Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Eczema Story: Part II, How I Control My Eczema

In yesterday’s post, I talked about my lifelong struggle with eczema, a painful skin disorder that affects 17% of Americans.  As I mentioned, I’ve had eczema all of my life and it’s a condition I inherited from both of my parents (actually, both of my grandfathers had eczema to about the same degree that I do; my parents have far milder infrequently episodic versions).

When I was little, I had eczema outbreaks most of the time.  Unlike today, when it’s easy to go to Target or Walgreens and get soaks and ointments for ailing skin, there weren’t many OTC treatments to manage my condition.  In the early-to-mid-eighties my mom would have to take me to a formulary pharmacy to get custom-made corticosteroid creams for my painful rashes.  This was an expensive treatment that didn’t always help my chronically red, rashy skin.  To make matters worse, the cream felt horrible and I hated having it slathered on my skin-- it was thicker than sunscreen, smelt putrid, and never felt like it was sinking into my skin.

More recent research has linked long-term use of high-dose topical steroid creams to skin marking and discoloration as well as to worsening acne or rosacea.  Similarly, high-dose steroid cream use can affect a child’s growth.  Thankfully, my perceptive mother began researching and looking for other, more natural ways to manage my eczema, methods that I still utilize.

Again, as I said yesterday, I am speaking for myself and my own experiences.  What has worked for me may not work for someone else.  If you have eczema yourself, you should consult with your medical professional before embarking on a treatment plan.

For years, I have been able to keep my eczema under control (for the most part) through a combination of topical treatments, bath soaks, avoiding things I am allergic to, managing my physical environment, and (wherever possible) selecting all-natural products instead of chemically based ones. Managing my allergies-- which are both dietary and environmental-- is instrumental to keeping my skin calm.  While eczema itself isn’t an allergy, the condition is made worse when I am exposed to things I am allergic to.  Avoiding foods I am allergic to is as simple as reading food labels or giving something that is “iffy” a miss; I know that consuming something I am allergic to-- or multiple things I am allergic to-- will only end in a hive-covered mess, so it’s not hard to restrain myself in such cases.  When my allergies, especially environmental ones, bother me, I take Benadryl (the only allergy tablet that doesn’t give me a nosebleed).  Interestingly, my environmental allergies have been less severe since we adopted THE FOOSA last year.

In addition to managing my allergies, I’ve constructed my skincare regimen around the care of my delicate skin.  Year round I take lukewarm baths and showers; hot water can dry out your skin and exacerbate any skin problems I may be having or have brewing.  When I have the off breakout, or when my skin is feeling particularly dry or tender, I take baths using Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment-- though I often opt for the less expensive house-brands.  Also when I have a breakout, I apply the Aveeno Anti-Itch Concentrated Lotion to the affected areas; the product has calamine lotion in it and is formulated to soothe itchy skin.

To cleanse my body, I use all-natural soaps like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (my favorites as the Lavender, Peppermint, and Rose) or vegetable glycerine soap. Most of these soaps are so mild they do not cause my skin to act up.

The same methodology applies to my moisturizing routine: I only use all-natural products.  Within a few minutes of exiting the bath, I slather on Burt’s Bees Naturally Nourishing Body Lotion Milk & Honey formula.  In addition to being 99% natural, this lotion is very moisturizing, long-lasting, and light on the skin.  It doesn’t matter how complex my skin may be, there is no way I am going to sit around and wait for a Crisco-thick body butter to sink into my skin!

Lastly, I have been able to maintain a semblance of control over my skin my being mindful of the physical environment.  When it’s super hot outside, I stay indoors.  When it’s super cold, I also stay inside.  I keep my home at 74 degrees F year-round; if it gets any hotter or any colder than that, I run the risk of having my skin react to the conditions.  I realize this makes me sound like an iguana, but preventing my skin from being chapped from the cold or irritated from sweat is vital to maintaining my skin’s balance.

Even though eczema is a common skin condition, maintaining eczema-prone skin is anything but a common affair.  While every sufferer must forge their own path to dermal health, I hope these insights into my own self-care have been helpful.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

My Eczema Story: Part I, My Skin History

When I think about what defines me-- those experiences, ideas, and identities that have shaped the person I have become-- one of the first things that comes to mind is my eczema.  Even though up to 17% of Americans have the condition, very few are honest about what it is like to live with eczema or the trials and tribulations of treating the complex skin disorder.  This weekend, I thought I would address my own eczema history and the methods I use to treat and keep my eczema under control.

Before I begin, I think it is important to note that I am not a dermatologist; my history, observations, and treatments are unique to me.  What has or hasn’t worked for me may or may not work for you.  When in doubt, ask your trusted medical professional.  I’m just some chick on the internet, afterall! ;-)

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed, itchy, red, and dry.  At its most severe, eczema can scale, crack, leak fluid, or even bleed.  It’s believed that eczema might be caused by a defect in the skin’s moisture barrier that allows for the skin to lose moisture while simultaneously allowing bacteria into the skin.  The condition is exacerbated by allergies and stress though neither factor is the cause of eczema. More often than not, eczema sufferers-- myself included-- have inherited the condition from family members.

[caption id="attachment_527" align="aligncenter" width="300"]My forearm with eczema relatively under control; I have a light "rash" [it's not a rash] at all times. My forearm with eczema relatively under control; I have a light "rash" [it's not a rash] at all times.[/caption]
I’ve had eczema as long as I can remember.  Some of my earlier memories are of my mother taking me to pharmacies to get prescription steroid creams formulated for my pink, swollen skin.  As young as I was, I knew there was something drastically wrong with my skin which was always sore and itchy; I still remember the disgusted looks people use to give my mother and me-- as though I were covered in boils, or were contagious.  Since I have fair skin, even the most minor of outbreaks looked painfully raw and obvious.  When I started school, I was frequently made fun of for my eczema-- told that I needed to wash better or told that I had poison oak as other children ran away from me screaming.

As I got older, I learned to cover my “hot spots” (my arms and back,sometimes my chest and legs during bad outbreaks) year-round in long sleeved shirts and jeans.  Boiling in a dark hoodie during a California summer was preferable to having my condition noticed and judged; even the threat of heatstroke was better than having my eczema seen by others.  Even as an adult, I still shy away from exposing any skin in public and rely on hoodies and cardigans to keep my shameful skin secret to myself.

[caption id="attachment_526" align="aligncenter" width="269"]The crook of my elbow during my recent eczema outbreak. The crook of my elbow during my recent eczema outbreak.[/caption]

About a month ago, I suffered from a massive eczema outbreak that covered most of my body-- from my chin to my ankles-- that’s only recently subsided.  During this most-recent flare up, I felt like I was crawling in fire ants and I could literally feel the eyes of everyone around me-- colleagues, my students, people on the street, even the crackheads on the bus-- looking at me and judging me.  The week where I was at my worst, I felt as though my skin were betraying me; after years of hard work to keep my condition in control, it was betraying me and undermining all of my efforts.

In addition to being physically painful, my eczema outbreak was psychologically  painful as well.  I’m not going to lie, eczema knocks your confidence: you feel ugly and conspicuous.  Besides layering on piles of clothing-- a time honored eczema concealment strategy-- there is no way to conceal the condition; you can’t cure eczema, you can only manage it and learn to live with it.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll address how I have treated and come to accept my eczema and my advice to other eczema suffers.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

What I've Been Reading Lately #1: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

[caption id="attachment_515" align="aligncenter" width="426"]Book Time! Book Time![/caption]
A few weeks ago, Mommy Jim was sent an advanced reader’s edition of novelist Rachel Kushner’s (of Telex from Cuba and 2008 National Book Award Finalist fame) latest work, The Flamethrowers* (released April 2 from Scribner in the US).  The book, she noted, dealt in part with the Brigate Rosse and the New York art scene of the 1970s. Since I studied Art History and English as an undergrad and given my interest in leftist political movements in 1970s Europe-- my mom researches and writes on director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who didn’t see that daughterly interest a brewin’?-- Mommy Jim kindly passed the book along to me.  Needless to say my interest was peaked and I spent the better part of a week hunched over the novel, waiting for the novel to live up to my expectations. Spoiler alert: it never did.

The Flamethrowers follows Reno, a would-be-artist (nicknamed after her hometown) who moves to New York and, through a relationship with an older, wealthy Italian artist becomes a peripheral member of the city’s vibrant art scene.  Though she spends her days among quirky, artistic people, Reno only makes half-hearted attempts at work of her own; rather, she spends the bulk of the novel acting as a sort of mascot for her older, morally corrupted friends.  When Reno does attempt to an art project of her own-- capturing images of a motorcycle ride across the Utah salt flats-- it goes horribly wrong and ends with the young pro-artist falling, literally and figuratively, in with an Italian race team sponsored by her boyfriend’s family’s tire business (are you rolling your eyes yet?).  Reno then becomes a Danica Patrick-like racing pin-up for the company and is invited to Italy for some promotional work with the team.  After some hemming and hawing, Reno and her boyfriend go to Italy where, you guessed it, things once again go terribly wrong . . . and Reno kind of joins the Brigate Rosse, sort of. Or maybe not.

[caption id="attachment_516" align="aligncenter" width="320"]The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (available April 2) The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (available April 2)[/caption]
I really wanted to like The Flamethrowers-- I really did-- but the novel is a profound disappointment.  Reno spends the entire novel on the verge of something-- on the verge of developing her own artistic style, on the verge of racing fame, on the verge of being a member of a radical leftist group-- without ever doing anything. Instead, Reno passively ping-pongs between men who direct the course her life will next take; she is entirely devoid of agency within a socio-historic moment that was about claiming and utilizing one’s agency.  This question of agency-- who has it, who claims it, who uses it-- doesn’t even amount to subtext; instead, Kushner distracts her readers with one winking New York in the 70s reference after another.  “Forget about the act of becoming,” the narration seems to say, “here’s the Blackout of 1977! Here’s a generic Max’s Kansas City-type place!  Pay no attention to the novel’s decided lack of depth!” The novel leads you to believe that something profound will happen to Reno, that within all that she has experienced, all the power she has relinquished to others, she will somehow, in someway come into her own-- she will be able to amalgamate all that she has seen into a profound work of art.  But, by the end of the novel, Reno hasn’t acted on anything . . .

After investing a week and almost four hundred pages worth of bus-reading efforts into The Flamethrowers, I expected more than Kushner delivered.



[caption id="attachment_514" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Radical books that are actually radical and actually worth reading. Radical books that are actually radical and actually worth reading.[/caption]

*This book was provided to the author’s mother in exchange for a review on; a modified version of this author’s review appears on  
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thirtieth Birthday Haul

[caption id="attachment_511" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Party animal! Party animal![/caption]
Friday was my thirtieth birthday and, might I also add, one of the best days of my life.  All day long, everything-- from buses, to the demeanor or others, to even the line at Jack in the Box-- seemed to be pleasant and going my way.  It was fantastic!

[caption id="attachment_510" align="aligncenter" width="225"]My beautiful birthday cake! My beautiful birthday cake![/caption]

Since I discussed the emotional experience of my birthday earlier this week, I thought I would share with you the gifts I got on my big day.  Where available I have included links to the items.

From Myself:

[caption id="attachment_498" align="aligncenter" width="195"]Image via Google Image via Google[/caption]

A morning latte!

[caption id="attachment_499" align="aligncenter" width="300"]butterLondon nail polish butterLondon nail polish[/caption]

Two butterLONDON nail polishes in Kerfuffle and Trustafarian (buy here).

[caption id="attachment_500" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Birthday wishes from my students. Birthday wishes from my students.[/caption]

From my Students:

[caption id="attachment_501" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Berfday Cake! :-) Berfday Cake! :-)[/caption]

A cake that we shared among the my fourth period class!

[caption id="attachment_502" align="aligncenter" width="300"]LSP Stamp LSP Stamp[/caption]

A Lumpy Space Princess Stamp and stamp pad (similar)! Y’all know I love Adventure Time!

From a colleague:

[caption id="attachment_503" align="aligncenter" width="289"]Avon polishes! Avon polishes![/caption]

Two Avon Nailwear Pro nail polishes in Blue Escape and Ruby Slipper and a Lancome cosmetics bag (buy here, and here) .


[caption id="attachment_506" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Image via Sephora Image via Sephora[/caption]
 Sephora and Pantone Universe Mascara in Emerald (buy here).

[caption id="attachment_507" align="aligncenter" width="250"]Image via Sephora Image via Sephora[/caption]
The Urban Decay Theodora pallet (buy here).  I gave the eyeline that came with the pallet to my mom since I don’t wear black eyeliner and she was in need of a good waterproof one.

From my mom:

[caption id="attachment_508" align="aligncenter" width="300"]My new organizer . . . full of products! My new organizer . . . full of products![/caption]

A cosmetics organizer (similar).

[caption id="attachment_497" align="aligncenter" width="300"]TOMS University Navy Rope Sole  Classics TOMS University Navy Rope Sole Classics[/caption]

A pair of TOMS (buy here).

[caption id="attachment_504" align="aligncenter" width="194"]Dressing Table Dressing Table[/caption]

A dressing table set (similar).

Sadly, what you see it's the entirety of my makeup collection.  There is lots more that I still need to organize.  As soon as I have my makeup organization in a place where I am entirely pleased with it, I'll create a post all about it.

[caption id="attachment_505" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Image via Google/ Target Image via Google/ Target[/caption]

A tray for my vanity with a Paris theme that says “je t'aime” (buy here). Both the tray and the dressing table are in keeping with the Francophone style in which my room is being redecorated.

While I certainly made out like a fat rat in a cheese factor, the best part of my birthday was the happiness of the day!  I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect!

[caption id="attachment_509" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Festive Foosa Festive Foosa[/caption]

Monday, March 18, 2013

This is Thirty

Last Friday, March 15, I turned thirty. When you are on the cusp of a landmark birthday, people have an annoying tendency to wonder if you are depressed or are worried that you are getting old.  When you’re a woman, such inquiries are a veiled reminder of the sorry state of your biological clock and your rapidly fading beauty.  For the better part of three years, when asked about my age, I have always replied “almost-thirty.”  It’s easier to align yourself nebulously with the next stage in life than to be constantly reminded by hand-wringing acquaintances of aging’s numerous pitfalls.  So, for years I was happily almost-thirty.  Now, I am thirty.  There isn’t much of a difference.

When I went to bed on March 14, I didn’t feel any different than I did on the morning of March 15.  If anything, I was stoked the morning of March 15 because I was having French Toast AND pancakes for breakfast (hell, yeah birthdays!).  My face didn’t age progress like an FBI photograph, my uterus didn’t dislodge itself from my abdomen and take off for Ibiza, I didn’t magically inherent an Oprah-like Earth Mother wisdom from the Universe.  I just woke up for French Toast and Pancakes.

My birthday itself, and the weekend that followed, was extremely lovely and the best Birthday I have had since I was eight (the last birthday I spent with my grandfather before he past away).  I received lots of lovely gifts from my mom, my pug, my colleagues, and my students as well as many hugs, well-wishes, and even a birthday cake made by one of my students!-- how amazing is that?!  My birthday left me feeling very loved and appreciated.  It was a whole day like the last minute of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special--all love, joy, excitement, and singing!  If that’s what my thirties will be like, why would I ever be anything delighted?

Frankly, I would not want to be twenty again.  At thirty, I have a strong sense of who I am, I have a career, I have two graduate degrees, I’ve traveled the world, I’ve achieved many of my goals in life, and I have even managed to overcome major traumas.  The road to these accomplishments was traveled in my twenties; it was a journey I needed to take, but it’s not a trip I’d like to repeat.  I am a better person because of the experiences (some delightful, many challenging, others heart wrenching) of my youth; however, my gratitude for the lessons of time does not mean that I am keen to part with the wisdom of age.

I’m a different person now than I was at twenty.  I’ll be a different person when I am forty, I am sure.

I’m okay with that.