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Gary

Age at interview: 23
Brief Outline: Gary has had eczema most of his life but started to have particularly severe flare-ups after the age of 18. He finds it difficult to do even small daily tasks when his skin is bad because it is so sore. He enjoys walking and finds it an important way to cope with stress.
Background: Gary is 23 years old and works as a barman. His ethnic background is White Hungarian.

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Gary has had eczema to varying degrees since he was a child. His eczema was very mild when he was younger but became a lot worse after the age of 18. This change began with eczema developing in his arm pits, spreading onto his arms and then all over his body. His skin stayed very flared-up for about 3 months. He doesn’t know what triggered this first episode, though he has thought about it a lot. He thinks that other flare-ups may have been caused by some particularly stressful situations which are beyond his control. For example, he thinks that some kinds of stress may be behind his worst cases of eczema. He finds that some foods, such as garlic, can also irritate his skin. Gary has spent a lot of time online, reading about eczema and looking for videos; it was about 2 years into looking on the internet that it really hit home that he would need to find ways to live with the condition in the absence of a cure.

Gary has tried lots of treatments, including shop-bought moisturisers, prescribed steroid creams and homeopathic tablets. He tries to use steroid creams only when his eczema is really bad as he’s worried that his skin will become too thin or that it will stop responding to treatments. Gary prefers shop-bought body lotions but finds they can be very expensive, especially because he has to keep looking for new products since they tend to stop working so well after a couple of months. Gary has seen many doctors in the different parts of the world where he has lived. Some of these climates have helped his skin; he likes to be where there is a cool breeze as otherwise his skin becomes sweaty and itchy. Gary says that GP appointments have become a log easier with time because he’s more knowledgeable about the condition. In the early appointments, he had a lot of questions to ask but he now tries to make the appointments as quick and simple as possible.

Gary describes his eczema as having 3 stages: first, he gets small, itchy red dots on his skin; next is when he scratches his skin and it becomes scabbed; and finally is the “drying off” phase when the skin sheds. He finds that his eczema makes him stressed which then causes the eczema to become worse. The pain and anxiety around eczema means that he can’t focus on anything else. He tries not to scratch but finds that it is very hard to sleep at night because of the itchiness. He has to change his sleeping position to lying on his back when his eczema is like this. Gary finds that his eczema restricts his mobility a lot. For example, it’s difficult when his eczema is on his neck as he cannot move his head freely. He says that this makes him move “like a robot”. Even doing small daily tasks can be slow and painful processes. He has had to take time off work when his eczema has prevented him from being able to move at all. Gary’s room-mates often get used to seeing him in so much discomfort. They would sometimes help him out, for example by bringing him a cup of tea when he couldn’t manage to make it himself. However, Gary doesn’t like to be pitied and he finds it hard to accept needing help. He also finds it very frustrating when people try to ‘fix’ his skin; he doesn’t mind talking about his eczema but he doesn’t like talking about treatments or triggers, as he’s had a lot of unhelpful advice about these in the past.

Gary finds that walking really helps his emotional health; he likes to listens to music and day dream whilst out walking. Another example is that drinking a few beers in the evening can help him unwind and have a more positive outlook on life, something which he says helps calms down his eczema. Gary encourages other young people to also find their own particular ways to reduce their stress and be physically as well as emotionally healthy in order to help with their eczema. 
 

Gary explains how he sees his eczema symptoms relating to different stages of having the skin condition.

Gary explains how he sees his eczema symptoms relating to different stages of having the skin condition.

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I have like different kind of eczema; it has like different kind of stages. For example, if I eat something bad then the first one is always I start having this small red dots all over – those are the scratchy ones – and then it starts bleeding and I stop scratching myself daytime, but so often I just wake up and I just find like a huge scar on my arm because I was scratching myself in the night, and that’s when I cannot stop obviously. And so first I have these small dots. If I feel bad or if I eat something bad; then I have the whole wounds. And then I have like the drying off part. The drying off part is, that one looks one of the worst but that one – I can live with that one. It doesn’t really feel bad at all and that’s why it's easier to handle.
 

When his eczema is severe on his arms and neck, Gary can’t move easily which impacts on everyday tasks.

When his eczema is severe on his arms and neck, Gary can’t move easily which impacts on everyday tasks.

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Then, when I have it on my arms, when it comes really bad, I cannot really move my arms because I cannot straighten my arm because, then as I straighten, then it just starts bleeding again, the scars just opening.

So it's like I need to grab for everything like a robot, and I cannot move my neck so I'm moving like this. I can barely hold a cup and I can barely drink a cup of tea; I can barely smoke because I need to put my-, I need to move my whole body so I find this point [gestures moving arm and head carefully] that I can meet with the cigarette, it's just incredibly terrible.
 

Gary says that stress, with his family and romantic relationships, is a key trigger for his eczema.

Gary says that stress, with his family and romantic relationships, is a key trigger for his eczema.

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Stress is really bad for it.

OK 

But not every kind of stress because stress at work, it doesn’t affect it. Friends – not really, only family, and I just, I just told you about, I just thought about it with my mother when I was home a couple of weeks ago that I'm kinda like-, I like to dictate and I like to be the ruler. I like to tell people what to do and I don’t really like when they tell me. And at work when they try to push me down.

I always go like, “Yeah OK,” I just let them. I smile at them and I ask like, “Yeah OK, it's alright,” and when they calm down and then I give everything back.

[Laughs]

But I cannot do this one with my parents because I love my family and they stress me a lot and my brother as well. And my brother is like the closest person for me in the world but he can stress me in such a bad way [laughs]. No-one can make me feel as stressed as him.

If I'm sad it doesn’t trigger the eczema, if I'm only sad. Only the stress and only this kind of emotional stress – everyday, driving a car; someone comes in front of me; I get angry, I push the horn – it doesn’t change my skin. Work or other stuff. It's mostly emotional, only my ex-girlfriends could trigger it, and then my family. Yeah.

Because those are the kind of relationships that I cannot push down in how I would like to. Because at work it's easy because if, even if it's my boss and tells me something really bad, I can still punch him. They're going to fire me – who cares, I'll find another job, but I cannot do this with my father or my mother [laughs], so that’s kind of really bad because I have all this pressure inside me and I just think can't get it out. And then my mother comes to me and, “Hey, talk about it.” I don’t want to talk about it because I talk about it and then I get angry again [laughs] and it makes no sense. For me.
 

Gary tried homeopathy for his eczema but opted for steroids when his symptoms were tough to cope with.

Gary tried homeopathy for his eczema but opted for steroids when his symptoms were tough to cope with.

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I'm not even quite sure what kind of therapies I took but I remember I, I always took like four or five different kind of this pills and this is one of them is for the liver; one of them is like for the basic for my kind of type, and some of them is for eczema, some are-. They just, they-, I went to the doctor, he gave us the pills. My mother always like just give them to me because I would have for-, I would forget them; I cannot do this one in the morning, midday and evening as well. I would have forgotten least two of them a day, so she was always coming, “Gary, take this one, take this one,” and nothing, there wasn’t, I couldn’t see anything. It didn’t help anything. I was taking those pills and after three, four weeks I was taking them and they didn’t change anything. I was, after a while, I was like, OK, I'm not really believing it, I don’t really believe in homeopathy anymore. I believe that it can help other things because my sister had, when she was small, she was really sick and she always took antibiotics and then she stopped it; she was healthy for a week, then came back and homeopathy cured that one, and I believe in homeopathy but not for eczema. 

OK 

And then they'd say to me, “OK, but if you don’t believe in homeopathy, it's not going to work because it starts from the brain.” But I go like, “If I believe or not believe in steroids, either way it's going to work” [laugh]. Because I don’t care if I believe in steroids or not; if I put the steroids on, it it's going to work. I know homeopathy is something more and Chinese and I need to do it for a long time but start having eczema for four weeks in a row and it doesn’t change a thing. And let's see how other people, how positive they're going to be when they cannot sleep and they're being stressed.
 

Gary says that stress, with his family and romantic relationships, is a key trigger for his eczema.

Gary says that stress, with his family and romantic relationships, is a key trigger for his eczema.

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Stress is really bad for it.

OK 

But not every kind of stress because stress at work, it doesn’t affect it. Friends – not really, only family, and I just, I just told you about, I just thought about it with my mother when I was home a couple of weeks ago that I'm kinda like-, I like to dictate and I like to be the ruler. I like to tell people what to do and I don’t really like when they tell me. And at work when they try to push me down.

I always go like, “Yeah OK,” I just let them. I smile at them and I ask like, “Yeah OK, it's alright,” and when they calm down and then I give everything back.

[Laughs]

But I cannot do this one with my parents because I love my family and they stress me a lot and my brother as well. And my brother is like the closest person for me in the world but he can stress me in such a bad way [laughs]. No-one can make me feel as stressed as him.

If I'm sad it doesn’t trigger the eczema, if I'm only sad. Only the stress and only this kind of emotional stress – everyday, driving a car; someone comes in front of me; I get angry, I push the horn – it doesn’t change my skin. Work or other stuff. It's mostly emotional, only my ex-girlfriends could trigger it, and then my family. Yeah.

Because those are the kind of relationships that I cannot push down in how I would like to. Because at work it's easy because if, even if it's my boss and tells me something really bad, I can still punch him. They're going to fire me – who cares, I'll find another job, but I cannot do this with my father or my mother [laughs], so that’s kind of really bad because I have all this pressure inside me and I just think can't get it out. And then my mother comes to me and, “Hey, talk about it.” I don’t want to talk about it because I talk about it and then I get angry again [laughs] and it makes no sense. For me.
 

Gary was encouraged to see a counsellor by his family but he didn’t find it helpful.

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Gary was encouraged to see a counsellor by his family but he didn’t find it helpful.

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It was kind of annoying when I had this one and my brother started pushing me that it must be emotional because he just, he just started seeing a, a therapist and started reading about it and he was like, “Yeah, it's something so deep inside of you,” and I was like, “Yes, this moment that you're pushing me and you're stressing me [laughs], this triggers my eczema.” But he doesn’t-, he still thinks that I have something, unsolved problem inside of me and that’s why I have it. I don’t find it this way.

I went and I was like really feeling fine at the therapist and I was like, actually after a while I haven’t really seen any point about talking because actually I was, I was really, I was so alright emotionally; inside everything was alright except my eczema. When I had my sk-, when my skin was bad I was like so nervous and anxious, but then I know that I don’t need a therapist for that one to tell me I'm anxious because of my skin – I know that one, everybody know that one.

But this kind of emotion-, because my brother always pushed me and that, “Yeah it must be something emotional,” and then I was like yeah, but so many bad things happen with me, so many times I had a bad mood, but still it didn’t affect my skin. And then I think two-, like in the last two years I figured this one out, or the last one year that it's actually my family which occurs it. 
 

Gary finds having a few drinks help him cope better with stress.

Gary finds having a few drinks help him cope better with stress.

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If I have two or three beer, it's much better than not having any. But I think because I can handle alcohol, after four beer I'm not getting drunk or anything, I'm nothing than really getting tipsy, probably barely, but if I have two, three beer in the evening with dinner it just always like chills me down; it's just like I just feel chilled down and I feel relaxed, not this kind of ‘I took so much drugs and I'm out of my world’, but I'm just feeling a little more chilled. I'm thinking in the more positive way, maybe had a stressful day at work or with family I have two, three beer; I watch a movie and I'm just feeling much better. But I try not to drink an hour before sleeping as well.

Cos I, yeah. I experience that if I have a beer and smoke the last cigarette and I put them down and I go to bed, then the next day's it's become like, becomes like a little more dry. And if I, in the last one hour, or the last 40 minutes before going to bed, I'm not smoking, not drinking any more then, then actually it doesn’t affect anything, and actually it's better.
 

Gary finds that going for a walk makes him feel better, even when his eczema is bothering him.

Gary finds that going for a walk makes him feel better, even when his eczema is bothering him.

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But sometimes when I have my skin so bad then when I'm walking, I'm still stressed about that one, and that’s really bad one because sometimes when you're just like, feeling bad, then I go for a walk and I start dreaming about something; start day dreaming and then I'm in my-, my small world and I can go for a walk for three, four hours in a row, maybe sometimes even five, six until I can last. And I'm just dreaming and I dream that I'm the heavy weight world champion of the world and I have so much money and I'm being like really happy and it's kind of quite a stupid thing but when I'm stressful for three, four days in a row, each and every minute, if I go for a walk and I can be out of this bub-, I can be in a bubble out of this world.
 

Gary says that stress, with his family and romantic relationships, is a key trigger for his eczema.

Gary says that stress, with his family and romantic relationships, is a key trigger for his eczema.

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Stress is really bad for it.

OK 

But not every kind of stress because stress at work, it doesn’t affect it. Friends – not really, only family, and I just, I just told you about, I just thought about it with my mother when I was home a couple of weeks ago that I'm kinda like-, I like to dictate and I like to be the ruler. I like to tell people what to do and I don’t really like when they tell me. And at work when they try to push me down.

I always go like, “Yeah OK,” I just let them. I smile at them and I ask like, “Yeah OK, it's alright,” and when they calm down and then I give everything back.

[Laughs]

But I cannot do this one with my parents because I love my family and they stress me a lot and my brother as well. And my brother is like the closest person for me in the world but he can stress me in such a bad way [laughs]. No-one can make me feel as stressed as him.

If I'm sad it doesn’t trigger the eczema, if I'm only sad. Only the stress and only this kind of emotional stress – everyday, driving a car; someone comes in front of me; I get angry, I push the horn – it doesn’t change my skin. Work or other stuff. It's mostly emotional, only my ex-girlfriends could trigger it, and then my family. Yeah.

Because those are the kind of relationships that I cannot push down in how I would like to. Because at work it's easy because if, even if it's my boss and tells me something really bad, I can still punch him. They're going to fire me – who cares, I'll find another job, but I cannot do this with my father or my mother [laughs], so that’s kind of really bad because I have all this pressure inside me and I just think can't get it out. And then my mother comes to me and, “Hey, talk about it.” I don’t want to talk about it because I talk about it and then I get angry again [laughs] and it makes no sense. For me.
 

Gary had a phase of reading a lot about eczema online.

Gary had a phase of reading a lot about eczema online.

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The first year I was looking a lot. I was going Youtube, watching all the videos; I was searching for-. I was searching but I cannot really remember where I looked but I looked on so many pages. I tried to find all the information, tried to find all the information. I went, first I read Wikipedia; then below Wikipedia it shows the links where they have the information from, so I was reading those links as well and-. But I, the conclusion for me was like no-one really knows why people have eczema; no-one really knows what's the cure for it, and, that, that was a kind of the time when I decided that I'm going to have my destiny in my own hands cos I was like OK, if other people cannot help me then I will find it myself – not the cure for it, just how to live with it. 
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