How I learned to relax about my skin disorder, and relax with people

“Would you like to see someone about this?”

The new doctor asked kindly, gently, euphemistically. I had become speechless with shame when she suggested a steroid cream to treat the eczema that covered my face and body with red scabs. Somehow I knew she was suggesting a psychotherapist, not a dermatologist.

Therapy with Maxine was a scary new thing; first thing I checked was whether she would change my personality! Sitting under a framed photo of her dog, she reassured me about the process. Of course I desperately needed some personality improvement. The therapist didn’t control me or steal my soul – mostly she just listened, and spoke a few words at the end of each session. Even though I couldn’t see how her platitudes were supposed to help, and I actually hated that dog photo, the process of talking through my problems every few weeks did in fact lead to some big improvements in self-awareness and coping ability.

This all happened in the mid-1990s when I was in my early 20’s, so I don’t remember all the details. I do remember that those first two years of therapy brought me from a very stiff and nerdy attitude into a less anxious state. When a volunteering opportunity came up, I jumped into it, met new people, and observed how we worked together in groups. I learned how to relax with the volunteers over a drink at the pub, and eventually one of them invited me to join her friends for a social activity. I’m still friends with them over 20 years later. And yes, this process helped me start dating, but that’s another post!

The eczematous itching was still maddening for many years, but at least I found out that it was a common and treatable medical problem, and that people would not shun me because of it. And my skin was the trigger that convinced me to get help with anxiety and social skills.


Alana is the organizer of, the founder of the Love Not Anger project, and the creator of the original "involuntary celibacy" support website in 1997. This post expresses her own views; she is not a mental-health professional or dating expert.
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