If you're off to university or college for the first time this autumn, you might have be feeling all-sorts of mixed emotions! Excitement, trepidation, panic or joy: all those reactions to leaving home and starting a new life are understandable! But if you're living with a chronic skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, there's even more to worry about.
In this guest blog, Emilie Dunn writes about her experience of coping at college with eczema, and shares some suggestions for those who might be just about to start college themselves!
Living with eczema from birth has been a real rollercoaster! Some of my earliest memories are having my fingers and feet bandaged up because they were split open and raw. There were times I’d feel fairly confident even with my bandages, until I realised pretty much everyone in my school – and later college – had what seemed to be beautiful soft skin. Sometimes I would get stares, a few sniggers or I would simply get asked “What is wrong with your skin?”
I would say “I have eczema”, but as I got older the self-consciousness hit me like a truck.
The height of my awareness happened in my later teen years, during Sixth Form college. You’re suddenly an age where you’re thrust into new social situations, endless lessons and studying for exams; it’s stressful for any student but the physical, emotional and psychological toll that eczema takes on college students is seriously underrated.
The main difficulty students with eczema face is the flaring; eczema often flares for no reason at all but it can also be triggered by things such as stress and fatigue - things that all students have to cope with. Fortunately, most of my tutors knew about my skin condition so I had strategies for when things got difficult.
I’d ask tutors or friends for photocopies of notes or presentations if my hands were split and painful. I would let the College Secretary know of any upcoming doctor or dermatology appointments and she’d then tell my tutors, who emailed me any lesson plans in advance. That was really helpful and kept my anxiety and stress levels down. I also made sure to ring the reception when my skin was too bad to come in; they would email my tutors so I could be sent the work to my laptop or phone.
I often found that during the lead-up to exams my hands would split, especially in the winter, so I made sure to have my fingers wrapped but take a small bottle of cream in my bag, as well as antihistamines, which were a godsend sometimes! I even kept ‘eczema extras’ in my locker, with the nurse, and with the receptionist, just in case.
My favourite lesson by far was Art, a very practical subject, so you can imagine how easily my eczema got in the way with that… ! I had to find new ways to hold my pencil or try to not leave grease marks on my artwork from the eczema cream. If I accidentally got paint on my skin I had to wash it immediately otherwise my skin would itch intensely. Such fun!
I didn’t let it stop me drawing though; I adapted, and I think that’s what people with eczema do, we adapt and push on. I think that’s something to be proud of, especially if you’re a teen or student, when you’re already at a critical time in your life socially, mentally and emotionally.
Some of this may seem a little negative, but I also know I’ve had so many great experiences throughout college despite having eczema. I met supportive friends and inspiring teachers, I went on class trips abroad, I studied hard and got good grades. I didn’t want to be limited completely, I just needed a little extra help, and there’s no shame in that.
So if you’re heading to college and you have eczema, you’re not alone! I know it might seem overwhelming and sometimes it can be, but it doesn’t mean you can’t experience college like any other student, and most importantly, you can still have fun!
We've made a downloadable info sheet with Emilie's top tips for surviving college here.
Emilie's art can be found on Instagram @emilie_x_d