So yesterday I was sitting there in this swish doctors office with the lovely view – surely too lovely to be an appropriate venue for me to be stabbed with a needle twenty times in a row…sat there wondering, not for the first time in my life, how hard is it to stop scratching?
I get itchy. Of course everyone gets itchy, but I have atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as ezcema, so I really, truly get itchy. For the last 12 or so years that I’ve had it my skin has been in a constant state of disrepair. Varying in severity and in different areas of my body. But always there. I haven’t had normal, clear skin since I was 12.
I vividly recall the times – more than one – when I was a teenager, lying naked on the floor, crying hysterically, because my skin was so itchy and it hurt so bad and I just wanted it to stop. I remember the numerous times I have refused to leave the house, to go to school, sport, or out with my friends, because my eyes were swollen and I couldn’t bear for anyone to see my face when it was that hideous. I know the fear and embarrassment I feel when the possibility of intimacy arises, because seeing me naked involves seeing all the horrific sores and scars on my body. It’s something relatively minor, being itchy, something that sounds like a nuisance more than anything else. But when I think about it, it has affected my quality of life pretty significantly.
And I can’t stop it. I do all the right things, and I’ve tried everything, trust me. I just can’t get it under control. It’s just there, always there. The itch never goes away. It’s become second nature to me, as continuous and unconscious as breathing. I can be listening to someone telling me to stop scratching, and nod my head in agreement while my hand reaches out to my face and claws away, and they’re incredulous while I’m oblivious. I’m sure people think that I’m fucking with them when that happens. I’m not. I truly, legitimately can’t help it. I’m not even aware.
I think it’s cute when people tell me to stop scratching. Or slap my hand away or hold my wrists when I do it. Like that’ll do the trick. Try finding an alcoholic and tell them, very firmly, to stop drinking. Playfully slap them when they reach for a bottle. That will definitely solve the underlying problems there. Not that I have an addiction exactly, but I definitely have a physiological affliction that I can’t just wish away.
When I left the doctor’s office at 1:30pm I started trying to count the number of times I felt itchy during the day. Any time I felt the urge to scratch or claw or rub my eyes I noted it, whether I acted on it or not (and I usually did). When I went to bed just after 1am – roughly a 12 hr window – I had counted up to 70. And those were just the times I was conscious of, because like I said I so often scratch without even realising. AND this was a relatively light day for itching. I’m sure on any given day I’d feel itchy over 100 times, at the very least. And I’m not talking minor levels of itchiness, the kind you can power through. It’s that intense, skin crawling, nerve tingling itch, the kind that won’t just go away if you ignore it. That’s what I deal with every day, a hundred times over. It’s no wonder I scratch myself to buggery.
I’m not sure there’s a moral to this story, or even a point. Sitting there at the doctors being used as a pincushion I felt like letting off some steam. I don’t often like to whinge about this because I mean in the grand scheme of my charmed life, itchy skin…I can deal with it. Suck it up. I just find it kind of amazing, in a sad way for me, that even after all this time and the modern medicine of 2015, we still can’t just get a person to stop scratching themselves. The marvels of the human body. Stupid, stupid human body.