By Rebecca Drew
THIS WOMAN was offered CHEMOTHERAPY to treat her severe eczema but declined after realising how much of her life she had already wasted worrying about it – and has instead decided to ditch all medication in an attempt to heal naturally.
University graduate, Sarra Chebil (27) from Gothenburg, Sweden, experienced eczema as a child but it healed and she was eczema free throughout most of her teens. It wasn’t until Sarra turned 17 that her eczema reappeared worse than ever before, which left her feeling devastated and ugly. This caused Sarra to withdraw from social activities in fear of judgement.
For years Sarra was prescribed topical steroids which she used sporadically to manage her skin condition. However, whenever a course of treatment ended, Sarra would notice that eventually her eczema would flare up and be more severe than before and each time she went back to the doctors they prescribed stronger creams and ointments and she ended up using cortisone and Protopic daily to stave off her eczema.
Sarra was never told by her doctor that she shouldn’t be using the creams long-term, instead saying that she should use them now and again to keep the eczema away. After a few years of treating her skin with this medication, Sarra noticed that the creams had lost their effect and she was fed up of relying on them for clear skin. She started to research ways to heal her eczema naturally after she was offered chemotherapy drug methotrexate to treat her skin and she came across Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW), when the skin reacts adversely after long-term use of topical steroid creams is stopped.
Discovering this, Sarra felt like she finally understood why her skin had never stayed clear and decided to stop using the ointments on January 1, 2018. Sarra’s skin became inflamed and the most painful it had ever been but now she is finally starting to see improvement.
She says that the healing process has made her a more grounded person and she has learnt to not worry about what she looks like or what other people think of her.
“When I was a kid, eczema didn’t affect me as much as when it came back when I was older. When I was younger, it was mostly eczema on my hands or in the arm folds, so it didn’t affect me the same way,” said Sarra.
“When it came back, I remember being very embarrassed, especially when I got a rash on my face. The rash was mostly around the mouth and I thought it was ugly. I was afraid that people would laugh at me, and I then began to think that I was ugly and abnormal, unlike other girls around.
“Later, the eczema spread to the neck and chest, so I got rashes on larger surfaces which made it harder to hide. This made me withdraw a lot from social events, and I guess I felt safer at home.
“I spent more time thinking about the eczema than actually living. The older I got, the more fixated I was about how I looked. I basically lived depending how the eczema was. If there wasn’t much eczema then of course I did more things but as soon as I started to get more and more rashes, then I pulled back more and felt bad mentally.
“It feels like I have missed so much of my life because I have always had so much focus on my skin. As soon as I was among people, I was stressed that people would look and say bad things about the eczema. I was afraid that people would not think I was beautiful because I had eczema.
“In that period of life, I wanted to get a lot of confirmation, and I thought that people would only like me if I looked good. When you don’t know how the eczema will be the next day when you go to bed, you become a little crazy.
“I have always been a person with very few friends but close friends. And I have always been so scared of what others think of me and I compared myself to everyone else. I have always thought that sooner or later I will be bullied because my hands look like the hands of an older woman. But in fact, I’ve been bullying myself for the last couple of years.
“I have tested many different strengths of cortisone creams, but also tested oral steroids. They worked in the beginning but as soon as I quit, the eczema always came back. I have tried light treatment a few times, which worked well sometimes, but as soon as I finished it, the rashes would slowly return.
“The last treatment that doctors wanted me to start was chemotherapy, but since I have now chosen to heal the eczema naturally, that is not something I want to try.”
After trying so many treatments with limited success, Sarra decided that her last resort was to completely stop all medical treatment, something that was scary for her at first but Sarra always had faith that through ditching medication, she would be able to heal her eczema.
Sarra has shared her TSW journey on Instagram.
“I wanted to heal my eczema naturally so I started searching online to find other people who might have gone through the same thing. I discovered something called topical steroid addiction and topical steroid withdrawal, and it was like several pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I realised that I had become addicted to the ointments I’d been using,” said Sarra.
“I felt some kind of relief but at the same time I was scared. I had no idea what was ahead of me, what did it mean to be addicted to steroids? How would the body and the skin react to a withdrawal from it? But I felt like, this is it. This will be the thing that will heal my skin.
“The most difficult thing has been the pain you feel every day. In the beginning, it was mostly physical pain that also became mental pain in the end. It has been difficult because I have no idea what will happen, how the skin will be or how long it will take before healing.
“You lose yourself in the whole process and it is difficult to identify who you are. One of the biggest difficulties is that it feels like life had been put on pause.
“I’m not healed yet, but I’ve come a long way compared to how it was just six months ago. It’s a bit like a roller coaster. Sometimes my skin has been incredibly good and then it has felt as if I have regained my life.
“After a while, the skin gets worse again, but it never gets as bad as it has been before. It is never fun to walk a few steps back so obviously you feel much worse again, but at the same time you feel another kind of strength when you know that you have come so far.
“Although my skin is not perfect yet, I can find joy in other small things around me, which I certainly could not do six months ago, so that is positive.”
As well as ditching her prescribed steroids, Sarra only uses natural oils on her skin and doesn’t use any moisturiser in the hopes that her skin will be able to moisturise itself.
Sarra shared her words of advice to others and spoke about how her recovery has had a positive impact on her.
“Have patience! Never give up, no matter how difficult it is. Think about why you started. Try to find the best way for yourself,” she said.
“What works for me may not work for someone else, each process is individual. Above all, you should not be so hard on yourself, but love yourself and give yourself the time to heal.
“I absolutely do not think I am the same person today as I would be if I did not go through this healing journey. It has made me reflect so much about what is really important in life. It has made me become more grounded and I am no longer looking for all the confirmation that I was when I was much younger.
“I’m no longer trying to look like everyone else, and I’m no longer trying to chase an unrealistic picture of what beauty and perfection is, because what is perfection really? In my eyes, we are all perfect just the way we are.”