eczema and autoimmunity: an integrated perspective
Eczema was always my warning signal - it still is. But I had to learn, over many years and a lot of work, to befriend these warnings rather than resent them.
Resentment, avoidance and pushing down of the signals my body was sending me only served to perpetuate the cycle of suffering.
Eczema is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks itself, much like an allergic reaction, or other autoimmune diseases.
What all of these conditions have in common is that they represent a departure from nature; the body attacking itself is a body that has been separated from its natural, whole state, and our bodies are giving us signals to pay attention to something that lies deeper - literally, for eczema sufferers, below the surface.
What's beneath the surface?
The answer will be unique and specific to every individual, and yet what I expect all of us with skin and autoimmune conditions have in common is that these symptoms are a manifestation of some trauma or other that has not been fully digested.
We will have all experienced some sort of trauma in our lives; whether the loss of someone, abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. These traumas come with emotional charges that need to be felt in order to be metabolised.
For eczema sufferers in particular this tends to be related to shame, guilt, unworthiness, and, perhaps unexpectedly, anger.
However, in our modern culture where emotional expression is often taboo and discouraged, it isn't uncommon for us to hide these feelings, push them down and allow them to sit and stew in our bodies, forcing them to grow into all sorts of unhealthy shapes.
Emotional charges are energy, and they can be alchemised in beautiful and useful ways, if we know how; but all too often, we are taught that it is safer not to feel or express them, which means this energy is not being used, and in its state of neglect, grows in unhealthy ways.
The way that this manifests will be different from every person, but for those with chronic physical conditions, these symptoms are often an expression of a deeper emotion that has been ignored for months, years, or even lifetimes (I talk a little about intergenerational and ancestral trauma here).
On top of that, a lot of eczema sufferers are empaths; we take on the feelings and burdens of others, often unconsciously. This might be of people we are close to such as family members and friends, but also of the 'collective'; if there is a global pandemic and widespread loneliness or frustration, for example.
Often, the load we take on is actually so great that we don't actually have the coping mechanisms to deal with it, and so we bury it deeper within, pretending it isn't there, numbing and dissociating from the enormity of pain asking to be felt.
This is when it can erupt as a skin condition, interminable, unbearable itching, physical discomfort and pain.
Eczema and other autoimmune conditions can take the body to a point of discomfort where any sort of movement is a challenge, getting out of bed an ordeal, showering an impossibility. The 'reaction' at that point, for most, is to numb further.
We haven't been taught any other way.
Seemingly, the only choice we have is to avoid the pain and desensitise to the discomfort. Wanting it to go away, wishing it all away. Ultimately this desensitises us further from the body and from life itself. It can be extremely disorientating, debilitating, and energy-sapping. We can and do lose the will to live when we are in this cycle for long enough.
And when we desensitise from the physical discomfort, these bodily warning signals, we are once again perpetuating the cycle of NOT paying attention to what our body is telling us.
I know it feels nonsensical and backwards, and I know just how impossible it feels to LEAN INTO the pain and discomfort when we are experiencing such extreme bodily angst.
But in my lived experience, I have discovered that this is where the true medicine lies. In being with the sensations, no matter how unbearable. There are many ways to do this - meditations, gentle movement practices, breathing and EFT techniques. Eventually, generally, from within the physical pain, an emotional pain arises.
This is the difficult part, but also the simplest; we can ALLOW that emotional pain to exist. We can be with it, allow and receive it, give it permission to move through us in whatever way it must - scream, cry, shake, hyperventilate [see my post on alchemising anger here].
And then, through that act of allowing, one layer of the suffering cycle is shed. We have to trust through this process, and be guided by this trust. We are only given what we can deal with.
This is a continuous practice. The work, especially for people who manifest physical ailments, is almost always associated with the need to feel on the emotional level.
We need to learn to feel to heal.
Once we feel the 'charge' of a trauma or pain that has been asking us to pay attention, and which has manifested as a physical symptom, the charge of that trauma will no longer need to express itself physically. It will unravel and weave itself into a greater mystery with ease - the essence of what you truly are, and always have been. It's just that you haven't been given the unconditional support and permission to rest into the original expression of yourself, your unfelt wounds warping your self and your body out of alignment.
The thing about layers is that there are always more layers underneath. Healing is never a one-time event; it is a process.
But as long as you are continuing to be honest with yourself, feeling the feelings that arise rather than avoiding or numbing, and doing the work to move these emotional charges through your body, then you can feel safe in the knowledge that you are no longer accumulating any more negative emotional charges.
It is possible to metabolise the emotional charges that have held you in certain self-destructive patterns.
You can be free from this cycle of suffering.
Are you willing to feel to heal?
I have been in extreme discomfort, have pushed away help and stewed in months and months of shame, self-disgust, pity and depression.
I have had eczema so severe over my face, neck, torso, and whole body, that I could not go outside for weeks at a time, and only then in full protective gear, with sunglasses and mask and scarf, to avoid being seen. The physical discomfort, the shame, the self-loathing, the anxiety-depression waves - these were all-consuming. I denied any help anyone offered because I believed they couldn't possibly understand the depth of pain and anguish I was experiencing - so what was the point? I knew I had to work this out for myself.
Things shifted when I started to accept help, even if they didn't 'understand' my condition in a specific experiential sense. But it gave me the support that I needed to start looking within, gave me the courage and the strength to start looking more honestly at my conditioning, my patterning, my trauma and emotional charges that were keeping me in this 'victim' mentality.
The truth is, the strength and courage are already within you.
Are you willing to be with your past, to dance with your shadows in honesty integrity?
Are you ready to celebrate the interconnectedness of your personal healing journey with that of humanity?
Once you have experienced 'feeling' in a safe space, you will then be able to practice this alone, when you are triggered or when other emotions arise in your healing journey.