At the start of lockdown, the eczema that I’ve had all my life was at its worst ever.
I was scratching so much from head to toe that I was bleeding all over the bedsheets, flaking skin everywhere, and in so much discomfort that I felt like my skin had been burnt.
Turning my head, bending forward and lifting my arm were all painful.
A daily bath gave me an hour or so of relief as my skin softened in the water and then I slapped on moisturiser. But by the morning, it was dry again and I would inspect my body for new wounds.
It’s a very strange problem because you’re doing it to yourself. All you have to do is stop scratching, but you can’t. Also, as anyone knows who’s had a mosquito bite, it feels really pleasurable to scratch an itch. And yet you’re damaging yourself. It’s like an addiction.
The greatest suffering, though, was psychological. I felt:
- disgust at how it looked and felt
- shame that I couldn’t heal it
- despair that it would never heal
- anxiety that it would get worse
- frustration at how many different things I’d tried to cure it, and at the medical professionals for not being able to help
- self-hatred for not being more disciplined in sticking to the diet that I was hoping would cure it.
Which brings me to…
The things I tried to heal my eczema
- A GP told me there is no cure for eczema. It is caused by dry skin, so all you can do is use lots of moisturiser and steroids when it flares up.
- A dermatologist I saw had no other treatment to suggest. Just more steroids, which only worked in the short term and can apparently thin the skin, which I was anxious about.
- Immunosuppressants, which I also felt anxious about. Don’t I need a fully functioning immune system, rather than a suppressed one?
- Wearing gloves during the night, so that I didn’t do so much damage.
- Multiple moisturisers, some of which were very expensive, and that made me feel anxious because I needed to use so much of them. My favourite is Aveeno.
- Soaking in Oilatum, Epsom salts, oats and coconut oil — not simultaneously!
- Cold showers.
- Changing my washing powder.
- Two different hypnotherapists and listening to a hypnotherapy audio recording every night as I went to sleep.
- Craniosacral therapy.
- Various food supplements.
- Bone broth and linseed tea to help my gut, which is apparently linked to your skin.
- A liver cleanse that involved drinking a large quantity of olive oil and lemon juice. I didn’t enjoy that one!
- A food intolerance test and giving up multiple foods, on top of…
- Being wheat free and vegan for 18 months. This was the toughest one because it was ongoing. I felt massive FOMO at not being allowed to eat what the people I was with were eating. It cost more than a normal diet and I’d beat myself up for slipping off the waggon. A lot of people say that cutting out wheat and dairy in particular helps their eczema, but it didn’t work for me.
- Network Spinal Analysis.
- Emotional Freedom Therapy.
- An Amazonian frog poison called Cambo
The NHS’ approach was very frustrating to me as it seemed to be entirely focused on treating the symptoms. I was told that if there was an identifiable cause, I would have found it by now.
It led me to lose a lot of faith in our health service’s whole approach. A 2018 report by Connect Immune Research said that some autoimmune diseases are increasing by 9% a year and that the cause is not known. My conclusion is that something is going very badly wrong with our collective approach to health.
The frustrating thing about most of the alternative treatments was that there was no immediate improvement to the eczema; I didn’t know how long to continue them for, or whether it was worth spending all that money at a time when I was often in debt.
Then, at the end of last year, I met a doctor called Vanessa Leon-Sulca, who is both trained in Western medicine, and an ancient tradition of Hindu medicine called Ayurveda.
She said she’d cured people’s eczema before and she was confident that she could cure mine.
I told her that, if she could, I would kiss her feet and sing her praises from the rooftops! I was both hopeful and sceptical.
After a two-hour consultation, she told me that my system was too hot and dry, and she gave me herbs and a diet to follow that would make me cooler and ‘wetter’. Herbs?! I thought, ‘What’s a herb going to do? I need something stronger than oregano!’
She told me that the worst things for me to have were alcohol, red meat, tomatoes and chilli, as they are foods that heat and dry out the body.
Initially, I didn’t stick to the diet at all because it was Christmas, so not a good time for any kind of restraint.
But, when I really committed to it in January and took the herbs every day, the eczema completely cleared up within a week.
I was overjoyed! I was telling everyone that Ayurveda was the answer. I couldn’t believe how soft my skin was. It felt amazing.
But then, towards the end of January, it suddenly got really really bad again and my bed was covered in blood and dead skin. I felt so frustrated and despairing.
I also did a session with her husband, who gave me an astrological reading of my birth chart.
I’d never been very interested in star signs or astrology before, but I thought I’d give it a go.
He told me a lot of interesting things, but one of the practical takeaways was that I needed to express anger, every day. He wasn’t the first person to suggest this to me.
Could eczema be caused by anger?
When I was young, I remember my mum saying that my skin looked ‘angry’. I thought it was a ridiculous thing to say — how can skin be angry?
A few years ago, my then girlfriend said she found it weird that I never seemed to be annoyed about anything.
I thought, ‘Well, you wouldn’t be so short-tempered if you meditated, like me!’
The truth was that things did annoy me, I just thought that if I said anything it would make the situation worse.
I was most aware of this when I went on meditation retreats. I experienced hours and hours of resenting people for very petty things that I had felt unable to talk to them about, because I didn’t want to upset them or make them angry.
One of the nutritionists I’d seen had a book, which told you which health problems can be caused by which emotions. It said that eczema was often caused by frustration.
I did a bit of shouting and screaming in the session, which felt good, but I didn’t make it a habit.
I also found that when I went boxing, a huge amount of frustration was released into the bag I was punching, and it felt amazing. But I only went a few times and then it was Christmas, and I was out of the habit.
So, when I had the flare up at the start of lockdown, I decided to really commit to the anger release.
Every night, I would tell my fiancé something that I was annoyed about from the day, which I found really hard!
But I think the most powerful thing I did was to go on bike rides in the countryside and let out a loud, vicious tirade about wanting to f***ing kill someone, rip off their arms and stick them up their backside — that sort of thing.
Once I got into it, it was amazing how close this emotion was to the surface.
I think what was significant about it was the freedom of expression that came from no one being able to hear me, and tapping into a feeling within me that I had never previously acknowledged.
Most people probably don’t want to connect to the murderous side of themselves!
It was never aimed at anyone or related to a particular event, except for once when I brought to mind the doctors and nurses who’d helped me to be born. It was a terrifying process for my parents because my head got stuck and it seemed like the medical staff didn’t know what they were doing. I felt a surge of rage towards them.
Afterwards, that turned into appreciation for them doing their best and devoting their working lives to helping people. But I needed to let the anger out first.
I did this several times a week, and within two or three weeks the eczema was 99% gone. I’ve had a few little flare ups since them, but nothing like what it was before.
I’ve gone from using moisturiser all over my body twice a day and needing a bath everyday to just using a little bit on my hands and face.
I’ve gone from daily blood and skin on the sheets to none at all, and I’ve been eating and drinking whatever I want.
It seems like my miracle cure was acknowledging and expressing a lifetime of anger and frustration.
One of the things I thought about a lot, when it was really bad, was how encouraging awareness and acceptance seemed to heal so many different issues with my clients, but somehow it didn’t seem to heal my eczema.
I now think that wasn’t really true, because I hadn’t truly accepted the eczema and had so many negative emotions connected to it. I also hadn’t realised how much anger there was inside me that I hadn’t acknowledged or accepted.
Throughout this process, I’ve been exploring anger with several of my clients and found that, so far, all of them have repressed anger that they haven’t fully acknowledged, and that it’s causing them problems.
I think it is a deeply rooted cultural problem in our British, conflict-averse culture. We prefer silent resentment to telling people that we are frustrated or finding a healthy outlet.
What I’ve learned
This journey has reinforced my belief that a lot of human suffering is caused by not accepting or expressing our emotions, and that I particularly need to keep expressing anger.
I’ve learned that Western medicine is sometimes amazing: it saves and improves many people’s lives. But there are also things it doesn’t have an answer for, which other approaches can shed light on.
I’ve seen that even lifelong problems can be resolved with patience, perseverance, trial and error, asking for help, and a willingness to take an honest look at what you might be doing to cause the problem yourself.
I’m incredibly grateful to Vanessa, Noel, all the other doctors and practitioners who did their best to help, and my friends and family for their support.
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