Friday, 21 February 2014


If beauty is only skin deep, I’m in real trouble. Because my face is misbehaving again.

Somewhere in the middle of the blissful hormones of my second pregnancy, I noticed a slight mark under my left eye. It developed over the course of a few weeks, starting to take on that well known dry and red appearance of eczema.

At first I didn’t worry. I make a very happy pregnant woman so anything less than a second head growing on my shoulders would have left me unconcerned for the time being (little did I know what was to follow). Not wanting to just self-diagnose, I went to the doctor but he confirmed what I already knew. Yes it was eczema, very mild and extremely tiny, and it would go within days upon application of a particular cream. Apparently.

Ah, the cream. Or rather, the creams, I should say. To start with, I was prescribed a long list of so called ‘barrier’ creams. Now, I’m not the one to speak against the marvels of oil and its multiple uses in our modern society (however much of a limited time span it has). Still, I don’t feel particularly happy about putting oil derivatives and things made almost exclusively from paraffin, on my face of all places. And my face felt the same way, clearly, because the little dry red mark grew bigger, redder, drier. And other things started to appear on it.

Then we moved on to steroids. Usual concerns about skin thinning etc (again, face being the one place where you’d really like to avoid that if you can). Not much agreement amongst the health professionals, however.

“You could use this every day for the rest of your life and you won’t get skin atrophy”, said one doctor to me.

“I am absolutely not allowed to sell it to you to put it on your face”, said one pharmacist.

Between the push and the hard place, my face was getting worse.

Then, I had the baby. Oh, the celebrations! The pictures of the happy family, the memento for the future. Still, something wasn’t right.

“Don’t you think”, I said to my mum one evening (she was staying with us at that time), “that in all the photos my face looks a lot thinner on one side than on the other?”

(Not in the photos we put on Facebook because they get seen by entire family in Serbia and hence are heavily censored first!)

My mum responded, with the careful and empathic tone of voice you reserve for telling someone that  yes, their hair really is thinning at the back (where they can’t even see): “It’s not that one side has become thinner, darling – it’s the other side that’s really swollen”. Oh great. So my little friend under my left eye was not only spreading and making itself more comfortable on my face, but I now had to put up with a swelling too.
But like I said, even that was only the beginning.

If we were going on any sort of holiday, had a meet up with friends etc, I would apply steroid cream furiously for a week or two before, just in order to look normal. It worked, very short term. As soon as I stopped, the eczema was getting worse. It spread, eventually covering my entire left cheek, then my right, both eye lids and around the eyes, down my neck and even onto my collar bones. The skin went from looking red and dry to being painfully raw, peeling, swollen, often bleeding from tiny openings in the crusty, swollen, flaking surface (with a little help from my scratching, but anyone who’s ever had eczema will testify that there is no itch like it in this world).

On a bad day, I looked like Freddy Kruger. On a less bad day (there were no good days for a long while) I looked like a victim of some dubious cosmetic procedure that went wrong.

In the morning, I was waking up with a face that was scary to look at, even for me. I started to worry how this might be affecting my family, did my children find it repulsive, my husband? Well, you never really need to worry about your children. They don’t judge you, they just love you, and when I was only exposed to their eyes I completely felt my normal self. As for my husband, well we’ve been together through two births so in some ways he’s seen worse!

My face was sore, on fire, hurting, itching, weeping. I was waiting to see a specialist and in the meantime nothing was helping – natural creams, unnatural creams, homeopathy, changing my diet, meditation – nope.
I’ve never considered myself to be particularly vain but even I didn’t feel completely indifferent to people doing a double take when they passed me on the street. Or even worse (and a little bit funny), I would forget about it for a moment, and while I’m speaking to some person somewhere (say, customer services in a shop), a realisation would slowly dawn on me that they’re really staring at me. And I’d think to myself, wow, they’re staring at me like I’ve got scrambled egg on my face, do I? And then I’d remember, it was that other thing I had all over my face. And then it would be funny and also a little bit not funny too.

One day, I bumped into a couple of women I knew from a local baby group, whom I hadn’t seen for a year. It was a warm and sunny day, I had my children with me, I wasn’t thinking about my face, I was feeling good about life.

“So, how are you?” they asked. “Great,” I beamed, “the kids are fab, I’m really enjoying tings at the moment”. They were looking at me with barely concealed incredulousness. “Yes, but…how are you?” they asked again, a minute later, clearly waiting for some sort of explanation about what might be happening to my exterior. But it was only later I realised that.

So, it was frustrating, and then it became completely liberating, in the end. Yes, this was my face. It had something big on it, and if you still liked it – well, then, you must have really liked the real me. And if you hated it – I could sort of understand that, because I hated it too but I had no choice. But I stopped worrying. In fact, for the first time in my life as a female (a female in this modern society which still primarily judges women on how they look), I actually didn’t have to worry about my looks in the slightest. I had gone so far the other way that, ironically, for the first time I had to just accept myself, not just with all the (comparatively) tiny flaws I’d used to focus on in the past, but with this huge thing that wouldn’t go away, but I realised that underneath I was exactly the same before, so that was fine.

The experience also made me realise how challenging life must be for any person who looks different on a permanent basis, because of a disfigurement, disability or anything else that visibly sets them apart from the norm. While people are not necessarily unkind, no one can help but stare at something they consider unusual and some people have to live with this their entire life. In the scheme of things, what was happening to me was negligible, nothing compared to what some people went through every day. It made me feel humble, and it made me feel very grateful for all those years when I didn’t have any skin problems, when my face was peachy and youthful and completely taken for granted by me.

Eventually I got to see a specialist, who prescribed a new cream, which eventually worked. Bit by bit, my skin got better and life went back to normal.

But as it tends to go with these things, this only worked for a while, and now it’s coming back. I know I now have treatment options open to me and hopefully it won’t get as bad as last time, but at the same time I’m starting to accept that this problem will probably be recurring for life and that I may have to, actually, make friends with my little friend.

In the meantime, I have now at least bought a camera with a pretty good airbrush function!  

1 comment:

  1. You are always beautiful to me. xo. Jelena M