"They can look if they want to"

Rachel Brazell
Chapter 1
The Lost Years

I think a lot of people who end up with psoriasis have a similar experience to what I went through. For example, I didn't even know what psoriasis was when I first noticed this weird little dime-sized spot on my shoulder when I was 19 years old. When it didn't go away after a couple of weeks, I went to the doctor to try to figure out what it was. They diagnosed me with dermatitis and gave me some cream - I honestly don't even remember what it was - to treat it. Of course, that didn't work, and the spot on my shoulder stayed the same size for several months. I tried to treat it with lots of different medications during that time, and it never went away.

I had the first of my three children then — a son — and a lot of things in my body changed, including the psoriasis. It spread like crazy to my arms, my legs, my back, my face, my scalp. Everything. In the meantime, I moved from Houston, where I'm from, to Montgomery, Alabama, and it was here that I finally got an answer, after two solid years of being misdiagnosed.

Chapter 2
From Small Things, Big Problems

What's a bit weird is that when I had that first dime-sized spot on my shoulder — that was 10 years ago now — it didn't itch. It didn't bother me at all, really. It was just a small, red dot that seemed like dry skin. I tried lots of different things to get rid of it and nothing worked. It wasn't spreading. It wasn't getting bigger. I was just concerned because I was 19 years old and had this weird dot on my shoulder. But when it did begin to change, it changed rapidly, and dramatically. I wound up with plaques on my body the size of grapefruit.

I had it under control for a while, but in the last month or so I've seen a whole bunch of new spots pop up, and my dermatologist and I have to see if we can find a new treatment, because what I've been using for the past few years — a combination of a topical cream and a corticosteroid, which helped for a long time — just doesn't seem to be working anymore. Over the years, like anyone with this condition, I've tried all sorts of treatments. You just have to keep working with your doctor to find something that works for you — because something that works for one person might not work at all for someone else. That's just one of the many frustrating aspects of this disease.

Chapter 3
Coming to Terms

When I was first told that I had psoriasis, I was like, "OK, good to know. Now, give me the medication. Let's get rid of it. Whatever we have to do, let's do it." That's when the doctor took a step back and had to explain to me that this was — this is — something I'm going to deal with for the rest of my life. There's no cure. It doesn't go away.

It took me a while to come to terms with that. To look in the mirror and see my body covered with these huge spots, and know this is something I'm going to have to deal with forever was devastating. I've come to terms with it now, over the last 10 years, but it definitely took me a long, long time to embrace it and accept it. I was always really proud of how I looked. I was always the girl with cute dresses, tanned legs, things like that. To feel like I had to cover these spots and be self-conscious about my looks really changed my self-esteem and my perception of myself and the world around me.

Chapter 4
New Self-Esteem

I feel a lot more confident now. I used to hide, not wanting to go outside, avoiding clothes that deep down I really wanted to wear. But at this point in my life I don't really care what other people think. I'm going to wear the clothes I want to wear. They can look if they want to. I'll be happy to explain what’s going on with my skin, but I'm not going to alter my own behavior anymore, just because other people might not understand.

The most important thing for anyone with psoriasis is education. Educate yourself and, when possible, educate others. I hope we get to a point where no one has to go through two years of misdiagnosis and not understanding what's going on with their body, the way I did. There's no reason for that sort of ignorance anymore. There just isn't.