At the beginning of this year we were stuck in a position that we just couldn’t climb out of, no matter how hard we tried. Our 3 year old son Jay had severe eczema and was going through topical steroid withdrawal after 15 months of using hydrocortisone 1%. Most of his body was covered in red, itchy skin which was making him very uncomfortable at night. In addition, he was constipated, lethargic and in a great deal of digestive discomfort. We had already been through three months of exhaustion, stress and sleep deprivation, trying to find ways to make him comfortable.
Our eczema story will be familiar to many of you reading this.
When Jay was around 6 months old, eczema began to appear on his neck, back and face. At this point it was fairly easy to manage naturally - shea butter and coconut oil worked wonders. As the months passed by it gradually worsened and doctors and our health visitor prescribed petroleum based cream and emollients for us. By the time Jay reached 18 months, the eczema had become impossible to keep under control and after a particularly nasty episode of itching and scratching, probably brought on by a reaction to pollen, we started using the hydrocortisone.
From this point onwards, I tried to detox our lives as much as I could in an attempt to clear the eczema up. Some of my attempts worked to begin with, but like the hydrocortisone, nothing had any positive long term effect on his skin. We experimented with various natural creams, dust proofed everything in sight and found alternative ways of cleaning the house and washing clothes. I examined the link between food and eczema and after allergy and food intolerance tests, cut the foods bothering him out of his diet. This gave his digestive system some relief but again, the eczema showed no signs of clearing. I decided to take things one step further and we started following the Eczema Diet. Initially, everything went well. Jay’s skin cleared up rapidly and we began tapering off the hydrocortisone. Our delight at being able to do this was short lived. As we increased the time period between applications of cream, the eczema started to return and in places that it hadn’t been before. We were a couple of months before Jay’s third birthday and he was going into topical steroid withdrawal.
To begin with, I thought I could handle the situation. As the months passed, however, I became more and more exhausted from sleep deprivation and was not sure exactly how to move forward. One day, while reading through posts in an Facebook group for parents of children with severe eczema, I came across one written by a naturopath called Rebecca Bonneteau. Rebecca had found relief from the pain of her own eczema through the many different natural therapies that she had studied and tested out on her own body. She was advertising her newly created Family Coaching Programme and sounded so upbeat and positive, a real contrast to the sort of thing you normally read on eczema forums. Apart from her positivity, what stood out about her post was her belief that it was possible to take control of eczema naturally.
I had this belief too but I felt so ground down by my many attempts to get my son’s eczema under control that I no longer knew how to move forward. Jay was 3.5 months into topical steroid withdrawal and I was not in a particularly great state myself. I was full of anxiety, unable to deal with scratchy periods calmly and to be honest, on the verge of depression. I felt very alone, but I was ready to ask for help. I got in touch with Rebecca and booked an hour long eczema exploration call during which I explained our whole sorry tale to her. We discussed diet and digestion, the nutritional changes we could make and natural remedies that would help. I talked about how Jay was sensitive to loud noises and bright lights and sometimes suffered from earache. She explained how inflammation in the body was behind this and what the connection was to eczema. It was a real lightbulb moment for me. I ended the call feeling confident that she could do something to help us. I had the sense that things were about to get better and was extremely keen to start work.
Once the course began, we had frequent personal consultations with Rebecca in the form of video calls. In our first call, Rebecca analysed Jay’s diet, based on a food diary that we had completed, looking for nutritional deficiencies. She then made suggestions as to how we could broaden it, which we could try out in the weeks to come. In subsequent calls, I would describe Jay’s skin and the symptoms he was experiencing and she would prescribe natural remedies that were tailored to his specific situation.
We had further contact with Rebecca during weekly group calls, during which we could share with the other course participants our experiences and the progress we were making. As well as responding to our questions and comments, Rebecca presented a topic of interest, which would include useful tips that we could apply to our own situations in the week to come. This topic could also be studied at leisure in an online membership area. Here, I discovered many gems of information that provided practical ways of dealing with scratchy, oozing and flaking skin, always with a focus on healing the body from the inside out.
Also in the membership area was a seven day mindset reboot programme, with an exercise to complete each day during the first week of the course. Rebecca had designed these exercises to help us examine what was holding us back from taking control of our situations, discover our strengths as parents of children with eczema and engender a feeling of positivity. This section was probably the most important part of the programme for me as a whole, given how exhausted and emotionally drained I felt. I cannot underestimate the importance of it in creating the attitude I needed to move forward and change the way I viewed Jay’s eczema.
As the course progressed, there was one particular way in which my mindset changed. I learnt that I should not expect the healing of Jay’s skin to be instantaneous. I realised I’d got stuck in a mindset of expecting immediate results when trying new creams, diets or supplements, unsurprising given our use of steroid creams. Rebecca managed to gently highlight this to me, as I initially struggled with the concept and repeatedly reassured me that by choosing to help Jay’s body heal using natural methods, I was on the right track. This lightened the emotional load for me. By the end of the course I had become much more adept at identifying what was going on in Jay’s body and navigating the ups and downs that come with frequent flare ups. At the beginning of the course, a typical reaction for me was, ‘His skin is bright red. What has he eaten that could have caused this? Will this ever pass?’. By the end, with the knowledge I had gained, I was more likely to say, ‘Oh, it’s just a flare up. It will pass. It’s just part of the healing process’.
Another really vital part of the programme for me was the support I gained. Looking back over the last year or so, I realised that I had been putting enormous pressure on myself to find a solution to Jay’s eczema. I enjoyed doing my own research, but I could never switch my brain off in my moments of downtime. Carrying this burden alone was exhausting. Working with Rebecca lifted the weight off my shoulders. She had already done the research and had tried and tested all remedies on her own eczema. If I was too tired to think about what to try next, she would be there with a ready made solution.
This support did not just come from Rebecca. At the start of the course, Rebecca added all course participants to a secret Facebook group where we could get to know each other, give support and share information. I found these participants to be surprisingly like-minded. I didn’t have to explain much to them, not the late nights and mornings, not the over sensitive behaviour of our children, not the way we had already detoxified our lives to a large degree. It’s easy to feel isolated as the parent of a child with severe eczema. No matter how hard you try to explain things to friends, you’re always left with the feeling of being somehow different and alone in your sleeplessness, mental exhaustion and unusual routines. In this group I could post about a problem I was having without wondering if I’d described it clearly enough, only to be met with empathy, understanding and general cries of, ‘yes, me too!’.
Now we have reached the end of the 12 week programme, a lot has changed. Jay’s skin is much less red and rough and is smoother and pinker with peachy coloured skin showing through. He’s much less constipated, has more energy and is much less clingy. And as for me, my mental health has undergone a complete turnaround. I have learnt how to cope with scratchy episodes that occur during the day or night. Feeling more positive about living with a child with eczema has enabled me to create strategies to cope with the itchy nights. I am by no means always calm but there is a much happier atmosphere in our home, an atmosphere that can only speed up the healing. I feel empowered by the knowledge I have gained and with the shift that I have made towards a healing mindset, am well equipped to deal with whatever comes up.
I’m sad to be at the end of the course. As well as feeding my brain with new knowledge, it was very enjoyable. It really has been a voyage of discovery, both emotionally and intellectually. If you’re interested in exploring natural ways of dealing with eczema and feel you’ve tried everything, I would recommend giving Rebecca’s programme a go. She has the knowledge and personal experience to help you turn the way you view eczema on its head and kickstart the natural healing process in your child. And if you’re worn out by dealing with what feels like constant scratching and would like to feel more positive about the situation that you are in, her programme will give you the tools to help you take control of your situation. You will be in safe hands.
Note From Rebecca Bonneteau ND
I would like to thank Sarah for taking the time to write this. It has been a pleasure to work with her family and it's so great to see the changes in both parent and child. Parents are not supported enough to cope with the stress that dealing with a child with eczema brings and a huge part of my motivation was hearing how hard it was for my parents and wanting to create a supportive service for the whole family.
If you would like to know more about how I can help you then please join my facebook group where you will find content to get you started. I'm here when you are ready to reach out for help. In the mean time stay strong and know that you have the strength to deal with this. x