I have officially been going through topical steroid withdrawal for a whole year. What?!? I have more energy, my skin is healing, and I've finally learned to find peace within the storm, which has been such a blessing during this time. I've been feeling guilty about being so okay in the midst of a global pandemic, but then I remembered how long I haven't been okay. As I see peers, colleagues and family struggle with anxiety, depression and cabin fever, I wonder why I’m taking this colossal transition the entire world is going through with such ease. The short answer is topical steroid withdrawal prepared me for COVID-19.
The past five years of my life I’ve been fighting for my health in a society that doesn’t value healing oneself. So that means for the past five years I’ve been in denial about how sick I was, because if I was sick that meant I couldn’t work, and if I couldn’t work that meant I had no value. We’re constantly inundated with the idea that we have to always be working, grinding and moving on to the next thing, so much so that when we are sick we don’t properly take care of ourselves. Chronic illness is the norm in America and we’re brainwashed into thinking that managing symptoms is the best we can do, but when we manage symptoms we actually just get sicker. I managed my eczema symptoms for 25 years until I couldn’t manage them anymore.
I never liked using topical steroids. I remember sighing in frustration as my mother reminded me to use my eczema ointment before bed. She’d look at my arm, see a patch of eczema and ask if I’d been using the medication the doctor prescribed. She was just following the instructions of the people who were supposed to be healing me, but unfortunately, under their guidance I got sicker and sicker. More eczema? Stronger steroids. That was my life for 25 years.
I sat in the dermatologist’s office as an adult asking why? Why is my body doing this? Instead of getting answers I got more steroids; so I stopped using them, because something felt wrong. I figured if I could get to the root of the problem, I could heal the eczema naturally. Cue my life falling apart: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, bleeding, itching, burning, stinging, chronic fatigue, flaking, shedding, swelling, breaking, cracking, hurting, hurting, hurting, hurting.
We glamorize healing, but the truth is healing is ugly. Healing is taking tiny steps everyday hoping you’re heading in the right direction, but actually having no tangible proof that you are. Healing is faith. Healing is persistence.
When I first moved home to deal with my health issues I was concerned with getting better so my life could go back to normal, but that’s where I made my first mistake. When you truly heal there is no going back to normal. Healing requires evolving, and when you evolve you can’t go through life the way you did before. Going back to before requires shrinking yourself to fit into the life that caused you to need healing in the first place. Matthew 9: 16-17 states:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
It took me years to accept that there was no going back to normal for me. My lifestyle has had to constantly evolve to support the healing I deserve.
Right now we are collectively sick. No, not everyone has COVID-19, but the way things have unraveled in The United States, I can’t speak for other countries, is revealing how unsustainable our culture is at the moment. This country is running rampant with racism, classism, elitism, and a healthcare system that has failed us. All of these issues are boiling over as hospitals are overrun with patients and strapped for supplies, and people are out of work without enough savings to pay a month’s rent. Black bodies are being shot down in the streets and in their homes for NO REASON, indigenous peoples are being completely left by the wayside, people are violently attacking Asian Americans and COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities who don’t have the option to work from home or not work at all. I’m sickened by the way this pandemic has been handled but am praying that the discomfort of this time brings the change that we so desperately need. If there’s one thing I know about healing, it’s that things get extremely uncomfortable and downright unbearable before they get better. So no, I don’t want things to go back to normal. We need a new normal.
With all of this going on I’ve definitely had moments of unrest and anxiety, but the work I’ve done to heal myself has taught me how to cope with these emotions in a healthy way, allowing me to thrive during this time. I’ve learned to be content with the fact that most things in life are completely out of my control. However, I am 100% in control of my actions, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on.
The single most important piece of advice I could give to anyone right now is to honor how you feel. The world is changing right before our very eyes and any emotions that come up for you are valid. Ignoring those emotions isn’t going to make them go away; it’s going to make them come out at unexpected times in the worst of ways, so allow yourself to feel how you feel. I know this is easier said than done, coming from the woman who has denied her emotions for years, but that was an unsustainable coping mechanism. Now I practice loving self-talk and journaling. I try not to question my emotional state or tell myself that I should be able to function at a higher level. I accept how I am in that moment and love myself through it, telling myself out loud that it’s okay to feel the way that I feel. In doing that I’m able to get to the root of the negative emotions. The quicker you allow yourself to feel, the quicker you can heal. I can’t tell you how many emotions have surfaced during this quarantine, but my experience with TSW has prepared me to work through it so I can find joy in the little things during this time.
I know I’ve talked about this in probably my last five blog posts, but that’s because it’s made such a huge difference in my life: meditation, breathing exercises and yoga are a game changer. Even if you can only do five minutes a day at first, I promise you that five minutes is going to make a difference, and you’ll slowly be able to dedicate more and more time to the practice. It wasn’t until I challenged myself to truly commit to these practices that I saw a huge change in my mindset. No, it wasn’t easy at first, but sometimes self care is doing things we don’t want to do, because we know they’re the best thing for us. These practices revealed how much I wasn’t living in the moment. I was so worried about when I’d be healed and when I could get my life “back on track,” but my life was on track to healing. Connecting with my breath helped me find the value in taking care of myself. In doing so I’ve released a lot of unrealistic expectations and shed the anxiety I was carrying. Anxiety is never going to change the outcome of a situation, so let’s work on freeing ourselves from it.
We are all very much in a situation that we have little control over. I am completely jobless and have no idea when that will change. My industry depends on large gatherings of people and to top it all off I’m not the picture of perfect health. I have so may reasons to “not be okay,” but I make a conscious effort everyday to do things that fill me with joy and purpose so I can make it through this transition with my mental, emotional and physical wellbeing intact. We don’t know what life is going to be like after this, but I’m grateful that TSW taught me how to adapt to the cards I’ve been dealt, and I want you to do the same.
You may not be okay right now, and that’s okay. Now is the time to focus on what you need and give yourself grace to adjust to this huge change we’re going through. Here are some things you can do to feel a little bit better everyday. If all you can muster is a baby step, that’s all you need. Just keep taking them.
Eat nourishing foods that are going to support your immune system and overall health.
Connect with friends and family consistently.
Have a dance party. I do this everyday.
Go for a walk.
Stay informed, but don’t watch the news 24/7. That’s only going to add to your anxiety.
Be kind to yourself.
Release unrealistic expectations.
Release unrealistic expectations.
Release unrealistic expectations.
Be patient with yourself.
Reorganize and clean your space.
Eat your favorite food.
Watch your favorite movie.
Listen to your favorite album.
Take a bath.
Dress up for no reason.
Let go of control.
Here are a few resources that have been invaluable to me:
Yoga With Adriene
The SweatBox Yoga
Biofeedback breath wave exercises
The Science of Yoga
Copeaholic (a great resource for mental health awareness and journaling templates)
Here are some ways to help people struggling the most during this time:
Justice for Breonna Taylor
75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice
Justice for Ahmaud
International Rescue Committee
How To Help Others During The COVID-19 Pandemic
I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from eczema and topical steroid withdrawal (among other things), life lessons I've learned along the way, and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined, pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see, you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!