THE BLOG

Living With Eczema: A Story of Insecurities and Tough Lessons

11/07/2014 15:00 BST | Updated 09/09/2014 10:59 BST

I am walking through a busy clothes shop on Oxford Street, the place is packed but it's not the length of the queues that are at the forefront of my worries; it's the fear of standing out from the crowd. Maybe they will think I have just run from my flat in North West London to get to the sales, or maybe they will think I've been a tight on buying sun cream.

This is a fear and a constant battle me eight million other people in Britain face every single day, young and old, men and women with a skin condition.

There are pictures of me as a child covered in red scratch marks that resulted in spells in and out of hospital and being dressed in bandages like a mummy for weeks on end. At school I would have endless arguments with my teachers when they told me to take off my jumper on a hot day, out of fear of exposing my broken skin to my peers.

Although eczema may on appearance appear to be nothing more than physical damage, it has a real effect on people's mental health and overall well-being. A study conducted in Germany in the late 1990's found that there was a clear link between children who had suffered long-term skin conditions and the onset of mental health issues.

Growing up I fought endless battles to overcome the insecurities I had over my appearance. It wasn't just that I didn't want others to see me, I would go as far to avoid looking at myself in mirrors in shops. The only comfort I would take was the half hour I would spend after school scratching my skin so bad that it would break and bleed - the relief would be amazing. Though after any immediate relief, this would turn into guilt which subsequently turned into self-loathing.

During my student days the priority of making friends overruled making medical appointments and I told myself that I would not let my skin rule my life anymore.

Throughout my latter teenage years and early twenties I would take solace in knowing that any red face could easily be edited out via Instagram, or I could use creams to cover up any marks. This may sound rather quick fix solution, however when you were bombarded with comments such as: "Oh, have you burnt your face?" or "Your face is looking a little red, are you okay?" I decided that anything was better than being singled out for attention.

However this rather short-term fix came to a crashing end very recently when I made the move to London. Things became so bad that I was put on three courses of antibiotics, steroids and referred to a dermatologist within 24 hours of seeing my GP. I was informed that if my skin had been any worse I would have been admitted to hospital. Upon hearing this I was not only angry at myself for being so utterly irresponsible but I was upset at the little control I still lack over my skin.

I had just moved to the capital and started a brand new job; however my eczema had suddenly crushed any immediate feelings of real adult independence. When I returned on the Underground and looked at my inflamed skin I felt the eyes of everyone was all over me and that vanishing would be preferable at that moment in time.

For young people growing up with similar conditions half the battle is simply the desire to conform and take part in normal activities such as going swimming with friends or going sunbathing in the park.

A report in 2012 by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) highlighted that there is now a need for psychological help for those with acutely bad skin conditions.

Tony Bewley, a dermatologist and BAD spokesman, said: "Having a skin condition can really affect your confidence and self-esteem.

"Eighty-five per cent of our patients are worried about the impact it can have on their mental health.

This must act as a real call to action to health care professionals and feed into the wider public awareness skin conditions as well as mental health issues, of which are reported to cost the UK some £70 billion a year.

I'm pleased to say I have now started to take control of both my mental and physical well-being and I couldn't be happier about it. I would hope that other young people realise they are not alone in how they feel and that thankfully help is out there. Most importantly admitting you need help is no sign of weakness, it's a sign of real courage to own up to the reality that you simply cannot go on with the often daily battle a skin condition brings.

Scratches and marks on your body can heal and fade overtime, however finding real confidence and happiness isn't just about appearances, it is skin deep.