This is an overall day in the life of my skin over the past 2 months, since I’m close to the 2 month mark of Topical Steroid Withdrawal.
I used to love early morning – morning was my favorite time of day. I still LIKE morning, but now it’s tarnished by the apprehension of what’s going to greet me in the mirror. My alarm goes off and I gingerly run my fingers over my face and neck and around my eyes, tactilely assessing how bad the day’s flakes, dryness, and puffiness are going to be. Wishing I could just stay in bed for days on end until my skin looks better, I drag myself out of bed and over to the mirror. If I have puffy eyes, it is going to be in the morning, and if I have to put ice on them, my mood immediately dips a notch. The left side of my face has always been more problematic than the right, and my left eye will get way more puffy or dry and make me look like a half-elephant. I guess I should be glad that at least the other eye usually behaves, but the idea of looking asymmetrical, especially since I feel like everyone I talk to looks me in the eye and notices, really makes me self-conscious. I can tell that I’m healing though, because in Month 1 of withdrawal I was waking up with puffy eyes every day, and now I don’t have to put ice on them in the morning. My face is usually, actually not too red in the morning, but this is when it is super dry since I’ve rolled around restlessly during the night and probably rubbed off all my Vaseline I put on.
Later in the Morning:
I’m off to work after having carefully applied moisturizer and concealer and choosing an outfit that either hides my extremely red neck, or carefully applying concealer to that too. I’m sure it would be a little better to just let the skin be free and not covered by makeup, but I’ve patch tested my concealer and it doesn’t provoke any reaction. Also, if I don’t use any, I itch just the same, so I’ve come to the conclusion that for now, I use it in order to get by, although now I have to use it over almost my entire face. There was a day early on before withdrawal when I was flaring where I barely used any concealer and all the people’s stares hurt my feelings. So no more – I do what I have to do to feel human. Now that I’m in month 2, my neck is red almost all the way around, the border stops where my neck ends and my back starts – where a t-shirt collar would start – my upper back has never had any eczema and has been a completely clear portion of my body (one of the few) throughout TSW – probably because I never applied steroids there. Also, now my neck is so completely dry and flaky that any concealer looks really bad and emphasizes the dryness. I either wear a high neck shirt or a scarf to work every single day. I’ve developed a new appreciation for accessorizing with scarves – I have quite a wardrobe of them now. They’re the only outfit accessories I can have since I had to stop wearing all jewelry – necklaces rub on my raw neck, bracelets draw attention to my rashy hands and wrists, my ears ooze and flake so earrings are out, and well, I don’t wear my wedding rings anymore since the divorce is underway. I also have to choose shirts with extra-long sleeves since my hands are really bad. However, this is a pretty good time of day – my second favorite time besides bathtime/bedtime. I like being in the car driving to work, and I like arriving for the day and feeling productive, getting ready to get things done. Because my skin has just been moisturized, it usually doesn’t itch and I’m able to put it out of my mind for the time being.
I head to the bathroom to wash my hands before I eat lunch. I am carrying my own bar of soap from home (Dove sensitive) because my skin can’t tolerate the soap in our work’s bathrooms. My hands are ripped up enough already, they don’t need any more irritants! In the privacy of the bathroom stall, I pull out a tiny mirror that I always carry in my pocket, checking my face and seeing how it’s holding up. If my face starts looking bad, I have a little emergency stash of moisturizer, concealer, and tweezers back at my desk. I almost never pull it out, because I don’t like to obsess about my face at work. I’ve gotten used to it and so I leave it alone.
We probably have some kind of work meeting, and I start getting more uncomfortable and dry. I covertly try to itch places where no one will see. I constantly tug my shirt sleeves down over my wrists so that no one will see my hands. It’s not that I care if people SEE them, as I no longer have much shame about looking bad, but I don’t want people asking stupid questions about my skin. This is when boredom and annoyance hit, where I start to get fed up with sitting at my desk and want to go home for the day. This is also the time when I begin to get a little bit itchy… or, well, a LOT itchy. I escape to a restroom stall again and give my legs and thighs a good hard scratch. Often I scratch until my skin gets raw and oozy. I can’t control it a lot of the time. This is also the time when, if my eyes are going to start bothering me, now is the time that they really start to annoy me. The skin around my eyes has been dry and tight ever since I started TSW and on occasions before that, and it starts to get very uncomfortable as the day wears on. It doesn’t help that my work involves staring at a computer screen all day either, since my eyes always feel better on the weekends.
Oh thank goodness, work is over. Even though I want to pick at my face and itch it, I can resist the temptation for now because it doesn’t truly itch, and I don’t want to get all flaky when I have things to do yet. However, I can’t wait to get home as the first thing I’m going to do is rip off all my clothes and scratch everywhere. It’s bad, but it feels so good to itch! I worry that even when I am done with TSW, that I won’t be able to stop itching as it will be such an ingrained habit.
Around 7 or 8 pm, I have a “skin curfew”. Every single day around this time, without fail, my skin begins to itch in waves that do not stop and are not satiated until finally I have scratched until I am flaking and oozing a bit. I am told this is normal for TSW and has to do with a drop in cortisol levels. This is the “please God make it stop” type of itching that I cannot distract myself from, no matter what I try. There is no self-control or willpower on earth that could keep someone from this – I’ve tried! Because I’ve been covertly itching the rest of me throughout the day, this “itch attack” mainly involves my face and neck. I can somewhat divert this itch attack if I get in the bathtub and go through my routine early in the night. Otherwise it’s a lost cause. Very thankfully, I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that this “itch attack” has been minimized or even sometimes can be avoided. For example I’m posting this at night around 9:30 and I managed to not go crazy clawing at my face and neck, I just itched a little bit along my jawline and then I was able to cut myself off and stop. I consider that progress!
Time for my routine of bathing, exfoliating, moisturizing, etc. My face and neck are dry and flaky from having gone through the entire day. I’ve hit upon the system of rubbing olive oil on and then using very finely ground oatmeal mixed with olive oil and water to make a paste on my face and gently rub away the dry skin. Then I rub at the skin very gently with my fingertips and more little rolls of skin come off. I go through my other rituals of washing and moisturizing, etc. and then give myself a last look in the mirror. Although my skin is extremely red and patchy, it at least looks clean and smooth – right before I smother it in oil and Vaseline and get all greasy. I love nighttime because I finally get to be in bed. I’ve been looking forward to this all day, from the time I got up. Bed is my “safe place”, my haven, my warm cocoon. Here I can sit alone and not have to think about my skin. Even though TSW has messed with my sleep patterns, leaving me with many nights of lying awake until early hours, here no one is looking at me or judging me, and I’m alone in glorious privacy to finally nod off, putting another day behind me, another day closer to healing.