I’ve suffered from eczema ever since middle school and it sucks. It has varying degrees of annoying and embarrassing symptoms. In my case, it would appear as either red splotches on my cheeks or arms (one of my martial arts instructors once asked me if it was Poison Ivy). Or it results in dry, cracked skin that made my hands look like something out of a Hammer Horror film. Not to beat a dead horse, but I had one terrible skin reaction to a pair of gloves I bought (Made in China, banned in California). So shaking hands with people at a wedding was a distressing situation for me. And the DJ hadn’t even started the music yet.
After many years of expensive and skin-barrier eroding steroid creams, I hit the wall. I had been through a metaphorical rainbow of prescription and non-prescription creams. But the best any of them could do was lessen the severity of my symptoms instead of completely eradicating them.
My then-girlfriend (now wife!) wasn’t put off by my eczema, but like any decent person wanted to help me. She stumbled upon a book and, after reading it, told me to consider my ailment from an Eastern perspective. She mentioned that is may help me find the root cause of my eczema, instead of solely treating the symptoms. I did think it was odd that no one else in my family suffered from eczema and, frustrated at my lack of progress, I went to an Eastern medicine clinic that featured acupuncture.
An Eastern Perspective
I learned more about my body’s energy flow, called Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine. At first, it was similar to a physical with my regular doctor, but the diagnosis was unique. I had been told that my problem stemmed from an excess of heat/Yang energy, and that heat was drying out my skin. I hadn’t drunk the kool-aid at that point. They went on to explain that since heat rises, the symptoms would appear in the upper body. This was precisely what I was dealing with, and I found it interesting. Additionally, my time spent in Martial Arts (which is typically Yang heavy) and Hot Yoga was not helping my skin. The doctor assured me that I wouldn’t have to give up these things, but that I needed to balance my Qi with some Yin-based activities.
I laid flat on the table and got stuck with the needles at specific energy points. For those of you afraid of needles, let me assure you that I barely felt them and after lying on the table for 5 minutes, I was quite comfortable. After my first session, the doctor gave me a prescription for herbs that I would boil in water, soak strips of cotton cloth in the juice that was left over, and wrap those cloths around my hands. This was the first in many treatments toward my recovery.
A Long Road
Now, one thing I will gripe about is that locating and implementing the medicine for my treatment was something of a pain in the ass (this coming from a guy who was stuck with a bunch of needles). After a careful Google search, I managed to find a shop that specialized in Eastern Medicine and provided me with the herbs I was looking for. After following the directions and wrapping my hands in the herb-soaked cloths, my only options before I could take them off were sitting in front of the TV. But sitting there and waiting for the time to pass made me realize I was out of other options. I knew this was going to be hard work, but after years of seeing no change in my condition, I was more than willing to continue. And continue I did.
Over the course of several months, the skin on my face and hands were clear and smooth enough that I didn’t recognize them. I was even able to give up the herbs, as they were more of a jump-start to alleviate my symptoms than a cure. But I did take the doctor’s diagnosis seriously. My excess Yang energy had been running amok for years and now it was time to cool things down. I took up Vinyasa yoga and started doing Qi Gong exercises that were focused on building Yin, or cooling, energy to balance out the heat I was carrying. Then, the final treatment had finally come. The doctor said that as long as I maintained a balance of Yin/Yang energy, I would be fine and wouldn’t have to come back.
Two Years Later
Two years later, we had to cut back on Yoga classes (those studios don’t get remodeling from repeating Namaste over and over), but we have turned Qi Gong into a daily practice that we do before bedtime. It doesn’t take us more than 5 minutes, but that routine has done wonders for my skin. And the last time I held a bottle of eczema cream was when I threw it out because I never used it since my treatment started. I had finally gotten the results I wanted.
If you’ve been suffering from something for a long time, do yourself the favor of investigating alternative routes of treatment. You only have one life to live and one body to live it in. Do your research and take your time. My recovery was unusual and at times inconvenient to follow through on, but this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Medicine is not isolated to a Western approach of pills and bills. There is another avenue to wellness that must be considered if you’re serious about improving your health. Work and effort will be required of you, but it’s worth it.
And I’m no longer ashamed to shake people’s hands.