This past month has been one of the most stressful I've experienced in a long time. A few days ago, on a Story Sessions call discussing Rilke and the importance of artistic rhythms, I had a moment of clarity I decided to turn into a mini-series on the blog about doing what you must. This is the first post.
The rash started on my knee.
At first, I thought it was a heat rash. (Hello, Texas summer) When it didn't go away like other heat rashes, I thought maybe a cut was healing.
And then I woke up one morning clawing at my neck. When I looked in the mirror to see what could be going on, I found tiny red splashes of irritated skin staring back at me.
Hello, stress. How are you? So nice of you to visit.
I did what I normally do: complain, try not to scratch, and use an inordinate amount of cortisone cream. One morning I kicked my sheets off of my legs and started scratching feverishly, watching as tiny bumps formed underneath the red streaks left behind by my fingernails.
Nothing was working outside of an insane lathering of aloe vera, and well, that just got sticky.
After a few days, the spots on my neck faded and my legs were calming down considerably. And then? It was everywhere. My legs. My stomach. My arms. My neck. My chest.
The redi-clinic couldn't help me, saying it was eczema and for me to use lotion. When I finally connected a new laundry detergent appearing shortly after the rash, I decided to throw that one out and get an old stand-by we'd used before.
It wasn't until a sleepless night had me googling allergic reactions to every single thing I'd used in the past month that I connected the culprit: arnica.
A magical little gel-like substance that solves any muscular aches, it also can provide horrific reactions to those allergic to ragweed (raises hand). I felt simultaneously hopeful and frustrated.
Especially because I had even taken the pills.
This was more than just your standard allergic reaction.
After a trip to the dermatologist and a hefty dose of steroids, I started noticing a slight improvement.
But this story is not about a rash.
For the past week, I've had to keep my skin as hydrated as possible. This meant stopping what I was doing throughout the day to rub lotion onto my legs, my arms, my stomach, my chest.
Talk about forcing embodiment.
Every day, I took a handful of lotion and in circular motions, massaged these pieces of me that normally don't receive so much attention. After a few times, I started talking to them. Letting them know that I see them, and I notice the rash, and I love them anyway.
It was a profound moment of mothering myself.
Rashes are a thing for me. I don't do well when there's something going on with my body in which I have no control. I would say you could blame my past for that, but it's also a healthy dose of fear of the unknown and my need to have things in a certain order.
I've gotten better over time, but there's nothing that will send my anxiety spinning then seeing something I can't stop. Itchy skin is up there on the list of triggers.
I used to think I'd be a horrible mom because of this. Kids get rashes. They just do. I know this—as a teacher I saw plenty of funky skin conditions.
But I also had the lysol spray handy.
I had friends tell me that it would be different when I was a mother, that it wouldn't matter because this was my kid and he or she was uncomfortable and that would be my priority, but I knew myself. I knew the way my mind played tricks on me. I wasn't so sure I would hold so much grace.
So it's fitting that my first round of mothering was meant for me—for my skin and knees and arms and neck that were red and angry with a reaction coming from within.
It was the only way I could calm down. Sit on my bed and breathe. Pull out the lotion and breathe again. Use my thumbs and fingers and work out the tired muscles tense from stress and worry. Whisper safety and healing and love.
Only then could I begin to see connections between stress and how my body was reacting. Only then could I begin to understand that maybe the allergic reaction was yet another way of my body reminding me that I needed release.
And that's when I remembered it'd been weeks since I cried.