Fiona Wilson relates her experiences – “You’re conscious of people looking at you.”
My psoriasis started in my early 20s, but it wasn’t formally diagnosed until 2000, after I had difficulty getting a doctor to refer me to a dermatologist. I’ve had the same consultant since then, who explained that it was probably genetic. My dad had very bad psoriasis – he was born in the 1930s – and was hospitalised with it in his 20s, in the days before all the medication that’s now available. People would visit and see him with lots of bandages. He really suffered.
Around the time I was diagnosed, I also started having frequent bouts of tonsillitis, over 30 times in two years, which led to me having a late age tonsillectomy. My consultant told me that there had been some research into a possible link between the two conditions. The tonsillectomy gave me some respite for a bit, but it didn’t ‘fix’ the condition.
Struggling to leave the house
At the moment I’m just coming out of remission. My current skin condition is, for me, quite ‘liveable’, which essentially means that I have it all over my scalp, joints, skin folds and groin area, but I’m not completely covered and don’t have it on my face.
In 2000 I was put on Cyclosporin, then took Methotrexate for just over a decade before going back onto Cyclosporin again. I’ve also had five sessions of ultraviolet light treatment at different periods over the last 13 years, which is brilliant and clears it up for about four to six weeks before it comes back. I used it when I had to be drug-free during my pregnancy and when I was breastfeeding.
My consultant has described my condition as ‘severe chronic psoriasis’. It’s changed over time, but has previously been so bad as to make me mentally unwell. In 2002 I was signed off work for six months and literally struggled to leave the house, because it was so unsightly and very painful. When I walked it would crack and bleed. Every bit of my body was covered – my nails, all my skin, even inside my ears, everywhere.
The Methotrexate was the most effective treatment, but it’s not a pleasant drug. You take it once a week, and it can make you very sick, which meant I had to take an antiemetic [a nausea and vomiting suppressant] before and after called Ondansetron. It can make you feel as though you’re carsick for about 48 hours after taking it, and being an immunosupressant, it can also put your liver under a lot of pressure, so I had to have regular blood tests to check how my liver was tolerating the drug.
After that period the psoriasis was controlled well using drug treatments, but the issue is that once you decide to start a family, you can’t stay on those drugs. You have to wash them out of your system before you get pregnant and you can’t take them during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. I struggled emotionally with that decision, because I didn’t want to go back to that terrible period of my life in 2002, but I received a lot of support from my consultant, who was able to put in place an appropriate care package with light treatment if I had a flare-up, so that it could be contained.
My daughter is now coming up to two years old this June. On an emotional level, the person who’s given me the most help and support has been my partner, who I’ve been with for 16 years. He doesn’t see the condition, so it doesn’t alter his attraction to me. If you’re a psoriasis sufferer, you’re often very conscious of people looking at you and thinking that you’ve possibly got leprosy.
With friends and acquaintances, they sometimes won’t know how to approach it – whether to talk about it directly, or just ignore it. If you are blessed with very close friends, though, they’ll usually be quite supportive. I think the main challenge is with people you don’t know, particularly if you work in a public- or business-facing environment where you’re often meeting lots of strangers and interacting with them. I was a Commercial Sales Manager for an education business, which involved attending many meetings across the country. It was a high pressure job, and almost became a vicious circle of meeting people, being more aware of the condition as a result, feeling under more pressure and so on. I’ve since gone on to found my own headhunting and talent acquisition company.
About the condition
Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition caused when the body’s process of producing new skin cells is accelerated. Instead of being generated at a low level and moving up through multiple layers of skin until they reach the surface after three to four weeks, a person with psoriasis will see undeveloped cells appear on the surface of their skin after only two to six days, resulting in the build up of red, crusty and flaky patches and silvery scales, which will usually be shed without leaving any scar tissue.
The condition affects around 2% of the UK population, with equal frequency between both genders. The physical symptoms can vary in intensity from isolated spots of mild itching and irritation, to painful inflammations and splitting across large portions of the skin’s surface. Though there is currently no cure for psoriasis, it can be managed through various drug and light treatments and will often come and go over time.
The British Skin Foundation is a national charity that funds research into treatments and cures for various types of skin disease. The organisation also aims to increase awareness and understanding of different skin conditions and regularly campaigns on behalf of the individuals living with them. For more information, contact 0207 391 6341 or visit www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk
Details about Fiona’s company, F J Wilson, can be had by calling 0203 195 3600 or visiting www.fjwilson.com