Written by Claire Goodwin

Health

Psoriasis: a scaly story

Since her teenage years, Claire Goodwin has had to deal with the flaky tosser that is psoriasis. It has not been any kind of fun.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

“Scabies.” I heard my GP utter that word, and the shame, guilt and anxiety I felt when he said it danced down my nerves and made me feel dirty.

My 14-year-old self’s emotions and fears bucked and squealed as he said something along the lines of, “Have you slept anywhere different?”

As my mum sat alongside me, my face burned and, a bit like that feeling when you’re at the airport and they ask if you’re carrying any knives, and you know you’re not, but you feel guilty anyway, I protested and wept too much.

“I do not have scabies, Mum; don’t tell anyone; I don’t have scabies and I haven’t been anywhere dirty and I am not dirty.”*

*For the record, I am well aware scabies is not the result of poor hygiene or insalubrious environments, and is in fact a mite infestation mainly contracted from skin to skin contact with an infected person.

I was 14, heading into the territory of first boyfriend, had a really trendy haircut and cool clothes thanks to my part-time sous-chef job… and large pustular spots all over my legs. I refused to use the Derbac M I was prescribed. I wish it HAD been scabies.

A few weeks later, the big, pulsating yellow heads had popped (yum) and large plaques of thick, layered, scaly skin littered my whole body. When I visited the optician for contact lenses, I found out it was on the inside of my eyelids. My recently pitted and flakey nails were also a victim.

Once my body was three quarters of the way to Singing Detective (an actual clinical scale, based on the lead, psoriasis-suffering character in Dennis Potter’s drama), my body decided scabs that cracked deeply and regularly became infected weren’t bad enough. My battered immune system dictated my bones should take a hit and have sporadic bouts of intense inflammation and pain, diagnosed as psoriatic arthritis.

This, thankfully, passed with age, however, there was a final insult. Can you think of anything sexier than scabs and open sores and flaking on every piece of furniture you sat in?

Warts.

All over my chin and nose and all over my feet. They counted 40+ on the sole of each foot. The dermatologist routinely burnt them off my face which resulted in a beautiful patchwork of sores, but there were too many on my feet to deal with.

By this point, I was 26. I’d spent my teens and early adulthood smothered in emollient, wrapping my steroid slathered limbs in clingfilm (don’t try this at home unless your doctor says it’s OK) and visiting the dermatologist ALL THE TIME.

My mum paid for Chinese herbal treatment in desperation, and I spent a miserable eight weeks drinking a broth of mingtastic proportions to try to ‘cool down my blood’. It didn’t work. I also had UV therapy; this too didn’t work, but I had an almighty tan.

“I cried. I looked like Tom Selleck. We trundled to Boots and bought the large pot of Jolen and I slathered it all over my top lip and Wolverine burns.”

So at 26, I entered the dermo’s room, exhausted from scratching and treatments and sleepless nights and discomfort and wartiness and constantly having to explain to people why I looked like a snake on shed day and that they couldn’t catch it.

“I think you’ve earned the tablets, Claire.”

THERE ARE FUCKING DRUGS FOR THIS SHIT?? ARE YOU FUCKING JOKING ME???

Now, they don’t give the drugs out willy nilly, because they are toxic little bastards. But still, I wanted to scream “12 FUCKING YEARS OF SUFFERING MATE” in his bloody face.

They gave me immunosuppressants called Ciclosporin – it’s what they prescribe for transplant patients to stop them rejecting their new organs. Essentially, they shut down your immune system. The theory being that because my immune system was overactive, my body was responding by attacking itself through the means of psoriasis/arthritis/warts.

I started taking the drugs. The side effects are scary – the scariest are potential tumours and kidney damage, the more ‘gentle’ ones being ‘pins and needles’ and ‘growth of downy hair’. The pins and needles were horrendous. It felt like someone was shoving hot pokers down my bones.

After around six days of taking the medication, my then-boyfriend (now hubster), Carl, asked whether I’d looked at myself lately.

Unaccustomed to this sort of pastime, I said no. Of course I was aware the scratching and the flaking was reducing, but when I looked down, I realised the scabs and the warts were all but gone. I felt like Neve Campbell in The Craft. I danced around naked and resplendent. This very much pleased Carl.

I did however, notice a slight furring on my face.

“Have I got a tash, Carl?”

*Carl refuses to make eye contact* “No love, not at all.”

I was happy with this and made a trip to see my mother.

“I hope you’re going to do something about that tash, Claire.”

I cried. I looked like Tom Selleck. We trundled to Boots and bought the large pot of Jolen and I slathered it all over my top lip and Wolverine burns. I would be lovely after this. Unfortunately, it turned me from Magnum PI into Hulk Hogan.

Ah well, at least I wasn’t full of scabs and it wouldn’t be forever.

The drugs kicked my psoriasis into touch for around six years before it started coming back, but it is not as severe as it once was.

Being older, I now firmly believe it’s a part of me, and though I wouldn’t choose to have it, I don’t hate it or myself or the way I look like I once used to. Maybe that comes with age, maybe it’s acceptance, maybe it’s a bit of both. To anyone out there in the grip of it, keep persevering, it will get better.

@bake_therapist

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Written by Claire Goodwin

Claire is a speech therapist, baker, cake decorator, sometime radio guest and writer. She writes about food, being fat and living with mental health problems @bake_therapist; www.baketherapy.co.uk; www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK