With my eyes closed, I could picture the pretty bridge, the rushing waterfall, the glorious azalea-covered hill and the stunning pergola in my mind's eye.
It was a scene I'd imagined a thousand times before.
There I'd be, my hair effortlessly pretty, my skin glowing, wearing a flowing gown - the glorious scent of flowers filling the air as I said my vows.
With delicate trees framing the landscape like an intricate oriental painting, it really was the perfect setting for a wedding – MY wedding.
In just seven days' time, I would be there, bringing this dream to life, as I said 'I do,' to my fiancé Brenton Day, 25, in the Japanese Gardens in Toowoomba, Qld.
Now, as I drifted off to sleep, I pictured my wedding of my dreams and nodded off. The next morning, I woke up feeling excited. It was my hen's night later on.
I wonder what the girls have planned for me this evening, I thought yawning.
There were bound to be a few surprises.
Hang on, why was everything still dark? My eyes were glued shut! What was going on?
Dismayed, I called to Brenton.
"I can't see! Help me!" I cried.
"Oh my God, Gemma, are you ok?" he yelped, clearly shocked.
I stumbled to my mirror and slowly managed to prise my eyelids open a crack.
Peering through the narrow slit, I looked at my reflection….and screamed!
"I look like a monster!" I cried, mortified.
Apart from the odd flare up it hadn't bothered me too much until school stress triggered full blown attacks later in my teens.
Since then, it had run riot.
I'd only worn make-up about 10 times in five years because of my eczema.
Foundation and powder perched on top of my dry, scaly skin patches.
I was so self-conscious of how I looked that on bad days as I asked my boss at my admin job if I could sit where no-one could see me.
Once the over-the-counter remedies stopped working, doctors had prescribed me steroid creams, to keep it at bay.
They were known to thin the skin, which I wasn't happy about, but I used them, as at least they worked – for a while.
But now here I was in front of the mirror a week before my wedding with my eyes glued shut!
My eyes were so swollen, I looked like I'd been beaten up!
"Everything's going to be ruined," I sobbed to Brenton.
I managed to get an appointment with my doctor but was so embarrassed on the way over there that I ducked and dived behind cars.
My poor skin…
I'd heard of bridezillas, but I was going to look more like Godzilla, if I didn't get something to get through my wedding and honeymoon in the UK!
"You'll have to try steroids again," said the doctor. "I really don't have anything else to suggest."
"What if they don't work?" I fretted to Brenton.
It all seemed so unfair.
I'd planned my big day around my eczema, which dictated all the major events in my life.
Autumn is the best time of year for my skin so we'd picked a day in that season to tie the knot.
My wedding dress had been chosen carefully too.
It had sleeves as I always had eczema on my arms, and it was a material that didn't aggravate my skin.
But I hadn't bargained on this happening to my face.
The skin on my cheeks was dry, red and burning.
Over the next few days, I applied the steroid cream and was totally freaking out.
I honestly thought the wedding was ruined.
I very nearly cancelled my hen's night but my girlfriends talked me round.
Still, I struggled to enjoy myself as I felt like everyone on the dancefloor of the nightclub they dragged me to was looking at my red face. I felt ugly and ashamed.
Over the next few days I felt so low that I almost cancelled the whole thing.
But amazingly the steroid ointment started working.
Slowly but surely the redness died down and when my wedding day rolled round my skin was radiantly clear.
As Brenton and I said our vows, I was walking on air.
Just as I had pictured so many times, our big day was perfect. It was such a relief.
But once the celebrations were over, I did a bit of research and was shocked to discover the cause of my massive flare up.
My skin was addicted!
I'd had the flare up because my skin had gone into withdrawal symptoms when I stopped using the steroid creams.
It was a catch-22 situation.
While the steroids had saved my wedding day, the more I used them, the worse things got.
My skin had become more resistant and even redder.
At its worst only my feet, a small part of my chest and my palms would be clear of the itchy skin condition, which would become red raw and weepy.
There was only one solution, as far as I could see, I'd have to wean myself off them, gradually.
Luckily, I managed to do it – avoiding another volcanic reaction.
For now, I'm keeping my eczema at bay by drinking at least three litres of water and moisturising four times a day.
Whilst my face is getting better without the creams, I still have a long way to go with the rash on my body.
As any sufferer will know, I also have to resist the often insatiable urge to scratch.
It just makes it far worse and can lead to a serious risk of infection.
Now, I just want other people out there with eczema to read my story and know that they are not alone.
Not only did eczema make my skin behave like a junkie, instead of the fairy-tale wedding I'd dreamed of, it came very close to creating a horror story on my big day!
- PuzzlesThe Australian Women's Weekly February Issue Online Entry
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