Aisling O’Leary: Living with Eczema

Aisling O’Leary from Avoca, Co. Wicklow talks about her experience of living with eczema.

My name is Aisling and I’ve been living with eczema for 23 years. My story is sad, painful and anxious, but most importantly it is hopeful, filled with happiness and perseverance. As a child my life was disturbed at times in the sense that I missed school, I found it hard to hold down friends because of this absence, I had to work hard to get what I got because I sometimes felt I was at a loss.

But, I realized from a very early age that I was going to grow up fast, I started pushing myself to the front of everything I was doing even though it was difficult, but I did it anyway.

Deciding that I’m not that different and I deserve the same things everyone else does, I was not inferior. Sometimes it was a struggle, but I persevered and it paid off.

I had happy relationships, did performing arts, went to school. But there were times (more than I would like to recall) when all I wanted to do was stay inside, so nobody could see me, try to be invisible and pretend as though I didn’t have eczema.

When I reached a certain age I had still had eczema and was under the impression it would always stay because I was entering my mid-teens and out of the ‘childhood’ stage, but I was determined to be eczema free. Even though it was difficult at times to remain hopeful, it was something I felt I couldn’t go without.

I couldn’t stretch open my arms and sometimes my legs, I had eczema on my face (every teenager’s nightmare), I would itch, scratch, bleed at night, getting baths was painful, the rain touching my skin would sting like hell and looking in the mirror was one of the most painful truths I had to face each day.

My creams would sting so I would hold my skin tight to make the throbbing end, a full nights sleep was a luxury, being bandaged up head to toe to calm my skin stung but was also a great relief when the calming started and I took my more antibiotics than an entire hospital. That was all just the tip of the iceberg, the thing is that was normal life to me.

I had an extremely supportive and caring family that made constant sacrifices to look after and support me despite the tantrums. But when I was 19 I went to see my consultant in Vincent’s doubled up, not able to move because my skin was in literal pieces. They gave me an iodine bath and it was time for more treatment to be investigated. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for everyone.

Getting light treatment in my late teens was one of the best things that happened to me. Now, during the treatment my skin was pretty painful on the days I did have it because of the intensity and the tiredness from being up at 5:30 traveling to Dublin and back for work by 9 and then speedily getting over to Vincent’s between classes in Dun Laoghaire. I couldn’t complain because before my eyes my skin was transforming, I was able to see my own real skin eventually, yes scarred with pigmentation issues but that was a dream in comparison to the alternative. By the end, I was ‘cured’ and it felt like a miracle.

Life now, is different and I have challenges with self esteem a lot of the time because of the psychological scars left behind but that is something that I learn to deal with on a daily basis, and something that I have gone on to research as part of my university work. It took me a long time to get used to not having to do all the routine drills each day and to realize that I didn’t have to be in pain every day but, that was something I was definitely willing to put up with!!

Now I can finally go to university and not have to take days off frequently, I can wear dresses, short sleeves, shorts and enjoy a good night’s sleep!! I feel free now and not trapped in my skin, even though by no means is it perfect. I am now happy!

Studying Psychology and Counselling, getting married next summer and getting on with my life. I have learned more about life because of my eczema, I’ve learned how to reach out, how to empathize and not to judge or treat people with visible conditions differently. It has made me grateful and taught me not to take anything for granted.

I hope that everyone that has eczema will know that there is hope with or without it, never give up looking for a cure, I did everything and worked hard even when I didn’t want to. Don’t lose hope or give up on yourself, always look inside and check your character and you will see how it has made you a better, kinder person that knows how to endure, try your best to endure hopefully, happily and live your life.

For more information about Atopic Dermatitis and Eczema, visit our Eczema Section to download our booklet, What you need to know about Eczema or contact the ISF Nurse Helpline.