I don’t know if it’s even possible to convey the exquisitely intense agony that is a an allergic skin reaction out of control. If you have never had more than the odd mozzie bite, the idea of a half of your skin (the largest organ in your body) covered with itchy welts must make approximately as much sense as zapping off to the moon on your lunch break. Not something you can really understand, much less imagine.
Nonetheless, for the sake of trying to distract what remains of my mind from the fiendish screaming of the nerve endings all along my arms, I am going to try. This, you understand, is the easy end of the allergic reaction. It started almost a week ago and within 24 hours had covered my body, so that I looked as though I was in the early stages of elephantiasis. At that point my entire body was itchy, and much of my skin was swollen. Now it’s just my arms. Hallelujah.
But what does it feel like to get to the point where you are seriously considering removing your entire epidermis with a cheese grater, or possibly some coarse grade sand paper?
First there is the heat. Where the welts rise, the heat radiating off my skin could easily fry an egg, I’m sure. In the cold weather we’ve got now in my part of the world, this may be considered a bonus. I can always rely on my husband’s cold hands to provide some temporary relief.
It’s crucial to stay cold – actually getting warm, or being anywhere near a heat source, causes the itching to flare and my skin starts to glow a molten red. I try to rub rather than scratch, so as not to draw blood or leave scars, but despite that my skin is becoming increasingly tender from the constant friction. People tell me not to scratch, but half the time I don’t even know I am doing it. So I try to stay cold without actually courting pneumonia. It’s a fine line.
The itching itself is exquisite agony. It feels as though a thousand microscopic ants are crawling all over my skin. It feels as though each nerve ending is being continuously electrically stimulated. It feels as though I have clawed through my sanity. Rubbing provides an ecstatic counterpoint to the itching by temporarily overwhelming the nerve endings with a different sensation. Unfortunately it turns out that it’s impossible to rub every part of your skin simultaneously.
And then there is the look of the thing. I look like either a plague carrier or a victim of horrific burns. People have begun backing away from me in public places. I am an object lesson used to scare kiddies. “That’s what will happen if you keep scratching that mozzie bite!” or “That’s what you’ll look like if you don’t wash your hands!”
I don’t need to say “Boo!”, I just wave my hideous arms at them.
I can’t sleep, driven mad by the ceaseless stimulation, the feeling that something, or a million somethings, are constantly crawling all over me.
It is driving me out of my mind (never a long trip at the best of times). And yet it is just a rash. I’ve experienced chronic pain and I’d take the itching any day. It’s not life threatening, nor permanently disfiguring (I hope), and it is slowly getting better. So many people are coping with so much worse even as I type.
So now that I have given you some small idea of how I feel, it’s time to focus on the positives. On the people who get it. The students who ask if I’m ok. The colleagues who sympathise. My family who are putting up with my itchy, scratchy, twitchy temper. And to remember that even when we think we are alone in a hell of our own devising, there are people noticing and caring, if we will only let them.