Sonia O Connell – Living with psoriasis

My name is Sonia,  and I am 35 years old. My story with psoriasis first began at the age of 5. This was around the time I started school, which I now know looking back, was definitely linked with the onset of my psoriasis. As a child I experienced anxiety, leaving my mum to attend school was a shock to me as I had never attended pre-school and was always by her side.

The doctors prescribed me with topical steroid ointment which had limited results. What was worse than the psoriasis itself, was the emotional impact it had on my confidence and self-esteem growing up. I internally felt like a monster, and that I needed to hide this embarrassing rash on my body. If people only knew what the anxiety felt like, for simple things like wearing a swimsuit in front of the other children or wearing shorts when playing basketball. The shame I felt and the longing to be told I was beautiful and that everything would be okay.

At 15, my psoriasis got progressively worse. At the time, the waiting list was so long, and my skin was covered from head to toe, that my father paid for me to go private and see a skin specialist. Again, topical steroid creams were prescribed but alongside this to get my psoriasis under control, I had to attend a clinic three times a week to receive photo light therapy treatment.

He did not come in with me, so I was again walking this journey alone and with no emotional support. This got my psoriasis to about 80% clear.

Over the years I did my best to apply topical creams, I used sunbeds, moisturisers, alternative medicines, to keep my psoriasis at bay. My love for cosmetics and fashion is the thing that got me through the years of pain and suffering with this condition. By 27 my skin seemed to flare up again. At this stage in my life, I had high levels of stress in my place of work, at home and in my relationship. I was also a mum to a beautiful 2-year-old-girl. I tried limiting certain foods from my diet, this seemed to help, but I found I would then become underweight quickly and looked unhealthy.

So, I decided to go back to a consultant and see could they help me. She recommended a tablet form this time, as my skin was 80% covered and the steroid ointment that I had been prescribed from the age of 5 had now thinned and prematurely aged my skin. I was told not to start this drug unless I was finished having children. Once I heard this and read the long list of side effects, I convinced myself I could fight it myself with diet, baths and moisturisers. By the age of 30 I had my second daughter.

After this pregnancy, my health deteriorated. I suffered with my digestion system, anxiety, and depression from lack of sleep and of course my skin kept getting worse. My doctor kept prescribing me with oral steroids as the inflammation got so bad and I had temperatures from my skin being so inflamed. You could feel the heat from me through my clothes. I was cold and sore all the time and I was trying to look after my two little girls. The doctor couldn’t do anymore for me, and I couldn’t keep taking oral steroids and topical steroids because my joints and skin had suffered enough at this point. The tears just kept flowing behind closed doors, all the time, doing my best to keep a house going for my two children and trying to dress nice and cover my skin with make-up. Looking back now, I do not know where I got the strength and resilience from, especially as I never received any emotional or psychological support from parents, support groups or counsellors.

Finally, I decided to try one more time, as I could not take living like this anymore and I had my two children to think of. I booked another private hospital consultant appointment and asked the doctor for a referral as I knew I needed help badly.

I’ll never forget that day. Although I sat in the clinic with hope, I never actually thought she would care, as I had been down this road before. I got so used to people fobbing me off that I felt like a child walking into the room, emotionally broken and only a shred of hope left that I would be seen and heard. It was suggested to me to bring along photographs of when my skin was at its worst before the doctor gave me oral steroids.

She asked me a few questions, took one look at my bony body, my thin skin, and the joints on my hands. Finally, I showed her the photos. She looked at me and said, “and you’re such a lovely little thing”. She replied, “I have seen enough, I am sending you for an Xray and bloods to be taken today” and set up training with a nurse to show me how to inject myself at home. Finally, I was ready to start my journey on my new biological treatment.

I inject myself every second week into my thigh, I get my bloods taken every three months with my GP and I visit my consultant twice a year.

I am now nearly 36 years of age, and I can truly say that woman changed my life that day and I am truly grateful. I was so scared and did not want to start the treatment, but with support from my family, friends and consultant, I am truly grateful I took a chance and it turned out to be a success.

It took me a year to catch up with my new skin and my new body emotionally and psychologically. By the second year, I had gained weight, I finally had clear skin, went back to school, and now feel like I have a second chance at life.

If I could give you one piece of advice after going through what I did. Please seek support, no one should go through this journey alone. Speak to a counsellor, join a support group, love yourself enough to be around people that support and love you and above all else, never give up. Keep looking for answers and one day you will change your life too. You too will one day tell your story and give hope to those who need it. You can shine your light and inspire others who are suffering to stay motivated, to keep their heads held high and to never give up. Be kind to yourself.

I send you love and light.