Me: Why do you hate me?
My skin: I don’t!
Me: You do. You hurt me.
My skin: You ignore me when I ask for help.
Me: But you’re so aggressive, I get scared.
Why can’t you ask nicely?
My skin: I’ve tried that. You’re so thick skinned. You never listen.
Me: You’re always shouting.
My skin: Because you never listen!
Me: I’m listening now.
How often do most of us think about our skin? Rarely, if ever, unless we cut it or burn it. Yet it covers the whole of our body, the largest of our organs by a country mile and so crucial in protecting us from almost everything that the world can throw at us. So when it gets sick, the fallout is body-wide. And when that sickness manifests itself as itch, then that itch is bone deep and all encompassing.
A pile of bones
The itch is so intense.
I feel like I could scratch
And so dark. Until all that’s left
is a pile of bones.
I am the itch
I am the hot rush.
The burning grip.
the deep sensual push.
I am the yearning, turning, devastating, toe curling.
I am the sharp, broken nail, raking your back
Whispering of sin.
I am the unignored, unrelenting pain and the need to satiate the skin.
I am the itch, that rips through your brain, at high pitch.
Ruth Holroyd has had severe eczema since she was a baby, partially controlled by the steroids prescribed by a long line of doctors and dermatologists. But prolonged use of steroids comes with its own problems, further damaging and thickening the skin and weakening the immune system. So finally she decided to stop them, subjecting herself to a two year (so far) long period of withdrawal which caused not only brain blighting itching but her skin to flake off in painful handfuls.
But, gritting her teeth, she has soldiered on, using poetry both to express her pain but also as a way to find acceptance and to learn not only to live at peace with her skin, but to love it.
You are golden
Inspired by the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. Kintsugi or ‘golden joinery’, also known as Kintsukoroi ‘golden repair’, where treasured objects were mended lovingly with laquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. Nothing is thrown away just because it got cracked, broken or wasn’t perfect anymore. Possessions are treasured, mended, cherished.
You are perfect, just like that.
Those scars, the lines and silver pathways.
The patchwork of your skin.
Are silver threads that bind you.
They make you whole.
They tell the story of who you were.
The journey you have made.
Through fire and torture.
Burnished as a jewel.
To become this imperfect finished human.
Broken but golden.
Shining for others to follow.
I never expected to find myself reading a book of poetry about awfulness of living with bad eczema. And not only reading it but being gripped by it, turning page after page to read more of Ruth’s tight, brief, heart rending cries of pain, of rage, of despair and finally of acceptance and contentment.
For anyone with a skin condition, especially an itchy one, the resonances are huge; for anyone close to an eczema or a Topical Steroid Withdrawal sufferer, the poems would bring helpful insight and understanding; for poetry lovers it will confirm that belief that there is no condition that poety cannot help, inspire and relieve; for the rest of us it is a book that rewards when least you expect it to.