It was 3 a.m. I smeared my bloody fingers onto my shirt and picked skin out from underneath my fingernails. “If this shit doesn’t end,” I said to myself, “I’m going to kill myself.”
Throughout childhood and into my teens, I struggled with mild eczema. I’d get the occasional red patch under my eyes or on my arms. For the most part it was manageable. I’d use additive-free soap, avoid wool, and had to quit training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
I started using steroids.
Nope, not anabolic steroids. I started using what people call “topical steroids,” – more accurately, topical corticosteroids. As the name suggests, topical steroids use the hormone cortisol to reduce the inflammation of red, itchy skin.
For years, these steroids were a godsend. I’d get a small patch of red skin under my eyes and on my eye lids. I’d apply some magic cream, and the redness would disappear. Magic.
Then something odd happened.
My entire body started breaking out into eczema.
I would wake up clawing at my skin. The itch was so intense that no amount of will power could prevent it. My body would tremble when I didn’t itch.
I went to the best doctors in the country for a solution. They all said the same thing, “You have idiopathic full body spreading eczema.”
That didn’t make sense. Adults aren’t supposed to get eczema. Eczema is generally something that kids get and that you grow out of.
Yet all of the doctors said the same thing, “Adults get eczema now. This is a lifelong condition. There is no cure. There is only treatment.”
One dermatologist told me that the pollen was causing my eczema. How, I asked, can pollen be causing my eczema when I’ve never had allergies? “No one knows,” was always the answer.
They all offered the same solution – more steroids and stronger steroids.
My entire life soon revolved around my skin. I was paranoid about food allergens, dust mites, and irritating soaps.
I tried green juicing and juice fasts. The skin that didn’t have eczema looked great. No remedy, however, cleared up the eczema.
I’d shower, and quickly do what’s called “soak and seal.” That is, you soak your body in cool water and then seal in the moisture with an emollient or lotion. In my case, I used DermaSmoothe – a topical steroid combined with peanut oil.
One doctor put me on a regime of prednisone. Soon I experienced night blindness and blurred vision, two of the many side effects of prednisone.
The steroids stopped working and my life was hell.
I had no energy. Getting out of bed was a challenge. Training hard was basically impossible, as even a drop of sweat would cause my skin to burn like fire.
My skin would burn and itch and break out into hives. The itch was so intense that I couldn’t fall asleep. I would claw at my skin until I was bleeding.
(One sleepless night I learned that I didn’t have eczema. I had Red Skin Syndrome.)
When you can’t sleep, you either put a bullet in your head or you look for answers.
My research always revealed more questions than answers until one night someone wrote on the National Eczema Association’s Facebook page, “If you’re skin is getting worse even though you’re using steroids, go to ITSAN.”
The International Topical Steroid Addiction Network is a non-profit organization started by a visionary woman who discovered the research of Beverly Hills physician Dr. Marvin Rapaport.
Dr. Marvin Rapaport discovered through his research and clinical practice that some percentage of patients with atopic skin become addicted to topical cortisone.
Those patients (and I am one of them) become addicted to topical steroids. Our own body stops producing cortisol.
Our skin goes crazy, for lack of a better word.
The only cure is to stop using steroids and then….to wait….
What does the wait feel like? Go read, “How to Survive Hell.”
What’s the moral of the story?
We all want to learn from the suffering others have endured. What lessons did I learn? I can think of a few.
You can survive anything.
Go read my blog posts from the past two years. Are those the posts of someone who has given up?
There were days when it took all of my strength to walk from my bed to the bathroom. I got up. I moved. I moved more. I did not and will not let anything stop me.
“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill.
Keep looking for answers.
You are resourceful. You will find the truth you need, although it may take longer than you want.
I spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars looking for a cure for my eczema. I never gave up and eventually found one.
Avoid people with a negative mindset.
I do not want to be critical of fellow Red Skin Syndrome sufferers. I will say, however, that my attitude was not welcome on the ITSAN message board.
I was accused of being arrogant and lacking compassion for speaking my truth.
The vast majority of people want to wallow in self-pity. They do not want to hear that pain is not optional, but our reaction to pain is. They do not want to hear that you can choose to convert your pain into power.
This post took me so long to write is because there is an active contingent of online activists who have a Google alert set for all things eczema. I simply don’t want the vast majority of those people here.
But I feel I owe a greater duty to the Universe to share my story and thus will endure the onslaught of negativity that will come.
Become a light unto the world.
You have suffered so that you can help others endure. No, you cannot end suffering. Suffering is part of the human experience. Death will catch up to us all.
You can, however, be a light unto the world. You can show men that there is a way out…that if they endure, they will reach that light.
Express your gratitude.
It is not an exaggeration to say Kelly Palace – the woman who founded ITSAN – saved my life. Indeed, it is with some irony that people call me a misogynist when I have thanked and said I owe my life to a woman. I was suicidal.
I have thanked her personally many times and was (and maybe still am) one of the top donors to ITSAN.
I express my gratitude by putting my soul into Danger & Play.
This isn’t some stupid Internet Marketing site. This isn’t a gimmick. There is no ploy to get rich quick. This is real.
How can I put so much time and effort into this site that I look at it and sometimes feel like crying? Simple.
This is my soul and my art and my gift to the Universe. I could die today knowing that my work has been done.
But I’m not dead, so my work has just begun.
I am grateful that I suffered.
“Everything happens for a reason.” Bullshit. I suffered randomly.
My suffering did not happen for a reason until I gave a reason to my suffering.
I choose to give meaning to my suffering. I choose to view myself as a victor and not a victim. I choose not to complain or whine. I choose to reflect on my pain, grit my teeth, look up and say, “Bring it on, mother fuckers.”
Danger & Play would not exist in its current form if I had not chosen to survive and then thrive through Red Skin Syndrome.
If you are grateful that Danger & Play exists, then you must be grateful that I suffered. My suffering and Danger & Play are one in the same.
Are you suffering? If that is the case, now you know that what appears here is not bullshit.
I don’t post theories. I don’t post life hacks I read about on the Internet.
This is my life, my discoveries, my pain, my choices, my solutions.
This is my suffering and also your guidepost.
If you want to be more than you are – even if that just means being able to get out of bed – you have found the right home.
It is YOUR choice.
I offer actionable solutions. But all I can do is write. The hard work falls on your shoulders.
You can choose to be a victim. Or you can choose to be a victor.
This is a choice you make, every second of your life, in the present moment.
Yes or no?
Win or lose?
Get up or stay down?
Victim or victor?
I am a stronger person. In fact, I am unstoppable.
I have a reserve of strength that I never imagined could exist. Haters may take my photos and create memes. I laugh in their faces.
A lot of people wish I would go away. I am sorry, gentlemen, but I grow stronger every day. My voice will only roar louder.
We are just getting warmed up.
Feels good, doesn’t it?