In June 2020, I developed a skin condition on my left cheek.
Initially I thought it was hay-fever, the result of vicious London pollen, then potentially sunburn. But, even though I tended to it with different creams, balms and gels, it remained.
I had never really had issues with my skin before apart from when I was a teenager trying to deal with the stress of exam season. Back then, I used to get patches of dry skin on my cheeks that Mum used to treat with Vitamin E oil. I have vivid memories of her pragmatically applying it in circular motions on to each side of my face. The moments had been quick but they had been that of attention and care.
Mum had passed away unexpectedly in February 2020 and I so I began to wonder if the tenderness of my face was a psychosomatic reflection of the stressful time my family was experiencing and my body's cry for attention and care.
When Mum died, I had gone into auto-pilot, throwing myself into practicalities - paperwork, sorting, checking in with loved ones, holding on to a part-time job 100 miles away because of lockdown, trying to arrange a funeral at the beginning of a freshly discovered Pandemic. There was no space for grief. I feared that if I stopped I wouldn't be able to start again. And so, I kept going, random bouts of crying would happen but they were often short and I felt numb either side of them.
The sensitive skin on my cheek would flare-up and then calm down again but never really disappeared, in fact, it got worse. The area of red inflammation grew, the skin would ooze yellow if caught and then form little brown scabs.
I contacted my GP. Covid meant that the consultations were a combination of photos sent through a virtual system and phone-calls. Over the next 6 months, I would be prescribed steroid cream, antibiotic cream, acne cream and 2 different types of oral antibiotics. At one point, in between being asked repeatedly if I had ever had acne, I was invited to have the area swabbed. It came back clear, no obvious reason for the condition.
No obvious reason.
The reason had been very obvious, but I had not been ready to accept it yet.
I needed to process the trauma I had experienced.
It all started to fall into place when I heard a podcast featuring Dr James Gordon, an American Author and Psychiatrist known for Mind-Body medicine. He spoke about how when we experience trauma it affects the nervous system, our bodies can struggle to function as efficiently as they usually do. One of the signs can be the body becoming sensitive to substances it previously wasn't. In my case, Gluten.
Instead of beginning the 3 month course of antibiotics and acne cream prescribed by my GP, who still couldn't identify the cause of the condition, I removed gluten from my diet. There were a few false starts with the detox because it appears in the most random of places(!) but once the allergen was no longer entering my body, my face began to heal within a matter of days. I tended to the outside with Himalayan salt washes, Aloe Vera and Vitamin E per the advice of a friend who works with natural remedies and then I had to do further healing on the inside.
My body had literally brought my trauma to the surface and I was so grateful to it. My Mum had passed away suddenly and, in order to cope, I had thrown myself into doing, working, producing, helping others, not stopping enough to allow the sadness in. I was mechanically going through self-care - meditation, movement, walks in nature but I had left no space to deal with the huge upheaval I had experienced mentally, emotionally, spiritually and so it had manifested physically. My body was getting my attention. And the attention of others. By producing a visible difference on my face it was providing opportunity to be asked:
'Are you okay?'
Because I wasn't okay.
I was sad and tired. Tired of holding it together, tired of my resilience being tested. I needed time to break, properly break.
I needed a rest.
I needed time to heal.
And so, I went into retreat.
I cleared my diary of interactions with others, focusing on holistic healing - simple food, resting when my body told me to, spiritual and energetic healing meditations, nurturing myself. I read Resmaa Menakem's book 'My Grandmother's Hands' which was not only a well-timed instruction manual around how to move trauma through us, it also explained how we can be carrying the pain of generations before us.
My body had been holding a lot - generational trauma, racialised trauma, adverse childhood experiences, depression, grief, painful relationships, the pandemic, bereavement.
I was resetting my nervous system, reassuring all parts of myself that now, more than ever, I would check-in with myself physically, emotionally, energetically. My body created opportunity for what I craved deep down - permission to stop, to not have to show up, to be asked if I was okay - actually okay.
I was giving myself what I really needed - like those moments with Mum and the Vitamin E oil.
Attention and care.
I invite you to do the same, so that your body doesn't have to do it on your behalf.
Wishing Only Love.
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