An eczema sufferer who was so self-conscious about her appearance that she lived in her own “personal lockdown” for years says appearing in a campaign to raise awareness of the condition gave her the confidence to be herself.
Plagued by raw, itching and bleeding skin on her hands, arms, legs and back, which often keep her awake and “look awful,” making her want to hide away, market research manager Bethan Williams, 24, says pandemic restrictions were a relief, as she did not have to go out.
But appearing in a pharmaceutical company video aimed at empowering eczema sufferers to tackle their symptoms finally made her face the emotional impact they were having on her – boosting her confidence in the process.
Bethan, who lives in Richmond, south west London, with her partner-of-four-years, Dan Grefsheim, 23, who works in IT, said: “When I have a flare-up, I also have a total loss of confidence. I don’t feel like I’m attractive, I don’t feel like I’m beautiful.”
She continued: “I had shut the emotional side off. I didn’t acknowledge how it was making me feel about myself.
“But being a part of the #GOALS campaign since 2020, run by the pharmaceutical firm, Lilly, helped me to recognise it and improved my confidence.”
And while other people were stressed out by the Covid-19 lockdowns, for Bethan there were some advantages.
She said: “Like a lot of people with eczema, when I have a flare-up I don’t want to go out, and live in a kind of lockdown anyway.”
Bethan continued: “For me, the Covid lockdowns were a mixed bag.
“In one sense, it was horrible to be completely restricted, but in other ways, lockdown completely removed the worry for me about my skin and what it looked like.
“I didn’t have to think about how other people would perceive me or worry about clearing my skin if I had an event coming up.
“All that stress was taken away. It was a double-sided coin.”.
Bethan had mild eczema as a baby, but it did not come back again until the summer of 2017, when she was 20.
She said: “I remember the moment I noticed it. I was cleaning my room at home and the rash appeared on my hands
“I’m allergic to nuts and have asthma and hay fever, so I assumed I’d touched something my skin was reacting to or was using too harsh a chemical in my cleaning.
“I assumed it would go away but, unfortunately, it didn’t – it crept from my hands onto my wrists.
“Now, I’ve got patches on the nooks of my elbows and my knees and all along my back as well.”
She added: “It tends to come in red blotches and can be very itchy. It’s a stinging feeling as well. My skin opens up and that leads to burning, itching and even bleeding.
“I’d describe my eczema as extensive. It’s progressed quite significantly.”
Suffering with atopic eczema, which she thinks is particularly triggered by using harsh chemical cleaning products, she treats flare-ups with steroid creams and soothing moisturisers.
“I know that my skin has triggers including harsh cleaning chemicals, scented hand soaps, lotions and moisturisers,” she explained.
View this post on Instagram
She continued: “At the start, when I was 20, it was more just an irritant. I thought it would resolve itself over time.”
When it did not, in the autumn of 2017, she saw a doctor and was prescribed steroid creams and moisturising lotions to treat the dryness.
“They did help, but my eczema has got worse with time,” she said.
“When Dan and I moved in together in 2019, we used a lot of cleaning products to get the place ready and I think that had an impact.”
Bethan added: “Over the last two years, it has got a lot worse – which might also have been exacerbated by the stress of the pandemic.
“Recently, my entire back was red raw and so blotchy. I couldn’t sleep because it was so itchy.
“When I did get to sleep, I was drawing blood as I was scratching so hard.”
During her flare-ups, which happen for about a week of every month, she also uses natural remedies, from soothing lotions to warm oat and salt baths, when possible.
“The doctor scared me quite a lot when they prescribed steroids,” she said.
“They said the cream should be used very sparingly, as it could age my skin.”
When her skin looks angry, Bethan dreads social occasions.
She said: “I dread the summer, too, as it means less opportunity to cover up and hide my skin.”
She added: “I had to really talk myself into going outside in shorts when my skin was flaring.
“I even position myself in photos so my body is covered. I’ll put my hands behind my back to hide the eczema on my hands and arms.
“I’ve got two family weddings in Greece and Croatia next year, but weddings in hot countries require nice light summery dresses and that is a worry for me, in case my skin is on show.”
With research by Lilly finding that 26 per cent of sufferers surveyed have had occasions when they have not left the house because of their atopic eczema, Bethan is far from alone in feeling self-conscious.
Keen to be part of the #GOALS campaign, being run in conjunction with the National Eczema Society, she now hopes it will raise awareness of the emotional impact of the condition and help sufferers to feel less isolated.
She said: “I had shut the emotional side off.
“I didn’t acknowledge how it was making me feel about myself.
“The campaign helped me acknowledge that.
“I was used as a body double in the video and it showed me that other adults feel the same way as I do.
“Eczema has a really big effect on my self-esteem. When I’m flaring it really knocks my confidence.
“It also makes me over-analyse the way other people view me and makes me retire into myself and not want to go out or have photos taken of me.”
Encouraged by the #GOALS campaign, which also aims to help sufferers identify specific ways their quality of life can be improved, Bethan is now looking to the future.
She said: “I want to be able to manage my condition as well as possible.
“My goal is to live my life completely or with very long periods without flare ups.
“I also hope to get myself some training so I can deal with the mental impact of eczema, which I think can largely be overlooked.”
Andrew Proctor, chief executive of the National Eczema Society, reiterates Bethan’s words regarding the impact of the condition on sufferers’ mental health.
He said: “It is nothing short of heartbreaking that some people with eczema are experiencing a ‘living lockdown’ just as the rest of society is opening up.”
To view the #GOALS campaign, go to: https://www.setmygoals.co.uk/atopic-dermatitis-eczema
For more information, visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atopic-eczema/