My Journey with Eczema: From Pain to Purpose

Ashley Wall shares her story

This article is part of Health Divide: Skin Conditions and Darker Skin, a destination in our Health Divide series.

Ashley Wall

Photo courtesy of Ashley Wall / Designed by Julie Bang / Verywell

Meet the Author

Ashley Wall is an eczema consultant, advocate, and writer.

“Please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me,” I murmured to myself, hunched down in a hard tubular plastic seat. “Ashley, why don’t you go ahead and recap what last night's chapters were about. Better yet, what were your thoughts on the written assignment about the gruesome villain?”

I didn’t complete that—or many other—assignments. I was so distracted by a condition I’d been battling since I was 2 years old, my real-life villain: atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type of eczema. 

The Constant Battle

When my skin becomes unbearably itchy, I scratch to relieve the pain. As a result, I'm left with a fascinating mosaic of rashes covering my body. Essentially there’s an internal battle going on inside my body.

Restless nights, bloody pus-filled sheets, and thick skin flakes covering my floor were par for the course. I became a test dummy for treatment options. Every prescribed lotion, cream, and ointment I tested never reached its full potential. I participated in clinical trials, special diets, and everything else short of holy water. While some treatments initially worked, nothing lasted, and my eczema came back with a vengeance.

When my test treatments did not work, I would wear long-sleeved sweaters and pants (even in the humid summer months). At camp, I endured the pain of chlorine, which felt like an acid bath anytime I went swimming. I sometimes avoided specific social scenes altogether.

I learned how to master the art of avoidance when need be because the only thing worse than eczema itself was the scathing stares I received.

Finding Solace in Words

Luckily, I found an outlet to help me navigate my condition. I found strength in words. I immersed myself in books, song lyrics, films, advertisements, comedians, and cartoon animation. Anything that involved letters forming into words caught my attention.

However, I had noticed an odd commonality. Many of the antagonists featured in entertainment were plagued with visible skin issues. I became extremely self-conscious. I felt people feared me because of my flawed skin. This led me to an undiagnosed skin dysmorphic disorder.

I overcame my skin dysmorphic disorder and turned my pain into my purpose, as I set out to become a writer.

I started my blog Itchin Since ’87 in 2015. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of buzz around eczema even though millions of people around the world suffer from this condition. The first person that reached out to me was a man in Australia who told me about his difficult bout with eczema.

Becoming an Advocate

What happened next was something short of a blessing. Opportunities arose, and I’d gotten to understand what it truly means to become an advocate. I attended health events, I cried along with my fellow warriors after hearing their heartbreaking stories about hospital visits, suicide attempts, broken marriages, suffering children, and so much more. I’ve interviewed a BAFTA award winner about his eczema, as well as a renowned soccer player turned chef and restaurant owner. They shared the difficulties of eczema and how it never held them back.

After a while, I knew this was my calling. Now, I fully embrace my life’s mission as an eczema patient advocate.

Currently, I have discovered the disparities many people of color face in healthcare treatment options. I have been working as an eczema consultant and advisor to help close this gap, but I know there is still work to be done.

Even though I received a D in 11th grade English, I’d like to think that the D stood for D E T E R M I N E D because that’s exactly what I am. And while I couldn’t recall what that specific assignment was about, I know that my story will live on. Because in my world, eczema is the defeated villain, and I am the superhero.

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3 Sources
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  2. Nutten S. Atopic dermatitis: global epidemiology and risk factors. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;66(Suppl 1):8-16. doi:10.1159/000370220

  3. Gollust SE, Cunningham BA, Bokhour BG, et al. What causes racial health care disparities? A mixed-methods study reveals variability in how health care providers perceive causal attributions. INQUIRY. 2018;55:004695801876284. doi:10.1177/0046958018762840