Tattoos Helped Me Make Peace with My Eczema

Covering up the scars from a condition I spent years trying to cure [13/06/22: author’s note: my condition got A LOT worse a year or so after I wrote this]

Simon Doherty

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The author’s tattoo. Photo by Josh Eustace.

I’m 14, and I’ve just lost my virginity on my parents’ sofa. The fact that I ejaculated almost instantly (true story—sorry, Emma) isn’t the most embarrassing part of the situation. What really mortified me was that, after the deed, I had to scoop up and dispose of an avalanche of my crispy, flaky dead skin cells from the couch. Removing my own skin from the sofa — in front of a girl I felt in love with — was like removing any glimmer of hope that she might be back for seconds.

Having eczema makes the whole “being a teenager” thing infinitely worse. It makes exams harder, because you have to deal with the stress of passing the thing, which means you can’t stop ripping out chunks of your skin. It bleeds. It hurts. It makes you hate yourself, because you’ve just sacrificed skin on your arms for one fleeting moment of magical scratching bliss, which despite providing more relief than an orgasm, is followed by immediate and determined regret.

My mom resolved to help with the skin problem I was born with. It’s hard to quantify how much effort she put in, because it was relentless. She took me to more specialists than I could ever remember, driving up and down the country in search of some effective approach to managing the rashes, the incessant itch of doom and the sores that occurred when the itch inevitably became a scratch.

My skin didn’t get worse, but it didn’t get better, either.

We tried a strict diet. Candy, soda, and stuff like that was simply never in our house. When I went to elementary school, I was astonished to learn what chocolate actually was; before that, my mom used to give me whole-grain cereal and tell me it was chocolate. We drank only goat’s milk. We didn’t eat gluten. At one point we even went as far as to “adopt” a goat from a local farm, getting our ever-increasing supply of goat’s milk directly from the source. I never tasted fast food until I was old enough to buy it myself, against doctor’s orders.

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Simon Doherty

I’m a London-based writer and this is my blog. You can read my VICE articles here: https://www.vice.com/en/contributor/simon-doherty