By Liana Jacob
MEET THE woman who LOCKED HERSELF UP for a YEAR due to her severe eczema which would flare up constantly and was so painful she struggled to DRIVE or even hold her boyfriend’s HAND.
University student, Grace Ridgway (23) from Shropshire, UK, began suffering from a mild form of eczema as a toddler which her parents controlled with emollient therapy.
Her condition wasn’t too serious initially until she started high school; her eczema began to flare up on her upper lip and around her temples. Over the years, the condition became more severe and would spread to her hands. After having a patch test, she discovered that not only did she have atopic dermatitis, she also had contact dermatitis, meaning that she has allergies of certain substances that would flare up her eczema.
These include substances contained in perfumes and fragrance derived from citrus fruits. It got to the point where her skin became so raw that it affected her day-to-day life including driving, washing her hair and even drinking.
From May 2018, the limitations she had due to her condition caused her to shy away from the public and she would lock herself away for a year which affected her friendships.
She met her boyfriend, Jim, in 2017 and they began dating in February 2018 around the time her eczema was at its worst. Despite feeling insecure about her condition, Jim insisted he didn’t notice her eczema and loved her the way she is. Due to the severity of her skin condition, she would at times struggle to hold his hand.
With the help of treatments such as emollient therapy and a biologic drug which she began using regularly from April 2019, Grace’s skin has cleared up and she has felt more confident, enough to revive her social life.
“My parents managed the early onset of my eczema with emollient therapy following the advice from my GP. My mum recalls that it appeared behind my knees and on my inner elbows,” Grace said.
“Once you have eczema, you have it for life, and the condition can flare at any time. I was always aware of the fact that I had eczema growing up, even when symptoms were not present.
“I have always been conscious of fragranced products however did not keep up with my emollient therapy, typical teenager.
“During secondary school I suffered with the condition on my upper lip and around my temples, and experienced bouts on my hands during the winter months.
“It wasn’t until I began working part time at a local pub that the eczema on my hands became constant, and I was later given a patch test and discovered I had contact allergies.
“Despite consistent attempts to manage my hand eczema with topical steroids, my condition persisted and eventually began to spread across my body.
“Once I started secondary school and my eczema began to worsen on my hands and face, I became conscious of my condition and was careful about the products I used.
“My eczema hugely affected my personal life and confidence; I went from being a young woman that loved makeup and buying new clothes to a person that lived in a shell, never applied makeup, rarely washed her hair due to the pain of the water hitting her skin, and was limited to cotton clothing.
“I became a shadow of my former self and I am so happy that I am now beginning to find that person again.”
Grace says that her condition caused many problems within her daily routine, including her relationship, but since she has found a way to manage her condition, she has got her life back.
“I first met my boyfriend in 2017 however we did not get into a relationship until February 2018. During the dating phase and prior to this I was relatively confident in myself,” she said.
“In terms of intimacy, he is extremely understanding and often tells me that he doesn’t even see my eczema, which is lovely to hear.
“There have been times when I haven’t been able to hold his hand or give him a hug due to the pain I’ve been in with my skin.
“It also made it particularly difficult for him as he was very conscious of hurting me, but we have thankfully got through this difficult time together and are stronger than ever.
“Suffering with eczema has limited my life in so many different ways; I have to be conscious of what I am eating, drinking, wearing, and the conditions that I live and work in.
“There was a period of time that I couldn’t drive due to having little movement in my hands, and during this time had to be cared for mostly by my boyfriend and mum.
“The simplest of tasks proved difficult, from washing my hair to lifting a drink to my mouth. When your condition rules such simple aspects of your life, it’s difficult to even think of doing anything further such as exercising or socialising.
“For over twelve months I was reluctant to leave the house and unfortunately my friendships suffered as a consequence.
“A new social circle comes hand in hand with a new relationship. Due to my eczema and embarrassment of my skin keeping me indoors, I was unable to properly integrate into this new social circle and struggled with seeing friendships develop whilst I had to take a back seat.
“It is especially difficult when you are aware of the opinions of others. People, even those close to me, would make remarks about how I should ‘get myself out more’, and how it would ‘make me feel so much better’.
“My support system has been incredible but beyond this small support system, I have found others misunderstand eczema, particularly the severity to which it can reach, and a great deal of ignorance.
“Missing out on social events was translated by many as me being ignorant and abrasive, only adding to the upset and distress.
“Since I have gained control of my skin, I have also gained my life back. This may sound dramatic but it’s the truth.
“I lost myself whilst suffering with this chronic skin condition and I am so thankful that my current treatment approach has enabled me to re-establish my social life and begin to rebuild old friendships and discover new ones.
“It is all about creating your own environment that suits your skin in order to better manage the condition.
“Having clearer skin has given me my confidence back. I think that in suffering with my skin I came to accept myself more so than before.
“Before my eczema flare ups, I would wear makeup every day and would hate the makeup-free face staring back at me, but now I have come to accept myself and the skin I’m in.
“My relationships, both romantic and my friendships, have really improved since my skin has settled. It has meant I am able to leave the house, socialise and explore.
“I am so very passionate about raising awareness of eczema and other skin conditions. I could never have imagined that it would impact my life the way it has and wish that I had the support of the medical professionals I do now.
“The most important thing when you are suffering with a skin condition is to ensure that the professional help and guidance available is right for you.”