider vinegar baths
  • antibiotics
  • collagen powder (edible)
  • collagen cream
  • wound care
  • probiotics

Update: I have not tried any biologics because I have been pregnant and am now nursing.

Despite all the shit that comes with eczema, there have been some silver linings in my experience including:

  • Having to deal with eczema year round has made me live much more seasonally. In the warmer months I try to take advantage of being able to walk outside for hours and garden to get vitamin D and get exposed to bacteria in the soil (and as stress relievers). In the colder months I turn to herbal teas and nourishing soups, and bundle up well to go on walks to get fresh air. I pay a lot more attention to what can grow when, and try to eat accordingly (like lighter foods in the summertime).
  • Having dealt with the difficulties of eczema for so long, in juxtaposition pregnancy wasn’t half bad (though to be fair my belly was small and I didn’t have morning sickness… but discomfort with sleeping? Aversions to certain foods? Tired randomly? Feeling generally uncomfortable? Yep, I was used to that all already).
  • In effort to control my flares, I am constantly open to trying new things (though my wallet isn’t!).
  • When I first came up to visit Jake, before we were dating, we had an honest conversation about eczema and I told him how bad it gets for me, and he still wanted to be with me. To this day, I’ve never had insecurity about my skin around him.
  • I have learned to really appreciate the good days. As a result, I’m generally even happier of a person.
alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, food and nutrition, my journey, skin care

korean skin care for eczema

BoysOverFlowers_A5GLDKW.jpg

A few years back I came across an article about how a woman named Kathleen Hou managed to keep her eczema in check by using Korean skin care routines/products. Naturally I was intrigued, but the level of steps involved was so daunting to me (I tended to be a frolics-in-the-sun-and-to-h*ll-with-my-skin kind of girl before my eczema got bad), that I never bothered to try it out.

Well, I was watching a Korean drama the other day (comment the name of that drama pictured above if you know it!) and was again struck by how flawlessly nice all of the actors’ skins were, including the men. Being in a TSW phase I felt like a flaky snake in comparison and decided to rethink about trying Korean skin care to see if it could help me. My sister reminded me of the article by Kathleen Hou, so I followed up with checking out her company Peach and Lily and began more seriously looking at the section titled The Best Korean Skin Care Routine.

However, Korean skin care routines are amazing and intense and I’m not ready to commit to that level of time a day or money involved to get the products. So in lieu of going fully into it, I’ve decided to try my own proxy way for a month or so.

My routine is as followed. Every morning I take a shower (still I do a fairly warm to hot shower though I know it’s not optimal for my skin… baby steps) and I use a natural bar of soap that’s sold at whole foods. I can’t remember the specific brand but it’s got calendula and chamomile in it.
After that I use cotton balls to apply a toner to my whole body. I’ve been using the Thayer brand that makes witch hazel infusions (I’ve tried lavender and am currently using a cucumber one) but now I am leaming towards making my own toners so I made a basil one yesterday (it’s got a little bit of witch hazel in it too). The recipe I used is here. My toner came out like this: Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 8.56.26 AM.png

Then I apply a moisturizer. Right now I have been alternating every now and then between Exederm and and MG217. Eventually I’ll get around to giving it a go at making my own, but I’ll do it after I try this for a month.

Source for the cover photo is here.

 

exercise and activity, my journey

yoga for the atopically inclined

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This is a post I initially wrote after talking about the different alternative medicines and their content. I never ended up posting it because I had the baby and promptly forgot I wrote it. But without further ado, here is a post that focuses a bit more on the physical aspects of one of those holistic practices; yoga.

Though I love exercising, I am no stranger to avoiding heavy aerobically-intense exercise because of the nasty skin side effects that occur during a flare (the flushing sensations, the heating skin, the sweating/wetness in flexor surfaces, the rashes, and the insatiable itching). One of the times I got the best reprieve from my flares and related skin symptoms was February of 2016 when I was doing a 200-hour yoga teacher training. I took anywhere from 1-3 classes, 5-7 days of the week in rooms with high temperatures and lots of humidity. As I breathed through new poses and slowly worked my muscles and  focused on breathing and meditation, I felt stronger and better day by day. I won’t say my eczema went away because it didn’t, but the movements and concentration on my breathing did help my skin improve a lot, and in February no less (usually the winter months are worse for my skin).  At the same time, practicing that much yoga naturally made me want to eat cleaner because I felt heavy if I tried to practice after eating unhealthy foods (so at the time I tried out the Whole 30 Diet).

As I tried to recover from the particular cold, damp prolonged and lingering last bit of the Northeast winter weather, I decided I wanted to make use of my teacher training and research the best exercises to promote blood flow, skin healing, and stress reduction. My goal? To help my own skin maintenance (and the skin of anyone else who wishes to try this routine). So first I’ll give a brief explanation of some the theories behind how yoga can help eczema. Then later in the post I’ll show a few poses that have been said to be most beneficial to add to a yoga practice (and mostly ones that a beginner could do) to help the skin.

From my teacher training I learned that in yoga, there are 7 major chakras, or energy cluster points, that line up with the spinal column where nadis, or channels intersect. These channels carry prana or our life force energy. Of the 7 chakras, each corresponding to a respective spot on our spinal column, the 3rd chakra, Manipura is said to be unbalanced when we see skin conditions like eczema. Manipura is located in the solar plexus and corresponds to physical body parts such as the detox organs (liver, spleen, etc). When this chakra is unbalanced, as in it is underactive, people may feel a lack of control or a tendency to withdrawal from social situations.  Poses said to help invigorate this chakra include core strengthening poses such as those that entail isometric contractions, and breathing focus. This can include poses that entail twists (because they engage the core muscles to be able to do the poses well, and are said to help with detoxing).

So first off, does yoga truly help eczema? Well, some studies have show that it helps reduce inflammation after moderate to strenuous exercise. Others indicate it helps with the glycation process (mentioned in my post about sugar’s effects on eczema), by increasing the muscles’ glucose uptake, and therefore reducing blood sugar levels.

Yoga also entails a lot of focus on breathing (which can be beneficial for both getting you to distract your mind away from the itch and improving circulation of O2). It also often includes a meditative component, and meditation has also been seen to help eczema. It can be useful for reducing stress levels and improving sleep as well.

In general all of those effects would help alleviate a lot of the issues that eczema comes with, and personally I got more into yoga because it was one activity that didn’t induce worser flares for me. Plus getting a good night’s sleep is huge, since we do so much healing when we are catching some z’s.

Here is my take on poses for eczema, though most of these poses are somewhat “general” because they are known to help symptoms of eczema (such as inflammation, bad circulation, stress), aka they benefit the skin generally. Then again, there is no “cure” for eczema in isolation, so getting up and moving and in this case doing yoga will most likely help with eczema too.

Here are specific poses I found listed on various websites that were said to help the skin (with photos of me demonstrating! Note: I won’t demo the twists as I am over 8 months pregnant at the moment).

Livestrong.com suggests a lot of inversions (or poses with the head below the heart) including:

  • Legs Up a Wall (beginner friendly. I only stayed here for a few seconds to take this picture before getting off my back because it’s not the most comfortable when 38 weeks pregnant).

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  • Camel Pose (can be modified to be more beginner friendly. Note: keeping your hips pushing forward so they are lined over your knees. Also note that I am not reaching for my ankles because I am too pregnant to keep good form attempting that so I’m just reaching my arms downwards).

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  • Wheel (needs a level of back/hip flexor mobility… wouldn’t suggest it for pure beginners and I will update myself doing it when eventually).

From healthline.com we have asanas for beginners to yoga with the intent to decrease stress (in this case for psoriasis, but stress is stress):

  • Child’s Pose (my big toes are touching and my knees are out wide as the mat, and I am sinking my hips down and back while reaching my arms forward. Though I am limited to how far I can stretch downwards by the baby).

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  • Salutation Seal (never knew it was called this, but essentially you sit cross-legged, keep your back nice and tall, and bring your hands to your chest like you are praying).

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And lastly, a few from HolisticVanity who brings up poses to help with inflammation:

  • Seated Twist (again I’ll get around to adding this photo)
  • Revolved Chair (ditto this one)
  • Warrior 1  (note that my lower back has a lot of curvature here, which is not ideal. The baby is pulled me forward and it’s hard to compensate, but generally you want to reduce some of that low back curving to make sure you are setting yourself up for the best alignment to continue the safest practice).

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  • Chair (note: I have my feet hips width distance apart to accommodate the baby, but normally the feet are together will a little space between the heels. Also I need to relax my shoulders down more and pull my ribs in to have better form, but my ribs are also flared out because I’m 38 weeks pregnant!!).

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alternative/holistic medicine, eczema

prime physique nutrition’s conquerer eczema academy

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I have been following Abby Lai, a registered holistic nutritionist, and the creator of Prime Physique Nutrition for a few years now. I remember first coming across her blog and being flabbergast that there were others who had this annoying condition to similar severities as myself; it made me feel less alone.

Since then, her and Jen, the blogger behind Eczema Holistic Healing, have created the Conquerer Eczema Academy, which is an 8-week program they do that offers a wealth of options to the sufferers of eczema. For those new to the whole eczema issue, they have lots of information about what causes it, common treatments and ways to manage flares, how diet can impact your skin and flares, coping mechanisms, etc in the form of videos. The program includes a private Facebook group so the participants can find community with one another and get questions answered by Abby and Jen. There are also weekly group video sessions where everyone can get online and feel the immediate impact of being part of a group, and feel supported together. All in all it’s a useful program. As Abby says, you get out of it what you put into it. She also says that the participants who have had the most success are the ones that attend the weekly video sessions.

I have to admit I’ve missed a few since the baby came (they are at 8:30pm for my time zone) but I think they are fine. I tend to not have the ability to sit still through a video chat, which is a personal problem, so I tend to prefer posting on the Facebook group more.

Overall I think it’s a useful program, especially if you are someone who feels you don’t have support or that no one understands what you are going through. The program has people who are at all stages of either TSW or flares and so it is comforting to be able to talk through things with others.

Abby also offers individual coaching, though I didn’t try it so I’ve got no info about it.

If you’re interested, the link to the program is here.

alternative/holistic medicine, distraction, eczema, exercise and activity, food and nutrition, my journey, pregnancy, skin care, women's health

back after a hiatus

quote calligraphy under cup of lemon tea
Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

I essentially disappeared off the face of the earth almost two months ago. Things got a little chaotic what with prepping for the baby, the baby shower, having the baby, and then learning about life post-pregnancy.

And in tandem with all that was going on, to be honest I was thinking of discontinuing this blog. My reason was I didn’t think I could continue to come up with content about living life with eczema if didn’t somehow entail my career being related to eczema- but I have since reconsidered and am back with a plethora of thoughts, stories, and research on this condition that I’ll be sharing over time.

I’ve got a lot of fun things in store including:

  • what it’s like to deal with eczema when you have a newborn
  • antibiotics and eczema
  • why it’s hard to know what factors cause or alleviate eczema (aka why humans are not perfect subjects)
  • my love of the sun (but does it love me back?)
  • challenges to try including 30 days yoga (getting moving, tackling isometric holds, and getting that tissue stretch in)
  • rebounding for lymph drainage
  • addiction to picking my skin- how to break it
  • herbs and herbalism… when you want a break from reactionary allopathic medicine and just want to grow some greens
  • Prime Physique Nutrition’s Conquerer Eczema Academy
  • and more!

But  in the meantime I’ll give a general status update on my life.

I had the baby! We named her Fiona and she was born June 18th. She’s now 5 weeks old and her favorite thing to do is sleep on top of me.

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During the labor I was on antibiotics and postpartum I have been trying to keep my diet clean to stave off candida overgrowth, and have also been taking probiotic pills daily. I’ll talk more about that in my antibiotics post.

My current skin condition is interesting to say the least. Skin color-wise I was almost back to normal after Fiona’s birth, and appearance-wise too, though I still have wrinkly skin, and that got a bit worse after the birth. Lately my skin has been dry- but not the dry like ashy-so-put-on-some-lotion, and not the dry like I-am-a-snake-with-the-way-I-shed-so-much, but instead I’m at this weird dry where I have tough and rough skin that feels like I have developed an immature exoskeleton. It’s worse on my hands and feet, and then my legs and parts of my arms. I’ve somehow managed to keep it relatively at bay on my face and neck (which is so important because I’ve noticed when the skin gets bad there, my emotional health drops the quickest). I hate to admit it, but I have definitely been scratching and picking at this new annoying exoskeleton, which hasn’t been the best for appearance (or skin barrier) because I now have a lot of scabs and scar marks. I definitely need to work on not picking my skin. I am extremely thankful that my chest has been relatively unaffected, as I am breastfeeding Fiona and it would be exponential harder (and I would be more worried about her getting an infection from my skin) if I was flared there.

Anyway, that’s more or less the basics of where I’m at now. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for posts about the content I mentioned above!

eczema, my journey, NEA, relationships

romance and relationships with eczema

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One aspect that sucks about eczema is how detrimental it can be for finding love. A large part of our society, for better or worse, may notice visual aspects of a person such as our skin first, and having rashes and redness that many people perceive to be contagious doesn’t help much when you’re on the market. Also, even if people aren’t noticing our skin, we may think they are and be more self conscious or less confident because of our own insecurities and perceptions.

Though it can see hopeless at times, there are many people out there who do suffer from eczema (or other visible skin conditions) that find love and prove that most people do see more than skin-deep.

The National Eczema Association had a post a while back that featured a few individuals sharing their stories about their experience with having eczema and dating, marriage, and intimacy, and how they manage to live happily ever after. The post also mentioned the character traits that the interviewees found most desirable in their partners: “openness, honesty, and authenticity”.

My own experience with eczema and romance has been fairly tame. I didn’t date until I was about 20, and when I first had the global skin flare my junior year of college I just retreated into my room for the most part and focused on how to deal with school rather than focusing on romance. I think at the time I was stressed enough by school in general that dating wasn’t really on my mind, and if it was I assumed my weird personality would be more of a deterrent than my skin. Though, when I was on oral steroids and antibiotics I remember going out a lot more and being a lot more flirty in general because my skin felt better. I think personally I just shifted wildly between hiding when I was flaring badly, to going out and being extremely social when my skin was under control. My skin was a bit bad after I graduated when I was working as a physical therapy aide back in Maryland, but I think I combatted that era of life by eating better and being freakishly active. I went out dancing a lot, but also ran every day and enjoyed hours in the sun. I also generally have an easier time with the visible skin issues in the warmer months, so even though I still slept poorly, I felt more comfortable in public with my skin because I knew it wasn’t as noticeable to others. When I started dating Jake, I remember the first night I stayed over his place I asked him why he kept his socks on all the time (even when the apartment was heated), and he said he had bad eczema that looked really gross. I told him I had eczema too and that he shouldn’t have to hide his feet and made him take off his socks. When my flares inevitably came back and plagued my entire body I did have moments where I felt really insecure I’d flood him with a whole host of questions. Do you want to be with me if I never heal? If I’m always flaky? If I’m always stressed by my skin? If I never want to go out anywhere? If some days I can’t cuddle with you? I’d ask him: why do want to be with someone who’s face was also dry, swollen and puffy? I am not pretty- I don’t even have skin! He always answered that I was beautiful and that my skin wasn’t want made me beautiful, and that yes, he wanted to be with me even if I never healed, we’d just learn to cuddle with sheets between us, and that he believed I would heal and it would just take a while and there would be good days and bad. Eventually I stopped having the insecurities around my skin and our relationship, and generally I don’t worry about that even if my flares are bad, which I think has helped us get much better at handling them. So in my experience, it just takes finding the right person, and eczema doesn’t impact that.

In regards to the experience of others, Abby Lai (of Prime Physique Nutrition) had a post and video a while back about dating when you have eczema that covered a lot of her own personal experience as well as advice to both the person with eczema as well as the partner.

I also came across a post by Shelly Marie, a blogger of eczema who did interviews with her parents and her boyfriend about how her eczema affects them. I thought it was a really cool idea, and so for this post, I asked my husband some of the questions.

 

Interview with Jake:

How long have you known me?

  • 6 years

What were your first impressions of me?

  •  Funny and incredibly genuine. A very caring and intelligent person. Also, hot.

Could you see that I had a visible skin condition? If so, what were your opinions on it?

  • No but I became aware of your skin history early on.

Did do you know what eczema was?

  • Yes, I have it.

Do you understand more about eczema now since we’ve been together?

  • Yes absolutely. We even do research together now.

Has my eczema ever affected me more than physically?

  • Yes, it is a stressful disorder that has at various times lead to compulsions, fear, chronic sadness, and stress.

What are your opinions on eczema and mental health?

  • The former can lead to problems with the latter.

Has my eczema ever come in-between our relationship?

  • Not exactly, though at times it has made some common/everyday things difficult, like prolonged physical contact, temperature control, going out and socializing, and eating.

How does my skin affect you?

  • It worries me when you aren’t feeling well. I internalize your stress and just want you to feel better. It hurts me to see you in pain.

Have you ever had a bad experience with my skin? If so, what was that and how did you help resolve it?

  • Yes. During dry out periods the flaking can be extreme and requires diligent house/car cleaning routines. During really bad flares, we need to almost entirely avoid physical contact. Hoodies and blankets help with that!

When I have a bad flare up eczema how does that affect me from your point of view?

  • It stresses you out and is deeply frustrating to you. It restricts common activity, and makes you worry about causality, especially dietary causes.

Do you think there is enough help out their for sufferers with a skin condition? If not, how do you think this can be changed?

  • No, there isn’t. The biggest thing that needs to change right now is overprescription of corticosteroids. Doctors almost universally address symptoms and not causes of this disorder. There needs to be an increase in education on the relationship between lifestyle and systemic inflammation. Such a relationship is known to exist and doctors should address the root causes of inflammation long before risking potentially permanent damage via misuse and overuse of prescriptions.

What would your advice be to others who are in a relationship with someone who has eczema (or any other condition)?

  • It’s important to keep in mind that this is a manageable condition and to be incredibly observant of any behaviors and habits that correlate to flares.

 

So there’s a taste of what it can feel like for the person on the other side of the eczema curtain.

I’ll leave you with the immortal ever-applicable words of India Arie, “I am not my hair, I am not my skin, I am the voice that lives within”.

eczema, exercise and activity, pondering

exercise is medicine for bones, but also for skin?

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A few years ago when I was living in Maryland, I was volunteering with the Montgomery County Bone Builders program. It was a group that offered community classes to adults aged 55+ to help build bone density and reduce osteopenia risk via group weight lifting. Needless to say, I enjoyed it immensely. Well, the other day I came across some notes I took from a continuing education course I took while volunteering, on exercise as medicine. As usual, I started thinking about what I had learned but now with the framework eczema. And thus I will now gift you all with my self ramblings. Not all of the bone building notes are relevant to eczema but whatever random thoughts I did have I’ll put in lavender.

 

2016 – Seminar

“Exercise is Medicine: The explosion of information today” presented by Professor Karen Thomas (a professor of exercise physiology at Montgomery College)

Exercise as Medicine – “Move”

NIH study at Brigham’s and Women’s Hospital stated that done right, there is no higher injury rate than college-aged person even when lifting heavy weight at few reps for people in nursing homes

Strength Training – use it or lose it (every day a person lies flat, as when ill, they lose 4% fitness) – So those days of relative immobilization from large flares are drastically messing up our health! 

–       muscles have 3 types of fibers:

o   ongoing = type I, slow endurance

o   strong = type II, fast

o   fibers that can go either way

–       lose strength fibers with age – body reabsorbs unused fibers and one can never get them back – It would be interesting to see if there are any correlations of increased (or decreased) incidents of eczema with lost muscle strength fibers with age

–       when exercising want to work all major muscles but especially rhomboids for older adults  

o   arms down at side, thumbs pointed out (rhomboids engaged) = can’t slouch – Finding ways to keep optimal “no slouching” positions are important also for allowing a more consistent flow of our fluids (lymph, blood, etc). 

–       some “old age” symptoms are actually just a product of lack of strength

–       need strong core (but also flexible) to protect everything else (e.g. low back) – A strong core is also important for blood flow and healthy digestion, which are crucial parts to helping our skin heal 

–       need to train people how to move in all directions (train to do activities of daily living) – Good to get lymph moving! 

humans gain muscles at same rate no matter age (so long as fibers not lost)

–       large mental component (which ties into a lot of studies in psychology about how ageism affects people’s memories and abilities… in short, if you think you can’t do something, you make it so you can’t do it)  – The mentality behind skin issues has been highly studied. Meditation, distraction, etc are all seen to help with itch sensation reports

low back pain often caused by muscle weakness

–       leg strength – e.g. squats (we also looked at how people can cheat when going to sit or get up from a chair, as by rocking themselves forward to get up or letting themselves just fall onto the chair rather than engaging their leg muscles)

Bone Density (need enough Ca2+, vitamin D and movement) – similar things we need for skin health

(bone replaces entirely every 3 years)  – skin replaces entirely every 30 days for the average person, or so my doctor told me

–       to get Ca2+ into bone, need negative charge in bone

–       bone bending/moving makes static electric charge that pulls Ca2+ into bone if vitamin D enzyme present – it would be interesting to the study the chemical reactions/absorption rates of products on the skin, moisture, etc during exercise. That and if the collagen levels in the skin change with exercise. And also what is happening chemically with the skin cells when they are inflamed and when they die/new ones are created. Looks like I need to get into skin physiology soon.

–       body parts you move, strengthen – if moving the skin helped strengthen it… that could explain why massages tends to be good for us (besides the stress component? I wonder if they have studies on the affects of massage on skin as it ages.

Training – legs further apart during exercise means less likely to fall b/c wider base of support. Want head over base of support

–       Tai Chi and dancing are good for balance – and good low impact activities for people undergoing a flare to present the sweating-to-itching issue

–       Teach people how to get off the floor via balance and motor ability so they can help themselves – mobility is an important factor for skin health too. you can develop a lot of scar tissue (especially if you spend all day scratching the sh*t out of yourself) so setting yourself up for more general body mobility will help your skin. This is also why massage is known to help people with eczema I believe, because you get the blood flow stimulation and help cleanse out irritants/chemicals. Though also I’ve been wondering about the “new” organ that scientists discovered… the interstitium, and where that will come into play with skin health and chronic skin conditions. I’ll do a separate post on the interstitium later on.

–       Challenge self by doing one sided exercises (like one arm pushups, etc) to work core

ROM (range of motion) – need to be able to move joints as far as they are supposed to move that way no compensation in other joints – again mobility. Also with theories like sanomechanics, where when a joint is loaded, the pressure is hydrostatically spread to other joints. The end result is a floating skeleton, or a balance of all the joints allowing for protection from damage. Apparently the concept is novel, but the application of how to achieve it feels a lot like a cross between meditation, yoga/tai chi/other flow types routines, and good postural alignment. But what sanomechanics made me wonder for years, was if we can accept the concept of joints “communicating” (for lack of a better way to describe it), and keeping one another in balance, why isn’t the idea that the skin behaves similarly or in combination with such “communication” not a theory? I’ll work on fleshing out more about what I mean by that later (maybe in the same post I do about interstitium).

–       so need to learn body’s ROM (different for each person)

PSYCHOLOGICAL – effects on nervous system and brain

–       painkillers mimic endorphins (but one can’t OD on self made endorphins)

–       endorphins mask pain (so good for arthritis) – And potentially itching, given some pathways of itching and pain being similar (post coming soon on this too!)

–       moving increase lubrication of joints and produces endorphins but won’t fix arthritis – but creation of endorphins may help also distract from the itchy sensations!

–       exercise wakes up brain (thalamus) – think smarter and faster (cognitive abilities)

o   elderly can think as well as younger kids but as slower rates

o   consistent exercise maintains cognitive speed

o   exercise prevents dementia (or slows it in those already afflicted, b/c more O2 to brain decreases plaque – especially in regular dementia)

The more you exercise, the less likely you will die from anything – exercise is dose related

–       150 minutes physical activity a week for adults at minimum (so 25 minutes 6 days a week, or 5 days minimum) – I’d say this is an important mark to meet in general, especially when you have a skin flare too!

–       more benefits for longer durations of exercise b/c chemical reactions ongoing – I’m curious if that would be the case with eczema flares, or is it more dependent on the activity level (low/high impact, low/high heart rate, perspiration rates, etc)?

–       want to work at intensity hard enough that one can’t have a conversation  – I tend to do body weight/weight lifting rather than pure aerobic type exercises to avoid sweating. though I will take long walks in my hilly neighborhood, which sometimes winds me (though I am 34 weeks pregnant now)

–       want to be a little sore so just exercise until tired – Would being sore help distract from flare symptoms?