One morning, it dawned on me for the first time that my body is degenerating when I could not read the label on a bottle of facial serum. Slightly surprised and confused, I brought the bottle closer to my face, expecting the instructions to come into focus but it became even harder for me to decipher what was written on the label. Frustrated and still puzzled, I ended up taking a photo of the label with my mobile phone so that I could enlarge the photo to read.
You know what was odd about this? It didn't even feel like it was a gradual transition, like how you are supposed to notice your eyesight getting poorer over time because bloody hell, it just happened that morning without any warning whatsoever. I literally went to bed one night and woke up the next day with a different pair of eyes.
Needless to say, this onset of presbyopia has forced me to admit that I am ageing (and that I have to learn words like presbyopia).
The other poo-ey stuff that I started to notice soon after include increased hair loss except for those in my nether region which are turning grey by the way (yeah, even my pussy is getting old), fine lines showing on my forehead and the sides of my "presbyopian" eyes when I smile, reduced energy, constant bloating that leads to frequent flatulence, arthritis and insomnia. Definitely not something you want to share on a Tinder profile or as a conversation starter on a date.
Anyway, these changes became dull quickly because life goes on and ain't nobody got time to dwell on them. Well, not until early this year. The fucking year that is 2021. So what happened? I hear you ask.
What started as a skin rash the size of a five-cent coin on my left arm, became a full blown eczema attack six months later. At first I thought it was an insect bite I picked up from an island retreat in the middle of last year, but it never healed.
As soon as I noticed other similar rashes forming gradually on other parts of my body, I took to a doctor who diagnosed me for some sort of skin allergy. She put me on antibiotics, anti-histamine and hydrocortisone cream which provided immediate respite, albeit temporarily before I began to itch again.
When I went back to the same doctor, she suggested I took an allergy and food intolerance test so that I could identify what was causing my body's immune system to go out of whack. The results came back and I was allergic to crab, dust mite and cat dander while being intolerant to almost all food groups except meat. All staples like rice, wheat, oat, corn, milk, egg, bean and potato became intolerable. She recommended some reading materials to help me understand food intolerance and for the first time in my life, I learned about gut health.
In the mean time because the rashes on my skin had progressed to a point where I was close to scratching myself raw, I went to see a renowned dermatologist who diagnosed me with eczema and prescribed steroids as treatment. He asked if I was under any stress and when I told him no, he said that the eczema could be triggered by hormone imbalance induced by an early onset of menopause. Geeze...what the fuck? Menopause. Seriously? I was so bloody close to forgetting you.
Unconvinced, I showed him my allergy and food intolerant results. Without even looking at it, he poo-pooed the test, claiming that such tests are unreliable and food has got absolutely nothing to do with my skin condition.
As it turned out, the dermatologist was wrong and he didn't help to cure my skin condition although I experienced immediate relief after taking the steroids. Unfortunately, like the previous time, the rashes came back as soon as I completed my dose of medication.
Undeterred, I saw another dermatologist in my hometown who treated my eczema when I was a child. He concurred with the previous dermatologist's diagnosis and recommended the same course of treatment; steroids and his own secret blend of skin concoction, which used to work on me when I was a child, and thus I was optimistic that my suffering would end this time.
Unfortunately, It didn't and in fact, worsened.
By January 2021, my eczema reached its peak (the worst in my entire life for that matter). Nearly 70 percent of my body was covered with rashes, including my face which never happened before. It quickly became one of the lowest points in my life because by then, I had lost any hope of healing.
I had sleepless nights due to extreme and uncontrollable itch followed by guilt - guilt for scratching when I vowed not to but failed every single time. I cried when I looked into the mirror as I could not recognise myself anymore. I could not bring myself to shower because it would make my weeping rashes wet and disgusting. So shower or no shower, I was perpetually feeling dirty.
I covered myself up (although airing the rashes would have helped) because I could not bear to see my diseased skin. I avoided and pushed my cats away because I didn't want them to touch or rub against me at all. I felt so alone and isolated.
My default state of mind was feeling ugly and dirty all the time. There were times when I had cursed and begged God to end my life.
My insecurities and ugliness came with the consolation that this happened at a time when everyone was placed under lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I could just retreat into my shell and hide all my ugliness from the world, including my Mother, and behind a mask when I was out doing grocery shopping. I was relieved when I could not travel home for Chinese New Year because I knew my Mother's heart would break just looking at my condition. She would have felt hopeless not being able to take the pain away from me.
So did I recover from this eventually? Yes, although I am still in the process of healing. It is close to a year since I first discovered the skin rash and was at my worst four months ago. The rashes are mostly gone except for three spots which still itch sometimes, especially when I sweat from a workout or I cheat on my diet.
How did I recover? First, I stopped taking steroids or any antibiotics (including those injected into meat like chicken). I don't think I will ever trust western medicine completely anymore. What they have done was to destroy all the good bacteria on my gut lining, which explained why it led to a full-blown eczema attack subsequently. And contrary to the opinions of the two fucking dermatologists I saw, it has EVERYTHING to do with food.
I spent a lot of time researching on the internet, devouring one after another corroborated experiences shared by those who have my condition online. They all agreed that restoring their gut health was the answer. Once, I was sufficiently convinced by this alternative diagnosis, I did four things:
I went on a strict wholefood, gluten and dairy-free diet while staying away from all the food I was intolerant to as much as possible. Since the list was significantly long, I practically lived on a chicken broth, meat, vegetable and fruit diet;
I took natural supplements such as pro-biotics, vitamin B complex, C, D and E, magnesium, zinc and omega 3 oil;
I saw a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who prescribed me other natural herbal remedy; and
I stopped working out to keep the sweat away from my rashes.
I began to see positive result after one month and great improvement after three.
I still don't know what had triggered my eczema. It is possible that the culprit could be an early onset of menopause but I am more inclined to believe that it was caused by years of poor eating habit and food choices (I was stuffing myself with heavily processed and deep fried food) and not knowing that I can develop new allergy and food intolerance as I age.
I am so grateful for the online community especially Dawn for Life, a fellow Malaysian, who shared their knowledge and wisdom on how to manage and live with eczema generously. They have helped me more than any of the doctors I had seen.
Finally, I try not to deprive myself from sweets or desserts that make my heart full and happy. Ageing and living with eczema can already be a bitch and why make myself more miserable than it is. I am grateful to find these snacks and desserts that not only comply with my diet, but are also delicious and have short ingredient lists. They can be found in supermarkets like the Village or Jaya Grocer.
So what do you know? Life is still sweet despite it all.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating for my readers to ignore their doctors' opinions. All I'm saying is that if their prescribed treatment is not working, do not lose hope. Get online and try to find some answers. My advice is to make sure that you are looking at different sources and be as thorough as you possibly can in your research so that you are not basing your judgment on the first random YouTube video or blog article you come across. For myself, I was comfortable experimenting with this diet because it was not physically invasive and the supplements I took are derived from natural sources that are unlikely to harm or alter my body. Choose what works for you.