Interview #8: Stephanie Miller

stephamie-millerStephanie Miller

Brooklyn/Queens, NY

‘At the end of the day, we can endure more than we think we can’–Frida Kahlo 

‘Be easy, take your time. You are coming home to yourself’—Nayyirah Waheed

 

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

I think it started when I was about 6. I was definitely in elementary school at the time. I developed regular eczema when I started a new school, and my parents took me to the dermatologist. That’s when they started to give me ‘rash medicine’ as my family always called it. I never went to bed without putting “medicine” on my skin.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

I don’t remember the first potency they gave me, but I do remember they kept prescribing more potent ones as my body became ‘immune’ to the less potent ones. That’s what the doctors always said was happening…*eye roll*. I remember having tubes of all types of steroids all over the house, especially the tiny tester ones. Doctors would always give me handfuls of those.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes, I used every topical steroid under the sun until they prescribed Clobetasol when I was 14. During the summer before high school, my family moved to a new town, and I remember my skin getting better. Between high school and college, eczema was never an issue. I may have put dabs of steroids on my skin every now and then, but it definitely burned out as doctors said it would. However, during the summers between college, I started working at a summer camp in my old hometown. Within 3 weeks, my eczema came back. But then, when I would fly back to Massachusetts where I went to school, the eczema would go away. By my fourth summer at the summer camp, my eczema returned ferociously. I went to the dermatologist where they immediately gave me Clobetasol and Protopic. They said use the Protopic regularly, and the Clobetasol occasionally. Well, the Protopic didn’t work…so I used Clobetasol…and boy did that work wonders. I am pretty positive that’s when my addiction started. After that summer, I moved to NYC. It was September 2011. My skin was still a major struggle, but I didn’t let it stop me. I had my tube of Clobetasol just in case. For the record, I used it as prescribed….”twice a day (morning and night) for 2 weeks”. Usually I would only need it for a week, then my skin would clear up! But, as the story goes, when that week or 2 weeks of using the cream ended, my “eczema” would come back with a vengeance within 2 to 4 weeks. I thought I was allergic to the city, but I loved it too much to leave. From 2011 to the beginning of 2015, that was my struggle. My right palm suffered the most, but I would also get small patches on my arms, my torso, and legs. I knew I shouldn’t be using steroids long term, so I tried to avoid it. I would only use it when my skin became unbearable. The relief was always worth it even if it only lasted a month, 2 weeks, or less.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

Back in January 2015, I used topical steroids for the last time, and my “eczema” came back within a week and started to spread to places I had never seen it before… and it was spreading fast—the backs of my hands, big patches on my legs and arms, my left palm. That was a huge wake up call. I decided to take control of my “eczema”, and went on the autoimmune protocol diet for 6 weeks. I was promised that I would see great healing after a month, but my skin only got worse and worse. As I was doing research on ways to heal eczema naturally, I kept coming across ITSAN. When I initially learned about it, I was in denial. I was convinced that if I kept up with my diet, I would heal. Well that didn’t work. I stayed on a pretty strict diet for 5 months, and my skin only got worse.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

As I continued my research, ITSAN kept popping up on Google. Once I actually looked at the pictures closely, I knew instantly that my skin looked EXACTLY the same. I also remember looking at Briana’s blog, and her pictures looked like my skin!  It was surreal. I thought I was looking at my own hands, my own legs, my own arms. Then I distinctly remember watching the animated videos that ITSAN made…that story was my story….I stopped breathing and burst into tears. I felt a huge weight lift off of my shoulders. I remember watching Dr. Rapaport’s interview immediately after and felt a huge sense of relief. I WAS GOING TO BE ECZEMA FREE. The journey would be hard, but I WOULD HEAL.

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

Nope and nope. I diagnosed myself.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Spreading red rashes that began to cover my hands…and I mean my whole hands. Also, within 3-4 weeks, I had the infamous red sleeves and pant legs.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

I don’t live near my parents, so they didn’t have any control. They were emotionally supportive from afar, but I do think they would have questioned my choice if they actually witnessed what I was going through. Now that I have made a ton of progress, they are very supportive of my decision. My friends were supportive, but I kept very quiet about it for the first 4 months. I didn’t start owning the condition until month 5 or 6. Even while I was suffering during the worst of it, I was so disconnected from my body, that I wasn’t feeling anything. I covered everything up and numbed myself as I continued with my life9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this?

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? Why?

Oh yes. Back in May of this year, 2016, I was 15 months or so in. I was still suffering terribly from my anniversary flare. It had spread full body, which was a lot worse than my initial flare. At the very end of April, I suddenly felt a strong pain on my right side…right under my armpit. Within, 2 hours I got a fever of probably 102. I went home, tried to sleep it off for the next two days, but my fever wasn’t breaking and the pain kept spreading. On May 1st, I went to urgent care. They took my vitals and said I had to be rushed to the hospital. I was going into septic shock. They took a ton of blood, hooked me up to antibiotics and fluids. I don’t remember the chronology, but essentially within a day or two, they found strep and staph in my blood. My lungs were filling up with fluid, and my right breast was infected with mastitis. They also gave me a hydrocortisone IV, which I was very hesitant at first…but at that point, I just wanted them to save my life. My skin cleared up for a week! Woohoo! It looked strong and beautiful. Looking back, I’m grateful that I agreed to it because the nurses were taking my blood multiple times a day. That would have been even more of a nightmare if my skin was still flaming red. However, after the first week of clear skin, the redness and rashes started to creep up on me and grow, which proves that it was the steroids that caused all of my problems. Anyways, I was in the hospital for a total of 17 days. I had reoccurring fevers for most of the two weeks because my body was still trying to fight the infection. I’ve made a full recovery though!!

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

The rebound flare definitely. By January of 2016, I thought in my deepest heart that my skin was only going to get better. By February, my anniversary flare started to spread. By April, I was in an almost full body flare. I didn’t struggle with that at all during my initial one. The days when you wake up and know it’s only getting worse are the hardest. You never know when you’ve reached the abyss before you turn a corner and start to heal. You just have to breathe, suck it up, and do whatever you can to stay comfortable.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

I’ve been at it for almost 21 months. Unfortunately, now I am struggling with the fact that since I got the hydrocortisone IV in the hospital, I’m technically not 21 months into my withdrawal. I’m almost 6 months steroid free. But, I’ve been suffering for 21. I started my initial withdrawal unknowingly in mid January of 2015, and I’m doing really well right now.

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

Anything to make me laugh. Last year, I re-watched all 10 seasons of Friends. The Office is also another comfort show.  I also realized how important my close friends are to me, and I recognized that they are the ones that make me feel human. That was also a major psychological struggle during this journey. Since you’re physical self is such a mess, you feel inhuman. Your body doesn’t feel like yours. For the past 2 years, my limbs have felt like these other disgusting creatures that I have to nurture. They’re not mine….they’re not mine…

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

No, fortunately this hasn’t affected my job status, except when I was in the hospital. I’m a nanny, and the family was very understanding and allowed me to care for their child however it suited my needs. Fortunately, my face was never severely affected, so I was able to hide my condition under long sleeves and gloves.

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

No…but I need to. I’ve done this completely alone. No caregivers. I’ve had friends to talk to and cry to…but I’ve been able to pretend that I’m fine. I talk about it as if it hasn’t affected me…but it has…and it’s been really fucking hard to face it.

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

It’s a gift. Fucking trust me. Your quality of life will transform. It will develop on its own time. Healing is not linear. It’s not it’s not its not. This, my love, will only make you stronger. YOU. ARE. A. WARRIOR.

Just be. Listen to your body. Don’t beat yourself up about anything. There’s no right way to heal. You have to trust your gut and take action on your own time. Everyone’s journey is drastically different, and we can’t compare. The only things that remain true amongst all of us are…and I mean all of us…the story, the symptoms, and the moment you realize you have RSS are all the same. And it’s one of the most empowering discoveries you’ll ever experience.

Oh and take pictures, especially at your worst. You won’t regret it. You’ll forget how much pain you were in, and the pictures are a reminder that you are a fucking warrior. Don’t ever underestimate that.

Last, but not least….

You are loved.


You are certainly loved, Stephanie! Thank you for a lovely interview!

Interview #7: Maja Ster

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaja Ster

Slovenia

‘I am strong and I love myself for fighting this condition so bravely – worsen my symptoms, stronger my love. If I can fight this, I can do anything. I am unstoppable.’

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

I started using topical steroids when I was around seven years old. I got Atopic Dermatitis and due to my symptoms my dermatologist prescribed me my first corticosteroids. My parents didn’t like them, but of course wanted to help me, so they followed medical instructions. I was very itchy at the time and had patches of red and dry skin on a few parts of my body (especially arm and leg joints). So we started applying steroids – who will you trust if not a doctor?

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

Advantan

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes. I was applying Advantan to my skin regularly through all my childhood, never been told that it could be mixed with a cream to be less potent. So I had been using 100 % topical steroids all the time (not very heavily though) and as a teenager realized that they had no real effect on my skin anymore. I got more potent corticosteroids around my 18th year from my dermatologist. They were called Elocom.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

I was searching through the internet to find a new solution for my skin, because I had one of my bad skin days that day. And I somehow found a blog, written by a girl from nearby town, saying that she had been two years into withdrawal of corticosteroids at that time. She wrote that topical steroids worsened her skin condition and as she had realized later – made her addictive. When I was reading those lines, I stopped breathing and I started to shake. She wrote about her withdrawal process, how bad her skin had been on the beginning and through the whole withdrawal, how she didn’t know if she would survive. I was crying and crying and crying. Because I knew at that point – that I was addicted too.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

I knew when I read the first post on that blog. It was like someone would finally told me the truth I had already knew. Corticosteroids never felt good on my skin (apart from immediate effect it had on my skin) and my skin was like a wax or something artificial after applying them. I knew because my skin has changed in years of TS usage. Inflammation started to spread over my whole body and it appeared on places not typical for Atopic Dermatitis too. My outbreaks were unpredictable and uncontrollable, it came in seconds and bursted over my whole body.

6.What were your first symptoms?

Fizz with liquid inside and dry red burning patches of skin. Bone deep itch that was stronger than anything that I had ever felt in my life. In the first few days of withdrawal over my hands, arms and back. In the first month over my whole upper body and around month three over my whole body. Shivering of cold in the middle of summer (all together for four VERY LONG months), the shivers, feeling of ants crawling under my skin, heavy shedding of my skin, heavy sweating (for a few months, especially at night), hyper sensibility of skin to everything – from fabric to food and even to my own touch. Insomnia. Oozing, soreness of skin, deep devastating hopelessness and entrapment of my happy outgoing soul in my waning weak sore body.

7. Is your family supportive? Friends?

I am so happy to have my boyfriend, who is super supportive through this whole process. My friends too and my family – it is hard to accept something so brutal, so they needed their time to accept / understand. It was (and still is) hard for them too.

8. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? 

No, fortunately not.

9. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

Accepting that this is it. That everything I have loved and cared about has to be put aside for an indefinite time because my symptoms are taking everything I have away from me. My time, my energy, my patience, my will to live. Itch itself has been so devastating that after a ‘good’ itch attack (sometimes on a bad day even on every two hours or less), I have been left with nothing. Empty shell. All my energy was wasted on that insane itch and to stay sane I had to turn myself off afterwards. I had to stop thinking about everything else and had to focus on just being.

Accepting that all my dreams, desires, wishes, all my hard work to became good at something, to accomplish something, had to be forgotten for that long never-ending period of time. Accepting the feeling of frozenness in the moment, when (almost) everyone around me had lived their lives on like nothing had happened.

Like I would be nearly dying next to them and they wouldn’t even notice. That was the worst.

The inability to explain to my closest people what I was going through in the way that they would really understand. And the inability to do all those things I had wanted to do so badly (from going for a walk or shower without pain to doing my hobbies – later in the process I started to hanker badly for creativity, productivity and physical activity).

10. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

I have been withdrawing from 28. January 2015, so one year and 9 months until now. I am not over with withdrawal yet, but I am feeling much better now. I think that it will take one more year or even two or three to be completely healed.

11. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

I had a no-diary, no-gluten and no-sugar diet for my first 8 months of withdrawal. I don’t know if it has helped on the recovery process, but at that time I reacted to practically everything and I was using the diet as my ‘power’ to have at least something in control. I am using moisturizer creams now (Avene Xera Calm Balm and Zinc Oxide) and I bath when my symptoms worsen (with apple vinegar or sodium bicarbonate). I use tubifast strapping in that case too.

12. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

Yes, I am, as a student worker. In the beginning of Topical Steroid Withdrawal I had been very lucky to just complete my studying, but had not yet graduated – and I could take one extra year off as a student. I didn’t had to work so hard that year, because I had still lived with my parents, so I didn’t had to worry about my finances so much, which was a life saver.

I had to stop many student jobs and hobbies on the other hand, which affected my life a lot. And it was hard (and still is) starting to do those things again because I lost so much specific knowledge after a year and a half of not doing it. But I’m starting to learn and explore again and I am ready to live a much fuller life now.

13. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

I think that I will recover my whole life from the withdrawal. From time to time I cry heavily remembering my worst months and meeting my darkest hidden demons, which is a kind of therapy too.

I believe that my therapy will be all the things that make me happy and touches my soul. I will be recovering through dancing, being with all the people that mean the world to me, hiking (hopefully without the itch) and deep conversations with myself and my closest people from time to time.

I truly started to love myself through that process and that is why I am grateful for it. I believe it was meant for me to overcome TSW and it made me know myself 100 times better.

I see my path now. And I’m ready to start walking it.

14. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

You are strong and very brave. Don’t ever doubt about that. If life had thrown you into that terrible process, you had to be strong and brave enough to fight it, why else would you be the one thrown there? Don’t step on the path towards healing in the role of the victim, but tell yourself that you can do it, that you are a victor!! Embrace the pain and love yourself deeply through that process. It is not fair, it could be prevented, but don’t stress about that through your darkest nights. Focus on surviving, do all you have to do to come through. And remember, it becomes EASIER and it ENDS eventually. IT REALY DOES!

Be grateful for having the symptoms that won’t last your whole life, but ‘just’ a few years. That may sound negative, but it really puts things in perspective. It could be worse! You can always be grateful for something, and that makes life (and even the symptoms) much more tolerable. Be your own comforting inner voice saying: ‘I am strong, I am beautiful, I can do anything, I will manage the next minute / hour / day and I will NEVER give up!’


Spectacular, Maja! Thank you for your interview!

Interview #6: Maartje Francisco

maartje2016Maartje Francisco

Holland

“You will never get better until you stop trying to get better”

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

I started applying when I was 16, because the doctors said I had children-eczema that I would grow out of eventually. So we used it for my neck and nipples.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

Bethametasone (potent 3)

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

When I was 24 I took a allergy-test with the derm and nothing came out so they gave me potent 4, dermovate. To apply on my hands/wrists.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

I’m a typical case of Topical steroid addiction, one day I googled this in Dutch first but I couldn’t find anything. I had a feeling I really needed the TS to make it normal again. For a while. But then it would come back within 5 days or so. I stumbled on the itsan website, saw the animated clip and it was such an eye-opener!

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

My hands and arms would gradually worsen and it burned, was bright red and spreaded like fire. With the dryness after every flare.

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

No, I am a beautytherapist so this was a crazy but educational and inspiring ride for me! I found a great product for my company and skin and the manager in Holland of this product is Chinese and she knows a lot about TSW and the Chinese derms that dó treat this in different ways but without TS.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Itchiness, redness, and burning.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

YES! And it is oh so important, my mother is the strongest person I know and I couldn’t have done it without her. My husband, father, sister and kids have been by my side the whole ride. Some friends were interested and asked how it would go sometimes. But as we all know, if you don’t go through this you really don’t know what it is.

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? 

I made an appointment with a derm to get UVB Therapy. I got it at home! That was great for winter 2015.

Had a skin infection one time through TSW and I was on antibiotics for one week.

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

ITCHENESS! And the lack of sleep and almost no physical contact. But after all, the mental struggles on bad days are the hardest.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

Im 31 months in now, but I stopped counting after 2 years, because it became bearable after that, and I got to do everything I wanted to do again. But I think I’m not healed yet.

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

Dermaviduals, my skinbarrier creams.

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

I have my own business. I worked throughout the whole process but of course it affected everything. But for the better…at the end.

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

For a while, and it was more in a coach/mindfulness-way than a psychologist.

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

One day at a time, and time will heal!


Amazing interview! Thank you tons, Maartje!

Interview #5: Caroline Langdon

caroline-langdonCaroline Langdon

Adelaide, South Australia

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” ― Pema Chödrön

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

I was treated with steroid cream from infancy for atopic eczema.

 

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

My mum thinks the first steroid cream was called Celestone.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes. All kinds. All strengths. For eczema.

As a young child I had severe eczema and was prescribed mild to strong steroid creams and ointments for different parts of my body. I think from around the age of twelve, I started using it on my face as I’d developed eczema there as well. Mostly around my eyes and mouth at that point. By the time I was a young adult I used steroid creams and ointments on and off, of varying potencies.  On my face and different parts of my body. By this time I knew steroids were not a great option long term and endeavoured to use them sparingly.

I tried all manner of things for managing my eczema naturally (without steroids), via nutrition, supplements, lifestyle, natural creams/potions etc…. but my skin would eventually become completely unmanageable after a few mths if not before. I would need to use steroids again to control my eczema, so that I was able to sleep, work, care for my children and function properly. They suppressed it, it worked temporarily/superficially, that is, until it didn’t. Such a vicious cycle.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

I typed into my computer something like: red, burning, severely itchy skin… and eventually stumbled onto ITSAN.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

I was desperate to find out what was happening with my skin, it was not like the eczema of my past (though that was no walk in the park, this was much worse). It was often red, itching and burning. It didn’t matter how great my diet was or what else I tried, it kept getting worse and spreading to areas I’d never had eczema before. My asthma and hayfever were super bad on top of it. I’d always been an allergy prone person but I seemed to be allergic to everything! I was getting nowhere with the dermatologist I’d been seeing, except sicker and sicker. My skin was so unmanageable, it was affecting every facet of my life! He had me back on steroids telling me I had eczema urticaria and said, ‘Many people have to manage it with steroids the best they can the rest of their life, you’re not the only one!’ (I think this was meant to be comforting??). He put me on an immunosuppressant drug used for cancer and transplant recipients, which is what they give people with very bad skin conditions too I discovered but I agreed as was desperate.

My immune system was at such a low ebb, I felt so sick and run down and I had skin that was red, burning and incessantly itchy most of the day/night.

I indeed wanted relief but I didn’t want to be taking these drugs for the rest of my life, especially when I seemed to be getting progressively worse, not better!!

There had to be a better answer.

I was in such despair. I started googling my symptoms, things like ‘burning, red skin/ hives/ rash spreading to new areas/ relentless itching/ palpitations/ severe anxiety/ no sleep etc’ and found other people who described EXACTLY what I was experiencing and going through, the common thread having been the use of topical steroids.

Then I stumbled across ITSAN which was such a relief.

I had finally found a site and support group (so many people going through exactly the same thing as me!) that talked about Red Skin Syndrome.   The site linked many studies and medical publications about how Topical steroids can cause this condition in the body …..and people were finding a way to overcome it!!

Stop using them!! Ha, sounds easy right? Not so. If it were easy to stop them, I guess there wouldn’t be so many using them. Hardest thing I’ve ever done!! Also the best thing I’ve ever done!!

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

No I wasn’t but my gp had seen me get progressively worse over time. When I told her that I believed it to be the steroids promoting the condition and shared info from ITSAN and others experiences with her, she found it to be very plausible, though she had never seen anybody else that was in the state I was in personally. She’s an Integrative Medicine GP so she was very supportive in monitoring me, etc. I don’t know what I would have done without her in those first 12 months, for moral support alone!

I had a great naturopath as well. Very lucky in this respect.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Spreading rashes, hives, red skin, burning sensation, crazy itchiness, sore eyes, poor sleep, heart palpitations, anxiety, depression.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes, I’m so grateful to those who were/are.

I fell out of touch with many people though (or they with me). Mostly because I could no longer go out and socialise for quite a long time. It’s a very isolating experience in that sense.

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? 

In the early weeks of tsw, I was in a very severe state and had come up on the waiting list with the Dermatology Dept at the hospital.

After my previous experience with the dermatologist I wasn’t sure about going but was in such a bad way, thought I should keep the appointment because at that particular point, I felt like I was close to dying, no kidding! I had no idea how, or if the body could cope with this for much longer. Complete head to toe, burning, red, oozing and tremendous oedema. My face and entire body was filled with fluid and leaking it out everywhere at the same time. Nobody who knew me would have recognized me, I barely recognized myself. I walked in, in a knee length cotton night singlet, which was agony in itself. At home I couldn’t wear anything it was so painful. I looked like a maniac, itching insanely everywhere. The nurse at the counter got a cold, wet sheet and threw it over me, it was heaven for counteracting the heat in my body. By the time I was called in to see the dermatologist, I was shivering like crazy. I tried to explain that I had been reacting badly to steroid treatment and had ceased using any creams in the last few weeks.
They deemed me ‘critical’ and that I should be admitted immediately! I asked how they would treat me if this happened and they said with steroid wet wraps and oral cortisone.   I said that steroids were responsible for what had gotten me into this mess and so that was not an option really.

They basically said, ‘Oh well, if that’s not what you want we can’t help you today… but how do you think you will manage this by yourself at home’. I was gobsmacked, I thought they may have been able to provide some help or checking of vitals etc to make sure they weren’t sending me on my way if they were deeming me ‘critical’!

I said, ‘I don’t know, I guess I’ll go to my gp and get her to monitor me, make sure there is no infection, or something..’, to which they responded, ‘oh, your gp won’t be able to do anything for this’.

If you don’t want to be steroid tempted, hospital is not the place to go. I walked out and went home. It was truly the hardest yet best thing I could have ever done for myself.

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

The debilitating and painful nature of it, the fact that it unpredictably effects not only the skin but many aspects of the body’s internal and systemic functions. The continuous lack of sleep. The fact that it takes an undetermined length of time to recover from. Hmm, I guess there have been a few hard parts.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

I’ve been in withdrawal since February 2014, so 33mths so far.

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

Tsw support groups have brought much comfort along the way.

Baths with Epsom and ACV (apple cider vinegar), icepacks, pressure bandaging, soft cotton clothes and bedding.

Sudocrem and Robertson’s skin repair ointment.

Meditation and drawing.

Good food.

Reading .

Many things but these are the staples.

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

I have been unemployed throughout tsw. Was unable to work and fortunate to be able to take time to repair my body. Have been doing some volunteer work but am only just recently beginning to seek work again. It’s been a financial drain of the highest order.

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

Yes, I went to see a psychologist over the first 2 yrs. I found it to be really helpful in keeping me sane. Fortunately for me, he was very interested in nutrition and health, had a good comprehension of the impact prescriptive drugs can have on effecting body chemistry, health and well-being. It was an incredible support at a time when I really needed it, he provided good counselling space for me. He also used hypnotherapy in some sessions to help with pain and itch management. It made a dent.

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

The intensity subsides.

Time and perseverance definitely has its’ rewards, IT DOES GET BETTER!

Trust that your body has incredible ability to right itself.

Tsw is a lesson in loving patience, with oneself.

That was more like four!


Caroline, thank you! Such an in-depth interview!

Interview #4: Robin Winkler

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-12-36-22-pmRobin Winkler

Sugar Hill, GA

“…and never could I have known the taste of heaven, had I not swallowed the pieces of hell, first.”

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

I was first prescribed topical steroids when I was 17 months old- I had an allergic reaction to detergent in some clothes my mom was trying on me.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

I started out using triamcinolone- the pharmacy would mix it into Aveeno or Eucerin for me. I remember that my parents would put it all over my arms and legs every night.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

As I mentioned, I had a nightly routine with my triamcinolone. It never stopped once it started, and became a norm for me. When I was about 10, however, my face started showing signs of ‘eczema’ so I was prescribed a different steroid called desonide for my face. Over the years, my eczema slowly consumed my entire body, and I would keep it at bay with triamcinolone, desonide, fluocinonide, mometasone furoate- you name it, I have probably been prescribed it. I also tried alternatives to topical steroids, such as Protopic or Elidel.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

I found out about RSS in May of 2015. I had a one year old, was working full time, was stressed, and I had used oral steroids for my skin. I actually got the shingles and then of course, more steroids. After the shingle was gone, I had a particularly bad flare, and none of the steroid creams were helping- not even the really, really, strong ones. So I googled “the steroids don’t help my eczema anymore” and it led me to ITSAN.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

I observed the TSW/ITSAN Facebook groups and researched for a long time before I was determined this was indeed my same affliction. What I couldn’t ignore was the obvious rebound effect after stopping steroid use- and it was classic, and my skin matched every picture on the ITSAN site. The Red Sleeves are not something I have ever had with my original eczema. On top of all of these things was the fact that my original eczema had never affected these areas of my body before

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

I was diagnosed by a dermatologist with ‘steroid dependent eczema’ – which at least meant she recognized that I needed to stop using them. She was key in helping me come off of the steroids, but the only way to do so was to use an immunosuppressant- basically, a drug that people take when they have organ transplants to keep their bodies from rejecting the new organ. I eventually sought, and am still working with, a naturopathic doctor. He has been immensely supportive, calls my condition TSA (topical steroid addiction), has helped me find the root cause of my original eczema, and has even helped me do research about topical steroid addiction.

7. What were your first symptoms?

I had been on oral prednisone for the shingles and topical steroids for my eczema; as soon as I ceased using them, my skin peeled and cracked and was just so tight and dry. That was immediate too- within 24-48 hours of stopping. One week into stopping, and my skin was not only tight and dry and flakey but simultaneously oozy and waxy and hot – my face swelled, my entire face, neck, chest, arms, legs- all turned bright red and there was an unbearable nerve pain. Like a million razor cuts in every square inch of your skin, or a million fire ants biting all at once. It was basically a cycle of hot, red, oozy skin to the crusty, scabby, painful skin, then to flaky skin that fell off everywhere…and then back to square one with the intense inflammation.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

My mom and my brother have been amazing. I am a single mom, so when this started and I realized I wouldn’t be able to work, I moved in with my mother. She has paid for medical expenses, taken on the duty of caring for me when I couldn’t even take a shower. She has helped me with my son, and helped me financially as well. I know it has been a huge strain on every aspect of her life. Friends who have little knowledge of eczema or RSS in general are supportive, but wary. They don’t understand why I don’t use steroids or why I needed so much help from my mom, and can be quick to judge or criticize. I worry people will see me as entitled or lazy, since they have no idea what’s really going on.

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? 

I went to the ER on 1/29/2016. My scalp was green and yellow and bloody, my skin was peeling and cracked and bleeding from my scalp to my toes. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t even think straight because the pain was unbearable. My brother says I’m a tough cookie, so he knew that this was serious when he saw me crying from pain. It takes a lot of pain to make me cry.

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

This is a tough question. Ask me the easiest part. HA. From one aspect, just not being able to LIVE in any measure of the word has probably been the most difficult part to adjust to. I was working full time, I took my son to daycare and picked him up-everything, on my own. Once RSS took over, I couldn’t even do the dishes. The other part that was/is infuriating is the lack of knowledge and research about RSS. I joke that everyone going through this is like a lab rat, because we have to find out what works for us since there are no medical guidelines, much less real recognition from the medical community. The stress is also a lot- there were days I wanted to crawl into a box and literally die. There was financial stress- I couldn’t contribute to my own life or my sons life, and living costs money. I tried to get on disability several times (temporarily) but was never able to. There was emotional stress- I vividly remember lying in bed, in a lot of pain, and thinking, why should I be still and do nothing if its STILL going to hurt?? Again, naming the hardest part of this isn’t easy.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

I started my withdrawal 8/12/2015. I would say I am about 14 months in, but I have used oral steroids during this time though, for asthma, and an anaphylactic reaction I had. I would not say that I am completely healed, but I am now about 85-90% better.

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

In the early stages, apple cider vinegar baths and zinc oxide paste (like desitin for babies) were life savers. As time went on, I was able to tolerate sea salt baths, and oatmeal baths. I really liked hydrocolloid bandages for very raw and deep wounds, as well as elaj (a highly concentrated oatmeal cream). As far as mental measures, I actually sought a health coach who helped me with stress management and meditation.

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

I was. I stopped working as a medical assistant purposefully so I could start my withdrawal. As I mentioned, though, I am a single parent so I tried to hold down a couple different odd jobs in the beginning, and I couldn’t. I’m hoping to return to work soon…

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

As I mentioned, I did enlist a health coach for 10 weeks. Now that period is over, however, and I find myself wishing I could utilize her again. So, yes, I think therapy would be helpful. To be honest, I’m still scared that I will wake up one day, full flare, back at square one with no eyebrows and hot painful skin everywhere. It kind of keeps me from diving fully back into my life just yet.

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

It’s hard to narrow my advice down to one pointed piece. I would say, take pictures. Even if you don’t share them on social media; keep them for yourself. I wish I had taken more. Also, I think a lot of this journey is hard because we feel like we have lost ourselves and any sense of a ‘life by OUR design’- but please, remember, you are still there and you are still YOU. The most important thing during this journey is to truly invest in yourself, even if you cant take time off work- don’t’ obsess over what other people will think. Take it one day at a time, one minute at a time, or one second at a time. Get through it however you have to- remember no one’s journey is the same and the only real goal is to restore health to our bodies without steroids.


Thank you so much, Robin! You’re interview was inspiring! 

Interview #3: Kelly Fasciana

kelly-fasciana-jpgKelly Fasciana

Pennsylvania, US

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

Roughly ten years old. I’ve had severe eczema since birth; however my mom tried to hold on being as natural as possible throughout my early childhood.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

I’m 24 now, and I have about 13 years of usage under my belt (quit when I was 23). I started off with the usual hydrocortisone ointment and triamcinalone for most of my later childhood. I’d say these two were actually used properly and sparingly as I had bouts of time with nice normal skin and usually only flared in the winter. Next we move to Cordran ointment 0.05% (flurandrenolide), which was used EXTENSIVELY in my late high school/college years. I’m talking multiple times a day, every day, for about 7/8 years. Not one doctor ever told me otherwise –so I just continued to get scripts filled like it was anything. Lastly diprolene cream 0.05% (betamethasone dipropionate) was prescribed to me around early 2015 when I was starting to catch on that steroids were causing me more harm than good. I only used this for a couple weeks before I quite steroids cold turkey. Also in 2014 and early 2015 I had multiple steroid injections and a couple rounds of oral prednisone.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

See above.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

From googling uncontrollable, incessant, terrible, (etc) eczema in adulthood and stumbling across ITSAN, Cara Ward’s, and TReczema’s youtube videos.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

I started to suspect I had RSS early Jan-March 2015. I would flare so terribly if I didn’t keep up with my incessant and inappropriate use of my steroids. I would have anxiety or panic attacks if I ran out and didn’t have a refill called in because I knew what was to come. I couldn’t go away or do anything without steroids. I was 12564641321% completely dependent on those tubes of cream/ointment. And was for years, and had no idea. I couldn’t tell you how many dermatologists I saw around this time. They all said I had uncontrollable severe adult eczema and kept trying to push the stronger steroids/immunos. I saw a naturopath, who agreed to stop the steroids, and pushed a million and one expensive supplements on me (which just killed my pocket and honestly didn’t ease the start of the tsw symptoms).

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

None of the derms I saw believed in tsw. “Intrinsic atopic dermatitis” has been my stricken supposed diagnosis my entire life.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Symptoms: red raw burning itchy oozing skin. The burning feeling is out of this world. In the beginning mostly my face, neck and hands were afflicted. The initial flare was from March 2015-May 2015. I then had a bit of a break, followed by a bunch of shorter, less severe flares. Suffered/suffering from severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, body temperature regulation, hair loss, eye problems. The overall pain was extremely difficult to cope with, and is still to this day. I constantly feel like my flesh is being torn from my limbs with every movement. I’m constantly on fire. I’m near constantly oozing from somewhere on my body. My entire life has been turned upside down. I do not live a life as a normal 20-something, and haven’t in a very long time.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

My family has been my rock through all of this. My mom has been my main caretaker. Helping me to bathe, wash my hair, feed me (at some points my arms and hands have been so bad I have very little use of them) and pretty much everything else needed to function on a daily basis. My older brother who is a pharmacist has been immensely helpful in helping me to research and learn new things every day. He is also an advocate for the dangers of topical steroids with his pharmacy customers after watching what has happened with me. And lastly, although tsw has seriously tested my relationship with my boyfriend, he has been there for support and encouragement through it all.

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? 

No, although family members considered taking me multiple times. I avoided going for a fear of just receiving more steroids because of the state of my skin.

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

Emotionally, I am so drained. I don’t feel like myself. I lash out at the people I love, the people who take care of me. Chronic pain and very little sleep really messes with your head. Physically, I feel like my body is failing me every day. Financially I am ok (for now) as I have managed to continue to work through withdrawal for the most part. I took two months off of work from 15-17 months. So I struggled with money for a short time, too.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

I stopped all steroids March 18, 2015. Currently 19 months. I am no where close to being healed. Currently I am switching between immunosuppressive drugs to remain in a functioning state.

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

Pain meds (tramadol, vicodin), anxiety meds (ativan, paxil), anti-itch meds (allegra, benadryl, atarax), lots of zinc cream/bandages, lots of baths, lots of aquaphor.

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

I’m a vaccine specialist for a pharmaceutical company. TSW has tremendously affected my job, because unfortunately in the pharmaceutical industry it is important to look your best. I had to take an unpaid leave of absence for two months, as well.

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

At 19 months in, the emotional burden has really taken a toll. I have recently scheduled to see a psychology and psychiatrist.

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

If I could say something to another sufferer, maybe just beginning this journey, I’d say to just hang in there…. It seems like you can’t get through and I know how you feel. But the body is capable of amazing things and eventually bouts of healing and relief do happen.


Awesome interview, Kelly!

Interview #2: Dilyana Georgieva

14686207_1655613021418244_489976427_nDilyana Georgieva
Las Vegas, Nevada

1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?

I started in the beginning of December 2015 because I had an eczema like spot on my left hand, which did not respond to any natural topical treatments. Later on I found that it was some food sensitivities that were causing the eczema.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

It was an over the counter steroid cream CVS’ pharmacy brand.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

I did not ask my allergy doctor for a prescription and he did not suggest.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

The day I stopped using the cream my eczema exploded, or so I thought, so I Googled “topical steroids detoxification and healing” and I came across the ITSAN web site. I am so grateful to ITSAN and similar online recourses to find so early in the process what I have, what to expect, and in some extent how to cope with it.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

Since it started, I have been fitting 100% to the clinical presentation of the condition with all symptoms and signs of it.

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?

I have not been diagnosed by a doctor because there is no one in my area of Las Vegas, NV who is familiar with the condition.

7. What were your first symptoms?

My rash exploded the same day I stopped the steroid cream to cover 3/4 of my arms and 3/4 of my legs including buttocks. I had immense burning, stinging, and flu like symptoms.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes, it is supportive. I do not involve my friends in this.

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? 

No

10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?

Everything was hard and challenging from the physical pain, burning, stinging, itching, decreased range of motion, and fever to the emotional and mental suffering and isolation, the inability to exercise and socialize. This condition is a life altering event.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

It started on 05/22/16 up to now.

12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?

I have been focused on the solutions instead of the problem. I had the appropriate mind set to cope with the TSW without succumbing to depression, self-pity, and a sense of helplessness. Mentally and emotionally, I was at the right place to be able to stay on the positive side of it. I credit that to the online recourses for the condition and my spirituality. I have created multiple self-care natural and organic cosmetic products to alleviate as much as possible the symptoms of itching, burning, pain, and inflammation. I kept myself busy and distracted from the TSW suffering to have the feeling of a decent, normal life. I practice daily relaxation and self-hypnosis which is a great tool when one has a struggle with a chronic condition.

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?

I do not work outside of home due to another long lasting disability from Fibromyalgia.

14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?

The only therapy I would like to try is mineral baths. However, I cannot tolerate traveling currently. I live in Las Vegas, NV. I am Bulgarian in origin and we have a number of mineral water resorts specialized in skin conditions treatment. These waters are similar to the famous Avene, France thermal mineral waters. The treatment there is much cheaper than in France.

15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?

I am aware that some TSW sufferers experience a much worse process and have their entire bodies affected. However, I would say that staying positive, focusing on solutions, trying to keep some things of their normal life routines, and employing relaxation and meditation techniques would be of great benefit to their recovery process. One book/audio book that has helped me through episodes of health struggles is The Power of Your Mind to Heal, by Joan Borysenko PhD.


Thank you Dilyana for your awesome interview!