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Even as a Teacher, There’s Still So Much to Learn

Jalilah J. | Pre-K Visual Arts Teacher

Actual Eczema Sufferer

I work as a pre-K teacher, and my students regard me as one who is well-versed on the world that we live in—relying on me to teach them information in a way that is interesting, understandable, hands-on—and even though they’re young—applicable to their lives. My career is extremely rewarding, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

However, as a person living with atopic dermatitis, I have often found myself in my students’ position—eager to learn and understand more about this condition in a way that works for me, then applying that information to make my life more comfortable and my skin more tolerable.

I experienced my first eczema flare when I was 12 years old. The flare occurred on a private area, and I was mortified. Patches of flaky irritated skin coupled with an itching sensation proved to be torturous and humiliating. My mother made an appointment with a dermatologist immediately, and I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis—something that 12-year-old me had never heard of before that very moment. My dermatologist explained that my family’s medical history could have played a role in my inheriting eczema, and I would need to manage it.

Through my doctor, I’ve learned so much about atopic dermatitis. She is my teacher. She’s taught me that there is no “one‐size‐fits‐all” treatment because everyone’s eczema is different. She’s taught me to be patient with my skin, especially while I am experiencing a flare.

While she’s been my teacher over the years, others may not have the same exposure to someone so knowledgeable. For example, I’ve heard people make comments like, “She has eczema? Why doesn’t she just get some cream from the pharmacy to get rid of it?” Or something like “Oh my God, what has she done to herself? Have you tried this remedy or that lotion? It worked for me.” Comments like these used to upset me, but they actually have helped me develop a mental toughness.

I’ve learned to respond in a way so I feel confident, while also educating that person on atopic dermatitis.

In my classroom, we call these moments “teachable moments.” A teachable moment is if a child makes a mistake, we use it as an opportunity to have a conversation about their behavior and how they can make a better choice the next time. So, when people comment on my eczema, they may get a response like, “I can’t just get rid of it. Eczema is much more complex than you think it is. Would you like to hear more about it?” Or “I didn’t do anything to myself; this is the way that God created me.” Or maybe this: “Thank you for sharing your remedy; however, I’m on a strict regimen from my doctor. Also, did you know that eczema is case-by-case and is different for everyone?”

Living with eczema is definitely a challenge, and some days are better than others. I make sure that I continue to be a student when dealing with my own atopic dermatitis—this mindset helps keep me current on new information. I do my own research, and I know my doctor is in my corner to answer any questions and to help me navigate life with eczema.

However, the teacher in me will always take the opportunity to spread awareness and compassion among others. Being informed and continuing to learn more brings a level of comfort and understanding. It reminds me that I’m not alone and neither are you.

Caregiver and patient stories reflect personal stories. Individual experiences may vary.