Pages

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What This Hideous Rash on my Face Taught Me

This October I developed seborrheic dermatitis on my face. I’ve had it before, to varying degrees, and each time it returns I feel a renewed sense of dejection. It’s angry and red and it spreads, like spilled ink, from the corner of my nose. Sometimes it spills down my chin. Once, for a brief time, I had it on my entire face. Hemingway had something like it; this is how his buddy, the novelist and journalist José Luis Castillo-Puche, described it:

“The angry red streak running from his nose to his cheek, the rash of little whitish pustules that sloughed off like dandruff…the bright red patch, extending from the bridge of his nose almost down to his mouth and up to his eyes.”

Beautiful.

I developed seborrheic dermatitis for the first time as an adult when I returned home from my honeymoon in Barcelona, freshly diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. It was a rough time. The dermatitis seemed to know this; it stuck around for the better part of two years, a glaring symbol of my new life with illness. I tried everything: Elidel, steroid lotions, EFT. It just got worse. When it finally spread to my face, I went into Whole Foods and spent nearly $100 on a natural skin care regime from MyChelle Dermacueticals. It cleared, finally.
When I met the founder and creator of MyChelle, Myra Michelle Eby, a year later at a Natural Products Expo in D.C., I burst into tears.

“Thank you! Thank you!” I said, embracing her.

(I still think MyChelle is the best skin care line in the world, although, as you will see, my seborrheic dermatitis cure promotes a hands-off approach).

Unfortunately, in my experience, seborrheic dermatitis shares a distinctive feature of many autoimmune illnesses: it comes and goes, sometimes independent of treatment; and often each relapse requires a new, novel form of treatment.

The rash returned last winter. I was in Asheville at the time, at my residency session for my MFA program. I was living in a dorm. I was especially sensitive to my appearance at the time because James Franco had just enrolled in the program. I remember walking into the a reception the very first night of the residency. I had taken a Percocet (the beginning of residency was always an especially anxious time.) I saw James. Jesus, I thought, that guy is handsome. Later I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Jesus, I thought, investigating my dermatitis, I'm ugly.

One night we had a long face to face discussion. We talked about Emily Dickinson, kissing Sean Penn, and my skin problems. James, a perfect gentleman, stopped the conversation twice to say, “Dude, I don’t even notice it.”

Equating my dermatitis with Harry Osborn’s horribly burnt face in Spiderman III, I asked James what it was like for a handsome man to appear so disfigured on screen.

“Dude,” he said. “It was Spiderman.”

Last winter's outbreak was minor. I came home from Asheville and took hydrocortisone (a steroid cream). The dermatitis cleared up in a week.

***

This recent outbreak was different. When I first noticed it, in early October, I again tried the hydrocortisone. It worked, at first, but then, it seemed to start spreading.

I looked in the mirror and felt ugly. I thought: It will never go away. I complained, unfairly, to my wife (who herself suffers much more severe skin problems).

As the days and weeks went by, I started to lose a bit of my winning optimism; my integrity eroded. I ignored my typically reliable faith in natural healing and went in search of strong pharmaceuticals. I tried a stronger steroid, Desonide. It worked, at first, but then it got WAY worse: Hemingway proportions. Apparently, if steroids are used too long, you develop two or three additional skin problems. I learned the hard way.

Throughout this time, in the immemorial fashion of frantic sick people, I searched the internet for a “cure.” The internet is a terrible place to look for a “cure.” Balanced perspectives on skin problems are shockingly rare. Message boards are crammed with pessimistic complaints. Thousands of sites suggest miracle cures that simply do not work. Worse, drug companies pay massively for advertising.

Still, inspired by my internet findings, I washed my face with Selsun Blue. That helped a bit. I actually tried tanning! (In an electronic ballast tanning booth; finding the booth was an incredible hassle.) That helped a bit, until I developed a secondary rash on my stomach. I went to my family doctor. He told me simply quitting the steroid lotion would resolve the problem. I thought, bullshit. I urged him to prescribe another pharmaceutical treatment, one that I had assiduously researched: Nizoral foam.

Nizoral is a potent anti-fungal. When ingested, it has been associated with hepatic toxicity, including some deaths. The foam worked, a bit. Then, once again, it got worse.

***

In his life-changing, soul-changing book, Re-Visioning Pscyhology, James Hillman writes, “We owe our symptoms an immense debt. The soul can exist without its therapists, but not without its afflictions.”

I’m reminded of this quote when I suffer illness. I’m reminded of my sulking; my complaints. And I’m shocked, almost appalled, by my behavior. Sometimes, in the midst of it, I actually do realize that my suffering can be a good thing: for my growth and maturity and anti-narcissism. But still, it bums me out. I mean I wake up after a restless night of sleep (I never, ever sleep well and typically I wake six-ten times a night to pee), check my blood sugar (the first test of ten or twelve tests for the day), and look in the mirror, only to discover I’m much uglier than my dreams had led me to believe!

And this is the exact moment I lose my integrity.

I start to think: You know what, I have a fucking lot of illnesses for a 33 year old guy; every person, every fucking single person in the world, sometimes hits the point where enough is enough, and, well, I’m entitled to say, “Enough is fucking enough,” because of my illnesses, because I’ve been through so much illness so early, and no one, exactly no one, I know, understands what it’s like to be a 33 year old guy living with type-1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Raynaud’s disease, and some fucking skin rash, not to mention I’m allergic to shellfish and have never even known the pleasure of slurping a fresh oyster!

This is me, losing my integrity.

It's funny, though. Standing in front of the mirror, I drive myself to this point—this point of extreme dejection—and then something small happens. In my complaining, I catch a glimpse of myself as a child, a child throwing a tantrum. It’s laughable, actually. So I smile, in spite of myself. Then I smile, again, just to see what it looks like. I start making faces: ugly faces, happy faces, stupid faces. The dermatitis is still there, of course. But, suddenly, instead of complaining, I'm making fun or myself. And I suppose this is when my heart starts floating, just a bit, it sort of just bounces up, and I’m aware, however briefly, of the possibility of change.

***

Change. In terms of my recent battle with seborrheic dermatitis, change means relaxing; it means re-finding my integrity. It means taking a deep breath and considering the blindingly obvious.

I’ve successfully treated seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp for ten years. I’ve performed the same routine, two times a week, every week, for ten years. What I do is simple: I wash my hair. I apply about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil. I leave it on for a few hours. I wash it out. Why not try it on my face? Seborrheic dermatitis often effects both the face and scalp—and whatever it is, both areas manifest the same disease process.

Friday night, I rubbed a little extra virgin coconut oil on my face. Saturday, I woke up and my skin had improved. Last night, Saturday night, I repeated the routine. This morning I woke up my skin had essentially cleared. After weeks of suffering, after weeks of complaints and internet research, weeks of steroids and antifungals weeks of just feeling ugly—my skin had improved with two applications of extra virgin coconut oil.

(Update: I now believe that a natural seborrheic dermatitis cure exists. It is the rigorous application of yogurt masks. I have used nothing but water and yogurt masks on my face for over four years and my skin has remained remarkably clear. Please see my recipe on my post "Seth's Beauty Secrets Revealed").

The simplicity of it is absurd. Albeit, not as absurd as my behavior.

Illness is worthless unless you learn from it. My lesson, of course, has nothing to do with extra virgin coconut oil. More likely, it has something to do with maturity, how I might grow into that complicated, half-ugly, half-beautiful human being I'm meant to be. The proportions are meaningless, of course: maybe it's 60% ugly/40% beautiful. Probably, the goal is just a sort of unity. Obviously, I own a lot of ugliness: inside and out. But in my ugliness, I learn things. I learn about fighting. I learn about hope. Life handed me illness; it also gave me the capacity to fight. Life taught me the comeback.

Moving on, I'll try to remember this.

19 comments :

  1. Beautiful post Seth. And so much for me to connect with. Coincidentally, I just wrote about this myself. I don't suffer illness in the way you do, but I do suffer from something... alcoholism, self-abuse, fear... When I woke up four weeks ago with a swollen, broken face it was a terrible feeling: my vanity was undermined. My identity even, was threatened. And yet I realized, or was forced to admit, that this was nothing more than my outsides reflecting my insides. I was ugly inside, and this allowed me to see my true reflection. No more denial.

    Now that is my truth, not yours. I don't know why you become afflcited in the way you do, but I do hear you when you say: "This is the exact moment I lose my integrity". These things are sent to try us, to test our faith, and if you can ride through it, and rise above it as you do with humor, and wisdom then the world is full of hope once again.

    Your last paragraph here is utter joy to read.

    ReplyDelete
  2. DERMATITIS UNITE US!!

    This was wonderful.

    I really enjoy reading about your trials and tribulations, Seth. You are a constant reminder that life, with it's many speed bumps that cause each of us to stop and take notice, is awesome. Your words always leave MY heart floating just a bit. I look up to you. Even though you have sometimes funky skin, which I've never actually seen, pick on waitresses about potatoes, which I've actually witnessed, leave me holding the wine while you urinate in parking garages, wear your wife's clothing, and walk down streets in nothing but your boxers, I still love you, my friend.

    Actually, I love you for those very reasons and many more. Because of your health, you're often in the gutter, but just as often looking at the stars, an ever growing collection of "season of triumphs".

    Whatcha eating?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eloquent, candid, honest. Keep writing - the medicine that would heal the wound, is IN the wound. But first we have to open the wound in order to extract the medicine. As Hillman also says, 'The wound becomes the womb.'

    ReplyDelete
  4. hey, Seth, you're awesome. this touched me, truly. and I need to get my hands on some of that magic oil.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love this for reasons I'm not willing to share in such a public way. But I do love it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It sounds like you got a hold of some bad percocet.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Freaking Dermatitis. When I get "glutened" (as my doctor calls it) I break out in this stupid ass rash.

    But once again, your post has touched me. You have this way about you...you take this difficult and sometimes painful ailment and turn it into a light hearted subject.

    Your words make me smile :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey for your scalp, what type of shampoo do you rotate with? use?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Which Mychelle products would you recommend for your face?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Anonymous,

    I prefer Aubrey Organic shampoos and conditioners--for me, they're the best. I know many people who agree with me on that one.

    Mychelle has different products for different skin types, so it's quite easy to pick a few products that might be suitable for your complexion. Right now, though, I only use yogurt masks. I wrote about that in another post: http://thenewsavagery.blogspot.com/2010/06/seths-beauty-secrets-revealed.html

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks a lot Seth!

    ReplyDelete
  12. hey seth, just want to know whether coconut oil still works on your skin or not, I'm applying coconut oil on my face, hope it will work like it does to you

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Anonymous,

    I do believe coconut oil is very helpful, but I rarely use it anymore. I use yogurt masks instead. Check it out: http://thenewsavagery.blogspot.com/2010/06/seths-beauty-secrets-revealed.html

    I swear by yogurt masks; I think they're the best solution for dermatitis-style skin inflammations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Seth,
      When you did use the coconut oil did you just apply it with a cotton ball? how long should I leave it on for? thanks.

      Delete
  14. What a depressing nightmare facial seb derm is. The only thing that has ever worked for me and resulted in a 95 % cure is washing my face with 'born to be mild' that is all and nothing else. The zinc pyth does the job and is carried in a less irratating form than head and shoulders which is perfect for the face. I implore people to give it a go.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Seth,

    I just bought the Mychelle 28spf sunscreen the other day. First product I'm trying from Mychelle. I know you now recommend only washing your face w/yogurt and no other products. But back when you did use Mychelle, which facewash and lotions did you use? thank you for your help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi anonymous,

      MyChelle makes products for all skin types. I think it's bet to use the products most suitable for your skin. That said, skin type aside, I love their Incredible Pumpkin Peel and Pumpkin Renew Cream. The peel especially seems to have an instantaneous effect on the skin: you'll feel luminous. I also used the White Cranberry Cleanser to good effect. Hope this helps!

      Delete
  16. Hi Seth,
    Which kind of shampoo do you wash you hair with after you apply the coconut oil? I love your posts and thanks for all of your help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Josh,

      I typically switch between several shampoos, including Aubrey GPB Shampoo (http://www.aubrey-organics.com/ProductInfo/015.aspx), and Acure Argan Stem Cell Shampoo (http://www.acureorganics.com/Moroccan-Argan-Oil-Argan-Stem-Cell-Shampoo-p/025.htm). I hope this helps!

      Delete