Thursday, July 17, 2008

Red Eye

I have suffered from all sorts of skin irritations and ailments for as long as I can remember. Serious allergic reactions to various plants and pollens, bug bites (who can forget the infamous spider bite and infestation on my right buttocks that eventually landed me in the ER), all sorts of cleaning products and various cosmetic and other hygiene related products have all waged war against my body's outer covering. Hives, eczema, inflammation - you name it - I've had it all...repeatedly! At any given time in my life, I can pinpoint at least one form of skin irritation currently plaguing me. For those of you who have had flawless skin your whole life and can't even begin to imagine what this must be like - let me assure you - it sucks as bad as it sounds (if not worse). When you have skin as sensitive as mine, some where along the line you learn to deal with being in some form of chronic pain (usually consistent of burning or itching), but every now and then a certain irritation will flare up to the point where it feels completely unbearable. You feel like you're going to go crazy. You begin to ask the questions that so often stem from a feeling of entitlement - "Why me?" and "What did I do to deserve this?"

I have revisited those two questions these past two days as my left eyelids (upper and lower) have become so inflamed and irritated that I can barely open my eye at all. It all started last Novemberish. Yes, it has gone on for at least 8 months. This shouldn't surprise you - as I was doing some internet research on the subject I discovered that many people deal with similar reactions for years! It all began with a small dry patch located in the corner of each of my eyes. I attributed the irritation to the abnormal amount of tear secretions I had been experiencing since attending Mars Hill (there is no room in this post for me to explain exactly why this experience has created so much emotional stirring). The dry patch on my right eye eventually went away, but my left eye was not very happy with me.

At this stage I've at least recognized a consistent cycle whereby I notice that the skin around my eyelids begins to itch and as much as I try to restrain myself from even touching anywhere near the area, inadvertently I always somehow end up responding to the call of the itch. Any form of touch irritates the eyelid further. I've tried using hot compresses, cold compresses, steam baths, aquaphor, benadryl name it - I've tried it. I've even gone as long as two weeks without wearing any make-up. Those poor grocery store clerks who had to face me like that. After the initial itching spell subsides, the entire eyelid becomes inflamed and swollen to the point where I look like I've been punched in the face, and it usually takes about a week or so for the swelling to subside. And then I'm simply left with a red and irritated dry patch that never goes away. To say that it's been annoying is an understatement. Sometimes the pain is so severe that it's all I can think about.

You may be wondering why I haven't seen a doctor yet. And to that I'll try to explain a bit. Since I've suffered from these sorts of weird skin ailments my whole life - I've grown quite weary of doctor's visits. It's a rare occasion to actually find a dermatologist who is patient enough to listen to my long list of skin ailment history and can actually offer me any advice as to the cause of my problems. Many doctors are willing to treat the symptoms...but few (if any) offer any explanation of the cause. I know the drill. If I go in, they'll likely give me a topical steroid cream to alleviate the swelling and they'll advise me to wash the area regularly with either baby shampoo or a mild cleanser like cetaphil. Hot compresses will be recommended to relieve the pain and a petroleum based moisturizer will be recommended to treat the dry patches. Some may believe it's an allergic reaction to dust mites and if so they'll tell me to wash all of my linens in hot water every 3 days, to make use of a micro fiber cover for my mattress and to vacuum my living area daily. Others may believe it's associated with my hay fever and get on my case for not being on top of my daily Claritin use. Still some might suggest that it's some sort of infection that is being re-transmitted through my make-up (despite the fact that when I stop using the make-up the condition only lessens slightly - which is probably a result of me touching my eyes less and that's it). Yesterday, I read that some people who have suffered from similar ailments have treated the area with tea-tree oil - which is said to burn like heck, but eventually bring some relief. At this point, I'm willing to try anything. We're heading out to the vitamin shop later today to get our hands on this potential cure. I'll let you know how it works.

At least doing the research online yesterday revealed to me that I'm not a freak of nature - that there are many others out there who suffer in much the same way. Most of the people who complained about this itchy, swollen, red eye thing also listed a history of allergic reactions and eczema. I guess if I had to choose some sort of chronic disease, eczema would be the one to choose because the symptoms aren't necessarily debilitating and it doesn't drastically alter your style of life. I know that there are people with far greater difficulties and pain that surpasses anything that I've experienced thus far. But I can't help but wonder if there is some sort of cosmic lesson I'm supposed to be gleaning from this constant irritation in my life. Maybe. Or maybe not. Last night as I went to bed I comforted myself by entertaining the idea that this was all for the purpose of increasing my longing for a day when there will be no more pain. But that explanation just feels a bit trite to me today (and somewhat pathetic considering there many others who experience far worse chronic pain throughout this life).

Today I am more fixated on this "treating the symptom and not the problem" dilemma. I know myself well and so I recognize that I often need to find meaning in even the most miniscule of life's dilemmas and experiences - so this may just be an extension of my dramatic personality. But I wonder about how much of my life revolves around treating symptoms rather than problems. If I'm packing on a few (or more than a few) extra pounds - I treat it by attempting to start an exercise regime and eating less carbs and eliminating sugar. If I'm having difficulty with procrastination, I attack it by filling up my schedule to the point where there is enough self-inflicted pressure to get things done in a timely manner that any form of delay is no longer possible. If I am depressed, I soothe myself with a good book and a nice bath as I escape this life in my mind, even if only for a moment. But what would life look like if I recognized that treating the symptoms is not ever going to be good enough. Could I then muster up enough energy to fight to get to the bottom of the root cause. What would it require to uncover the reason for my food addiction, my inability to take action in life unless there's extreme pressure, and my recurring and persistent feeling of hopelessness? It would probably require even more work than would be necessary to get to the bottom of my allergic reactions. But even the thought of eliminating certain things from my diet, cleaning my house incessantly and spending $$$ on all new natural cleaning products, throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of make up and doing allergy patch tests is totally daunting! I don't feel like I have the strength to enter into the battle today so maybe I'll wait until my symptoms are under control and then I can somehow find the gusto needed to enter into the real battle (this is what I tell myself just about everyday of my life).



:::No Longer Mute said...

your final word, "I don't feel like I have the strength to enter into the battle today so maybe I'll wait until my symptoms are under control and then I can somehow find the gusto needed to enter into the real battle (this is what I tell myself just about everyday of my life)", begs to be confronted with the statement you made just a few senetences previous. if you wait until things are better, you will then have to contend with, "[your] inability to take action in life unless there's extreme pressure."

:::No Longer Mute said...

and so you see the bind I feel I'm always in.