CHARLOTTE AGNEW

It is hard to feel comfortable in your own skin when your skin itself is uncomfortable. Since I began to openly talk about my skin condition, it has become a lot easier for me to accept it as a part of who I am. People often ask how I remain so positive, but the truth is sometimes you have to just get on with it. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time feeling miserable because it knocked off a lot of confidence. As soon as I realised that I was not alone, I began to embrace it as a piece of art, despite what it had put me through.

 

It all started in January 2018 with a few small red dots across my stomach. Soon it spread into a salmon-pink pattern that covered my entire body. Luckily, I could hide it under my beanie and long-sleeved knitted jumpers during the colder months. I learned that it was an auto-immune disease called psoriasis, it was hard for me to accept at first because it had happened so suddenly. Psoriasis is a life-long hereditary skin condition where the immune system attacks itself. There has not been a lot of research to explain why this happens, but we know that it can lead to flare-ups which results in dry, painful and itchy skin. For years my skin has been a little dry but never had I ever had a flare-up like this. It was a shock purely because it had spread so quickly - even the doctors were not sure of what to do. I was given steroid creams for the spots on my body and steroid shampoo for my scalp, all in the hopes that it would clear up the patches and prevent it from flaking so much.

 

I soon learnt that the normal skin cell cycle lasts around 28 days, whereas for somebody with psoriasis is around three to nine days. Over time, my scalp was still dry and the spots on my body were not showing much effect. Despite the constant visits to the doctors, I was constantly being prescribed more medication. The steroid cream was very tedious because I had to apply it every day to each and every spot. With many of these across my body, the process was very time consuming and I had to get a flat-mate to help me put them onto my back. Every single morning, I had to shower as part of my scalp medication. It gradually became a challenge to wake up with something to look forward to. As well as the routine, the condition itself was time-consuming as it got worse. The itchiness was very distracting, and the flakes were very embarrassing. It reached a point where I would wake up in the morning and stretch, only to feel a sharp pain all over my body as my skin would crack open. Moreover, the patches became so thick that I no longer could feel my normal skin underneath. My scalp got pretty bad too, my hat acted as a helmet because I kept scratching it. Even if it was bleeding and stinging, somehow, I still had to scratch it even though it was making it worse.

 

My skin began to feel foreign; I literally felt trapped in a shell. I felt very depressed because of how restricting the psoriasis was, which made it hard for me to go outside or to see people. Every morning when picking an outfit, I’d ask myself if I wanted people to see my bloodstains in a light shirt, or my skin flakes in a dark shirt. Grey became my favourite colour. Additionally, the hardest thing was not knowing what had triggered it in the first place, so nobody knew how to make it go away. Triggers can include certain food groups like lactose, gluten, nightshades (such as tomatoes and aubergines), refined sugar, alcohol, stress, etc. My mother and I struggled to pin-point what the trigger could be since there was nothing too drastically new in my diet since coming to university.

 

Everybody with psoriasis will react differently to different things, but I felt very alienated not knowing anybody else at university with a skin condition too. For me, there was a turning point. I decided to look up ‘#psoriasis’ on Instagram and I was shocked. As I scrolled through the results, I couldn’t believe how many other psoriasis sufferers were out there with the same skin as mine. Some posts were positive whereas others showed the pain – but both of which brought a huge sense of relief. This was when I created @itsonlypsoriasis, which is an Instagram account that I use and a visual diary to share my journey and talk to others going through the same thing. At first, I was hesitant to post photos of my skin. However, I wanted to share my story to let others know that they are not alone. Consequently, the support that it received was amazing as so many people were very understanding. This completely changed my outlook on having a skin condition, which lead to me openly talking about it amongst my friends and family. My confidence grew, so I no longer began to feel ashamed because it made me feel unique. Even when my scalp psoriasis had caused some hair to fall out, my mother lent me an abundance of patterned headscarves for me to try. I started wearing clothes that I wanted to wear, even if that meant that other people could see my skin. I no longer conceal it so that it normalises something that is already normal. People do notice, but I no longer mind because it creates a discussion and helps to spread awareness.

 

I am honestly so grateful for the people that stuck around to make sure that I was okay. This motivated me to stay positive, so I want to say a huge thank you. The journey has made me realise how important it is to love ourselves and to appreciate our differences. I started going outside more, eating healthier food, socialising as well as doing the things I wanted to without psoriasis holding me back. It may sound cheesy to say this, but colour has been restored to my life again. It is safe to say that I now feel comfortable in my own skin.

"My skin began to feel foreign;

I literally felt trapped in a shell "

"Colour has been restored to my life" 

© Falmouth and Exeter Students' Union