Day 61 – Giving up Facebook / Lactose / Hiatus

For the next four weeks I’ve made the decision to put this blog on hold – I’m doing what-sounds-like an extremely intensive course, and I’m wiping out all my other commitments for it.

A couple of reflections on the last 61 days. I’m still, overall, delighted that I’ve managed to limit myself to only using my weakest steroid (Hydrocortisone Ointment 1%) during this time, and the eczema’s never got *that* bad. I think I can safely say now that I’ll never again think about going back to Protopic, and will have Elocon as my last resort.

How have I managed to stick to the Hydrocortisone? A combination of things, I think – when I have managed to follow my eczema diet I’m not sure it’s prevented me from scratching, but I have noticed that in general if I’m taking better care of myself then the skin heals faster, and that is reason enough for progressing with it. Whether I…believe in the diet enough to keep going with such destructive decisions as giving up wholewheat bread, I don’t know…

As part of my deal with myself RE pausing the eczema blog, I’m going to give up Facebook for the next weeks also. Although I’m not 100% cynical about it (I have watched and listened to a great number of wonderful things that I wouldn’t have seen were it not for Facebook), it EATS time, and when stress is a huge trigger for me I need to be using my time as efficiently as possible.

A quick word on lactose – I spoke to my father’s cousin the other day about my eczema etc. He relayed his relationship with lactose intolerance. He was having ongoing stomach problems and noticed that when he was in South America (where there is very little milk consumption) the problems went away. After some experimentation, he cut out the milk and was cured for good! Lucky for him. Especially in the first half of my 60-day period I’ve come close to completely giving up cow’s milk and cheese, but note that I’ve been eating sheep’s yoghurt every day…and it also has lactose! So… I think after the next month when I jump back into this diet manipulation stuff I’m going to have a go at cutting out all lactose from my diet and see what happens…

Well, ta ta for now, wish me luck (and no scratching) during my course!

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Day 60 – Hard Floors

Roll into bed 2:30am last night after a (very pleasant) night on the beers hanging out with my brother and sister after what feels like an eternity.

So alcohol level high, I ate late, fast, and with cheese, my skin had rather dried out over the day, and I was sleeping in a new place – all normally triggers.

No scratching at night. A scratch free night. It was almost impossible in the last few nights at home…but here…scratch free…why?? What is going ON?

Possible reasons:

1) Hard floors – my brother’s new apartment has hard floors and is rather un-dusty. The sofa I was sleeping on was plastic leather…which is rather un-dusty…and my duvet was a nice material…I think cotton, maybe.

2) (Boring) My use of steroids yesterday morning. Although, and I’ll keep saying it, I am only using the weakest form of steroid I’ve been prescribed (Hydrocortisone Ointment 1%), and this is against the advice of my dermatologist who said that they only recommend that one for the face. My idea that, as I’m using far weaker steroids far less often now, their effectiveness has increased substantially is again strengthened.

3) I did consciously make sure I relaxed properly before trying to sleep – I’ve noticed that many of the times I’ve scratched in the night I haven’t switched off properly before sleeping. Yesterday evening I took a good few minutes to digest all my thoughts and file them away for the morning. Maybe it worked…

4) (Unlikely) My lovely Epic Salad from Day 58 (described on Day 59) turned out to be a good idea after all…

Day 59 – Salad?

Horrendous scratching on my hands and arms last night… Then woke up depressed and stressed…had a shower and scratched in it…always a very bad sign. If I focus, I am *always* capable of not scratching in the shower, and then once I’m out and dry and have applied shea butter I have at least 3 hours or so of relief however bad the eczema was to begin with…but today, eye off the ball…and scratching commenced…

It’s to do with what my mind is focusing on…if my skin is bad, then when I go into the shower I must be thinking about not scratching. If I do everything is fine…but that makes it more exasperating somehow, to know that my (pretty severe) shower scratching this morning was completely avoidable.

Causes for outbreak last night… I succumbed to some chocolate yesterday late afternoon, stress is high at the moment, and I ate late…oh, and I had cheddar cheese at lunchtime. All of these are triggers, I’m reasonably sure. More discipline required!

What I hope *wasn’t* a trigger, was the huge salad I had at about 21:30 yesterday… It had mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, tomato, lemon, spinach, raw onion… I have no reason to believe any of those things are triggers…but there we are. It might be the fact that it was eaten too late, as I say, or it could be that the onions were raw (good for you, I think, but difficult to digest), or it could have been the size of the bloody thing (it was a massive salad). Answers on a postcard.

Day 58 – Tread Water

I think I’m coming back to, or arriving at, a “treading water” phase – where I’m hopefully holding all of the things I’ve given up at bay, and also using steroids but infrequently…and at low strengths.

Today I was in a foul mood and did have some scratch outbursts…mid afternoon was the one. Last night was kind-of horrible. But no steroids today, so that’s three days clear. I’m going on another trip tomorrow for a couple of days and imagine that it will be another challenging time for my eczema – so I’m going to have a dose of Hydrocortisone 1% beforehand tomorrow morning to try to clear up or calm down my current patches (they are, from most to least severe, lower back, hands, back of my knees, neck, elbows).

I still have no idea what’s really going on in terms of steroid withdrawal… I don’t want to go cold turkey on steroids, for fear of ending up with infected eczema, and because I don’t think I’m comfortable controlling it yet…but there is also a part of me that is concerned there’s something to the militant anti-steroid brigade’s accusations that steroid ointments get trapped in the fat in your skin, and will keep *causing* problems until you completely stop them.

Before I go completely cold turkey with the steroids though, I need to get in control of my stress levels…and looking at the time ahead I can’t see when this is going to happen any time soon, which is a reasonably bleak outlook, but the way things are…

Oh yeah, I should confess I succumbed to some banned substances today – I had two Twix bars, and had some wholemeal bread with the (delicious) dal I made for lunch. Either, or both, of these could have contributed to my afternoon scratch attack – which I seem to have recovered from reasonably well…ish.

Good night! Wish me scratchless dreams.

Day 57 – Shower Scratching

Woke up on the morning of Day 57 morning but delayed my shower – this is almost always a bad idea for my eczema. A few hours after getting up, and after some scratching, I got in and thought that would be the end of the itching – with my current focus showering has been a relatively low danger zone for scratching where it used to be a high danger zone… But it [showering] is a sneaky predator…it makes you think everything’s alright and then just when you think you’re clear it pounces.

I can remember the exact thought process with this one – and I’m convinced it was the stress of this that triggered the scratching. I was thinking about a weekend trip I’m organising for me and my girlfriend, which has been quite a task to organise <just pausing to stop myself scratching thing about it as I type>. I was thinking of the remaining bookings (dinner reservations blah blah) that I want to make and then suddenly realised that I had meant to ask the Bed and Breakfast we’re staying at if they have directions for a nice walk into a neighbouring town, and that I would now have to disturb them again with another email to ask.

How fucking first-world-problems pathetic is that? Getting so stressed out for writing an email to a fucking Bed and Breakfast and “disturbing them for a second time” that I take my nails and take it out on my skin? Fuck that.

Well…the rest of the day wasn’t too bad, thank god…not too much trouble. That’s two days without steroids. Hmm. Wonder how many I can do this time…

Day 56 – Tasks

No booze, no caffeine and no sugar on Day 56, so that’s good.

However, in terms of triggers I think stress is probably an even more significant one than any of the above. Stress is almost unavoidable at the moment. I feel like I have an astonishingly large amount of equally-important tasks to do, each large and menacing, and I’m struggling to keep a handle on everything. This is no good for stress, and meant on the night of Day 56 I had a scratching outbreak. I managed to contain it though – I think I’m getting better at this “containment” – and restricted it to my hands and elbows. It wasn’t one of the outbreaks that spreads over my whole body.

I’m at a bit of a loss for how to sort my tasks – and my to-do list is a vital part of how I function as I’m self-employed. Various ideas are good, but I haven’t been able to discipline myself to action them: 1) get exercise every day, 2) don’t begin a task without estimating roughly how long it will take, 3) don’t get disheartened if a task takes longer than I expect, 4) prioritise the tasks into different lists, so that “pump bike tyres” isn’t in the same list as “respond to amazing job offer”…

Hang on – I did succumb to a trigger on Day 56…it was as a reward for working hard all day. I had spelt spaghetti (good) with green vegetables (good), but the plate was huge and I had a *lot* of cheddar cheese (a potential trigger, and something I’m supposed to have given up)…AND I ate it very late, for me, at about 21:30, and this eating-late is something I’ve identified as a potential trigger.

Day 55 – Time

To relieve the sleep deprivation and mild hangover of yesterday’s disastrous video game marathon, I had a coffee this morning. This neatly takes me right back to Day 1 of my eczema diet, and in a way I’m ready to start again.

There are interesting time/convenience implications of using my various creams and oils. On the morning of Day 55 I found myself with 30mins to have a shower and apply whatever treatment I was going to before I had to teach. My skin was in a pretty disastrous state, and I religiously would apply *something* moisturising after a shower. Shea butter is the ticket, but it takes forever because of the consistency of it…so thick! Hydrocortisone was inevitably going to have to happen on Day 55, but I’ve been advised by a dermatologist not to apply it straight after a shower. Dermol cream is another option, but it doesn’t really give any lasting relief. (I don’t like Dermol anyway, I’m tending to use it just to prevent infection *right* after a scratch attack).

So the only thing left in my arsenal that I’m using at the moment is coconut oil. This is supposed to be nourishing for the skin, which is what it needed, but it doesn’t provide as much instant relief as shea butter. I’ve also noticed that coconut oil is much less useful at stopping scratching in the middle of an attack, which is interesting. Anyway, it works perfectly in this scenario – after a shower I find it is “drunk up” by the skin much more easily, and in this case I didn’t feel like scratching (even after an almost unprecedented amount of coffee – I had three…I didn’t tell the whole truth earlier).

The rest of the day was spent recovering. I applied hydrocortisone everywhere – but, as always, just the 1% stuff, the absolute lowest strength steroid they prescribe… At the moment, even with my complete failure to abide by the eczema diet of late, I’m still getting away with only using hydrocortisone once every 3 days or so – not too bad at all, I’m delighted I haven’t used anything stronger for almost 2 months now. Something is working. Now, just need to get back on track with that diet…

Day 54 – Video Games

How’s this for an eczema-trigger fest? Wake up early in a dusty friend’s house, and begin a video game race that will last all day. Whilst racing, there won’t be any time to prepare proper food, so a diet of crisps, dips, and ordered pizza will have to suffice. Like men going fishing, the beers will commence about 11am and continue all day. The race will be frequently and unpredictably stressful, and there won’t be any chance to release any physical energy because it’s going to be pretty a sedentary day.

Well – it started well, despite sleeping in the dusty room a shower prevented any morning scratching, and actually once in the depths of one of these game races the body enters, perhaps, a peaceful meditative state which was perhaps helpful.

The race went on til 2:30am (I lost), so that’s a huge amount of time to be sent sat down looking at a screen. I then knew I had to get up early the next day to remove all the electronic equipment from my friends’ house and then make it home in time for a morning lesson… A recipe for pre-sleep stress which, predictably, was a disaster.

My hands and lower back were hit hardest. No steroids, just Dermol cream to prevent infection… I’m not sure if it’s worked though…the damage is bad and the skin has weeping sores…

What could I have done differently? These “game races” are things that I do treasure and associate particularly with this (very close) friend. I could have been more disciplined and not had any alcohol, to avoid the multi-trigger element. I could have also made sure I didn’t have a lesson the morning after, which would have reduced my general levels of stress. Difficult, difficult… I’m finding it very hard to make any compromises with my lifestyle at all at the moment…

The only silver lining at the moment is that next Tuesday I’m going up to visit my brother – I imagine his house will be dusty too, so I’ll have another opportunity to show some discipline in avoiding other triggers (stress, alcohol). Here’s hoping…

Day 53 – The Hangover

Epically hungover from Day 52, and with morale at a low with regards to my failure to adhere to my eczema diet on even the most basic level, it was a minor miracle today wasn’t worse.

Day 52’s G&Ts produced an unusal hangover that flicked between mild nausea, tiredness, and over-emotionalness. But I’ve always found there to be something reasonably cathartic about a hangover, and using that peacefulness I prevented scratch outbursts all day today. Of course this isn’t such great news, because a big part of me wants my eczema to just be caused by alcohol, so I can then control it very simply by resorting to abstinence when I want my skin to heal. I guess life’s just not like that!

Of course I’m sure there’s no link between the quinine in G&T and the hangover unusually being scratch-free. And I can’t imagine there’s a nutritionist in the world who’d see potential benefits for the skin of necking three double G&Ts and two beers.

Another couple of notes from Day 53. As part of a planned “day off” on Day 54 (details to follow) I had to lug an amount of heavy equipment including a monitor quite a way late in the evening on Day 53. Considering that I was expecting the post-alcohol scratching to kick in I was delighted with my scratch-free performance in the evening. After lugging the stuff around everywhere I did want to scratch on arrival – particularly my shoulders where my rucksack had been held – but I’m the master of this type of situation now. This type of desire to scratch (caused by mild friction plus mild physical exertion) is always temporary. The recipe is to stick it out, and then apply moisturiser as normal afterwards. This one was shea butter, and it worked! No scratching 😀

Finally – very recently I’ve (amongst other things) stopped avoiding nuts (my RAST/blood test showed I was producing some sort of immune response to them). My eczema has been bad, but then the stress levels and alcohol consumption have gone up recently so I still can’t really incriminate nuts based on actual evidence. I did enjoy my pasta pesto salad (containing cashew nuts) for lunch today though!

Day 52 – Quinine

So, in keeping with my disastrous diet record over the past days, yesterday evening I met up with an old friend and decided to sod the eczema and get incredibly drunk. Two pints, and three double-gin-and-tonics. I felt rough this morning, but no scratching. WHY? Possible explanations this time:

1) The quinine in tonic water has some miracle affect on eczema

2) The Hydrocortisone 1% I used on the morning of Day 52 had a super effect lasting right the way through to the next day.

3) I relaxed! Good-spirited drinks, no alarms and no surprises, as they say…

Well, whatever is going on I need and want to get the hell back onto my diet and back into good health and good skin. The skin’s OK at the moment. There was a disastrous outbreak of scratching the night before Day 52 – I couldn’t sleep from scratching so much, and hit a bit of a low point psychologically. But a shower in the morning followed by immediate application of Hydrocortisone and then shea butter about 20mins later seemed to do the trick, this time.