Sunday, 15 Dec 2019

Woman with psoriasis says people shun her because they think she is contagious

When Kirsty Crook, 31, first noticed a tiny red patch on her forehead about 10 years ago, she thought little of it.

But soon more appeared over her body and eventually, her scalp, face, back, legs and groin were covered.

Kirsty, of Liverpool, Merseyside, was diagnosed with psoriasis – a condition that causes red flaky patches across the body. She also latter developed psoriatic arthritis – where the immune system attacks healthy tissue.

For years, the condition and cruel comments from strangers have knocked her confidence but now she says she is determined not to let her condition ruin her life and takes comfort in sharing her journey on social media.

She said: ‘I would never go out wearing shorts, skirts, dresses or short sleeves. I’d even wear long sleeves in the summer because I would be so worried about people being judgemental.

‘People came up to me and asked if I had been in a fire, and a lot of people would say, “I’m not touching what she’s touched because it’s contagious”.

‘I’d do everything to cover it up. I’d put loads of make-up on to hide it even if I was just going to the corner shop.

‘It takes a long time to become comfortable in your own skin – and some days I’m still not there. But I want people to look at me and see that I’m still smiling.’

Kirsty explained that her nightmare began a decade ago with a tiny mark on her forehead.

A year later, in the winter of 2010, she was officially diagnosed with plaque psoriasis, the most common form of the condition.

Over the next five years, it gradually spread until 95 per cent of her body was covered.

Then, aged 30, she was also diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis – a long term condition which develops from psoriasis and can led to joints becoming permanently damaged.

She had has treatments, including prescription creams, chemotherapy drug methotrexate and phototherapy, which involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light under medical supervision.

Sadly, though, nothing seemed to have much of an effect.

She said: ‘All of my left leg was covered in blotches, from my groin to my toes.

‘It was on my back, front, face, scalp and even in my ears, which still affects my hearing.

‘They are angry, red raw blotches and you can’t get away from it.

‘I couldn’t go swimming because of the chlorine, or wear perfume because it was an irritant. I couldn’t even shave my legs.

‘The heat was especially bad. It’d be so itchy that I’d feel like I had ants crawling all over me, while in the winter it would crack and bleed to the point where I couldn’t lean or sleep on it.’

Also battling the pain of her arthritis, on her worst days, Kirsty could scarcely get out of bed.

Dealing with the condition also impacted her mental health and two years ago she had to give up work.

Kirsty continued: ‘It really knocked my confidence, and I needed constant reassurance from everyone in my life, which isn’t healthy.

‘It’s affected my romantic relationships and dating life in particular.

‘I try not to stay at people’s houses because I’m so paranoid about bleeding on the sheets.

‘When I take my clothes off it’s like it’s been snowing because of all the dead skin. I get embarrassed and feel guilty.

‘Because it is also on a private part of my body, again I need that reassurance.

‘I’ve been single for a few months and I feel like if I met someone, I would have to tell them what I have and let them know I understand if they don’t want to stay. Although having said that, I’ve never met anyone who was bothered by it.’

For the past six months, she has been having fortnightly injections of Amgevita, a biological medicine used to reduce inflammation by acting on the immune system – and it appears to be helping both her arthritis and her skin.

Kirsty said: ‘I got to wear a dress for the first time in 10 years this summer. I felt like a princess because I usually go out in a tracksuit or jeans.

‘I could shave my legs without them bleeding. That was one of the happiest days of my life.

‘People were telling me that I looked well and had a healthy glow. It’s amazing because nobody had said that to me before.

‘It is now manageable so, I feel really excited about the future and what I might achieve.

‘After the injection I will feel knocked out for a couple of days but then after that I will feel like a ballerina or that I can run a marathon.’

Kirsty has also started sharing videos and pictures on Instagram – finding a community of psoriasis survivors who turn to her for advice.

She added: ‘I would put up little videos of me doing make up, and people would ask me to tell them about myself.

‘I thought I had not seen much about arthritis in younger people, or psoriasis so I wanted to share my experience and how I cope.

‘It really opened my eyes. Lots of people messaged me saying they had the same, and that seeing me share my experience had given them more confidence.

‘I share with my followers if I’m having a bad day or struggling with my mental health. I’m never fake.

‘If I’m feeling really low, I imagine myself in the tunnel and I keep going to the light.

‘Things will be thrown at you along the way – but you keep fighting and you will get there eventually.’

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