The skin affected by eczema may appear pink or red on lighter skin tones and more purple or grey on darker skin tones.
The physical and emotional burden associated with eczema can have a significant impact on your quality of life and can even lead to anxiety and depression. Dealing with eczema can cause individuals to feel alone and can have a negative impact on everything from relationships and social activities to one’s ability to work.
Is eczema negatively affecting your life? Download our questionnaire and use it at your next doctor’s appointment to help guide your conversation. Working with your doctor will help you to identify and begin a treatment plan to better manage your condition.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a very happy-go-lucky type of person, naturally. The real Michelle is bubbly, she is extremely social. I’m someone who has always been interested in sports and academics and travel, but particularly in the communities you can find through those things.
At the University of Toronto, I was in a sorority, I was trying out for the varsity lacrosse team. But every single thing I wanted to do, every part of me that I wanted to share, eczema got in the way.
What challenges did you face due to eczema?
Everything was a challenge. From when I was a child, every time my eczema would flare, I would want to hide. It was just so visible. I remember being teased relentlessly at school, being called a reptile because my skin was so scaly. And so, throughout my life, when my skin was good, I would see my friends and want to meet new people. But, when my skin was bad, I would turn into a recluse, for weeks at a time.
Then, in my mid-20s, I went through topical steroid withdrawal—I dropped out of school because of it. I disappeared. I was depressed, I was scared, I was dealing with a lot of mental health challenges, brought on by the prospect of living the rest of my life like this.
What has your eczema treatment journey looked like so far?
When I was younger, it was mostly topical steroids. Then later, I was on an immunomodulator. I was hopeful that these would help but they weren’t a solution for me.
Since coming out of topical steroid withdrawal, I have found a way to keep my eczema at bay. I do still get flare ups, but they’re less frequent, less severe, and more manageable.
Many eczema patients come to accept the symptoms they face. What advice would you give to anyone currently living with unresolved discomfort from eczema?
I would say that, as horrifying as this condition can be when it is bad, it’s actually possible to find a way to manage it. Eczema is a really complicated condition and the details are unique to each person who has it, so you have to be willing to try different approaches. What you’re going through now doesn’t have to be what you’re going through forever.
The other thing that’s critical is community. Social media is great for that and it’s probably what got me through the worst of it. Growing up, I never met another person who suffered with eczema the way I did. It was so isolating. And so it was extremely powerful for me to be able to connect with other people online who understood and could relate to what I was going through.
How can patients be their own advocates?
What’s probably most important is that people with eczema, especially children and their parents, be able to have open conversations with their healthcare providers about the research and the options that are out there.
Start by asking a lot of questions. What else can we try? How can we better understand what’s happening? What changes can I make? What’s the current state of the research? Having and asking these kinds of questions can only help you. It’s important to be an advocate for yourself, or your children, throughout the journey.
How have you helped support others living with eczema?
I volunteer today with ITSAN, the International Topical Steroid Awareness Network. I really took the time to figure out how I could help, because my heart breaks for everyone who is going through what I went through. I know how tough it is and I know how isolating it can be.
My hope is that someday everyone with eczema or topical steroid withdrawal will be able to have open informative conversations with their healthcare providers and get the help that’s right for them, when they need it. In the meantime, I’m also still very active on social media, trying to help those in the community who are in the thick of it, in the same way that they helped me.