I’ve always been more of a private person when it comes to things that really matter, especially in the workplace or large social settings. For example, when I got married, I didn’t trumpet the news to everyone at my work (in fact, most people were very confused when I came in one day with a new last name). If I ever decided to have kids and get pregnant, I wouldn’t tell anyone until people started calling me out for looking fat, and then I would just feign ignorance and pretend I made one too many trips to the all-you-can-eat buffet. However, if I’m talking with you one-on-one, I’ll gladly expound to you about insignificant subjects like what I had for lunch, and I may well even start to share significant secrets, dreams, hopes, and wishes.
But eczema and TSW for me is a very, very private thing. I mean really – do I WANT to subject my friends and family to current news about my swollen lymph nodes and oozing rashes in my groin? Clearly here I’m putting myself out in the public with my blog, but that’s because it’s intended to connect me with the very people that ‘get it’, those that understand and nod knowingly if I want to vent about uncontrollable itching or have a long intelligent discussion about the pros and cons of different moisturizers.
I believe there are two general classes of thought when it comes to TSW and eczema, or really just chronic conditions in general. One class that sides with me – derive inner strength from facing the struggle mostly alone, while seeking support and solace from those that really understand. The other class is those that have little reluctance to explain their challenges and victories to most people that they come in contact with. (I’d be betting to think the first class is mainly introverts, and the second class is mainly extroverts).
There are a couple reasons why I don’t fall into that second class (besides having a real strong tendency toward introversion). I’d be willing to bet that most people I come in contact with have very little idea of the magnitude of the struggle of eczema and TSW. Sure, there have been some people at work that commented on my skin (thanks a lot, you insensitive nimrods), but for the most part people are either used to it or they simply don’t notice or just thankfully don’t bother to comment (Right now, I can look marginally presentable – at least from far away- with the right kind of clothing – namely, long sleeves and pants – and a large-scale application of concealer). So I don’t feel like talking about it because no one I know personally is going through the same thing and would not understand. Actually, not even my PARENTS fully know about TSW – and now I LIVE with them! They know I have eczema, of course, and I’ve alluded to going through rough times with it, but I just didn’t feel like opening up about all my personal struggles so far, nor walking around their house as the Little Red Lobster.
Secondly, I don’t want people to START noticing things about my appearance if they’ve never noticed. It was like the time that a friend told me their nose was crooked. I had never noticed it before for the life of me, but after that I couldn’t stop looking at their nose and mentally straightening it out. I feel like the same thing would happen if I told people I had eczema – they’d start visually scanning my body looking for signs of it.
Thirdly, I don’t want people to try and start solving my problems for me. It’s different when I’m here in the blog world communicating with fellow sufferers – here I WELCOME recommendations and tips. But the general world at large doesn’t have a very helpful knowledge of eczema, probably just a vague sense of, “Well, you need to moisturize more” or “You must be allergic to something”. Not helpful.
The other day I had an interaction with a co-worker that really reinforced my desire to keep things to myself.
Co-worker: (overly cheerful) “Hi there! How are you today?”
Me: (pleasantly, yet reserved and dubious) “I’m good, thank you, and you?”
Co-worker: (immediately launches into a story about how over the weekend she had “eczema” on her face, but she went to the doctor and they gave her this magical cream that cleared it right up, it might have started with an A, and it was so itchy, but oh my goodness, it was great stuff, although you’re not supposed to use it on your face for too long, and her kid has eczema but the doctor gave her something for that too, and she’s going back to the dermatologist today….)
Meanwhile, since she mentioned it was on her face, I’m scoping this out. This person’s skin looks PERFECTLY FINE. No trace of eczema. No tell-tale signs of redness or dryness or puffiness. Not to mention I’ve known this person for years, and they never had any skin issues. I’m willing to bet they didn’t really have ‘eczema’ and the dermatologist just used that as a catch-all term to describe a little dermatitis rash she might have gotten.
Co-worker (still yammering on) “….so I just wanted to tell you about my experience, because, you know, you told me you have eczema!” (triumphantly, like she’s trying to bond with me…or maybe pity me – even worse). Now I’m getting highly annoyed. Oh, this is special. Let us bond together. We can be eczema buddies. We can skip around the office arm in arm spreading dead flaky skin like it’s fairy dust. Here, you complain about the one tiny spot on your face, and I’ll complain about…. let’s see….the f-ing rashes and scars covering the majority of my body!!! Also, it should be noted that this whole conversation is taking place in a completely public place at work (my desk), where a given 25 nearby people could be overhearing this if they really wanted to. Because I really don’t feel like broadcasting my skin issues to my workplace (and if I do, I want to do it on MY terms – not with someone accosting me about eczema), this conversation is making me more and more uncomfortable.
I wanted to be like, “Listen, lady. The only reason that I TOLD you have I eczema is because one day you kept staring at my neck and you asked me what was going on. I couldn’t get away with the lie that I got rope burn from a secret international espionage mission where cocaine traffickers tried to hang me after I found the location of their secret drug cartel, so, rather than launch into my whole story; it’s far simpler to utter three little words – I. HAVE. ECZEMA., and hope you’ll move on.”
But, I was polite and held my tongue while the co-worker is still talking. She finishes her sentence and looks at me expectantly like I’m supposed to be jumping up and down and begging to know more about the magic cream. I slowly say, “You have to be careful with those creams and using them for too long; they can have VERY, VERY bad side effects.”
What about you? Do you have casual conversations about your medical conditions with friends/family/co-workers? Or do you try to avoid the subject and keep things more private? Which approach do you think has been more helpful?