1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?
I started using topical steroids by recommendation from my family practitioner in an effort to treat my childhood eczema, starting at about age 10.
2. What was the name of the topical steroid?
To begin with, my parents and I were advised to use over the counter Hydrocortisone cream (.5-1%) liberally, to any and all rashy areas of skin. Was also advised to apply like lotion after every bath or shower as a “prevention method” even if my skin was not affected by eczema.
3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids?
Yes. After a few years of using Hydrocortisone cream and my problem areas had spread and become more vigilant; I was given a trial tube measuring a few ounces of Elidel. After that didn’t work and burned my skin, I was prescribed Triamcinalone ointment, which I rarely used because I hated the texture, greasines, and how much it burned my skin.
4. How did you find out about RSS?
I found out about RSS after researching online desperately for the cause of my worsening symptoms. After using Hydrocortisone cream twice daily to my face, and 3-4 times a week on my entire body like lotion for 10 years- My body had seemingly given up. I couldn’t suffer anymore, and I needed answers. I found ITSAN and there began my diligent research.
5. What made you feel you had RSS?
What had made me feel like I had RSS was that once the information was before me- I just knew. I had never thought that anyone else had suffered the same symptoms and had suffered so uniquely as I had. I read the many testimonials, medical documents, blogs, vlogs and more from people all over the world with the same story I have.
6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?
I was not diagnosed by a doctor, however- my General Practitioner was very supportive. She was just as baffled as I was at my chronic, increasingly debilitating symptoms. She agreed that the amount of exposure and absorption of steroids I had was alarming. We came up with a plan to taper down my usage and to meet more regularly so that she could monitor my symptoms and keep track of my progress. All the while, she had ordered many different blood tests to rule out any other autoimmune diseases, disorders, deficits in nutrition and more. Nothing of relevance to explain my symptoms came up with as many tests as we did.
7. What were your first symptoms?
My first symptoms of Eczema began as early as preschool years, between ages of 5-6 years old. My inner elbows and back of my knees were always dry, sensitive and itchy. After the first year of using Topical Steroids, my rashes had spread all over my arms, legs, and had begun manifesting on my face, neck and chest. My body would erupt into bright red, inflamed skin, that would burn like I had never experienced before and itch deep within my subdermis within one day of not using Topical Steroids. It had become a begrudging truth that my body NEEDED the application of Steroids daily, and for years, to maintain any semblance of normality. All the while, my health declining. What initially caused me to research the symptoms of long-term use of Steroids, was my rapid decrease in weight, my eyesight, worsening skin condition, and hairloss.
8. Is your family supportive? Friends?
For the most part- Yes. Once I had done about 3 months of personal research, and had already been to a multitude of appointments with my GP, and Ophthalmologist, I created a plan to introduce my and my doctor’s findings with closest family and friends. I asked for their support and provided opportunity to allow them to ask their own questions, express their concern and understanding. Several of them completely agreed that withdrawing from Topical Steroids would be in my best interest long-term. Many of them came to my aide in the best ways they could, be it care-packages of sterile gauze, feeding and helping me with personal care, or stopping by to spend time with me while I lay in bed for those many many months of disability.
9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? Why?
I had been to the hospital for blood-tests, I had considered going to the ER multiple times when my symptoms were so severe that I was in and out of consciousness because of the extreme amount of pain I was in. Thankfully I was under the care of family and my Fiancee, who all did their best to comfort me and do everything they could to surround me with love and support. The possibility of being administered Steroids in addition to any much needed pain management medication had I gone to the ER- was too much of a gamble against my progress.
10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?
Besides the incomprehensible amount of pain that I endured(and endure still from time to time), is the decline of my mental health. Being suddenly thrust into Disability and not having a definite time-frame for healing and success is taxing to say the least. I was often alone, with my own thoughts, while being unable to move and bedridden. I became unable to look at my own reflection as the person I had always been and seen looking back at me was gone. I didn’t recognize myself, and being unable to function in a physical capacity only fed into a Dissociation type state even further. I was in a very deep Depression along with weeks of insomnia. To this day, my anxiety and difficulty relating to others in social activities still is of great difficulty for me. I continue to challenge myself in positive ways. However it feels as though I am forever changed, mentally, because of this illness.
11. How long have you been in withdrawal?
I started tapering my usage of Steroids under my General Practitioner’s guidance in the very beginning of November 2014. I started my full withdrawal after my birthday in December 2015. On the day that I am writing this, it has been 817 days since my last application or administration of Steroids. I am not yet ‘healed’, however, I have made a tremendous amount of progress. I went from being completely unable to perform the smallest tasks for myself, like sitting up in bed. Brushing my teeth, or walking at times… to now being able to walk, work part-time, I do daily house chores, and even present as a normal person from day to day. I have bad days, but they don’t knock me down nearly as bad as they used to.
12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?
I listen to lots of music, I play music myself, I have been catching up on all the shows, and movies I have missed throughout the years. I drink tea and have many contemplative moments, writing, and lots of snuggles. Sometimes I am inconsolable, but the truth in those moments are that they are always temporary- as my best friend and beloved fiancee has said since day one of TSW, “Maybe Tomorrow…” Which to us, means: Tomorrow may be a better day, it may provide better or different opportunities to be fulfilled, or more able. It is a phrase that instills Hope, even when things feel or seem very dark, it will always get better.
13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?
I have now been employed after a 2 year absence in the workforce, for 5 months! This means a lot to me as I have always worked hard and enjoyed being employed. Being affected by TSW still provides interesting challenges at work for me. Thankfully my Manager and coworkers are all very understanding and are more than willing to make exceptions or take on tasks in order to keep me comfortable. I am very thankful and humbled by my ability to work with such supportive people. Sometimes I have to sit, while I am on shift, as I get very dizzy and disoriented after standing for hours. Sometimes I have to take an additional break to relax, or coworkers have had to come in as a replacement for my missed shift because of a ‘Flare-up’ that inhibits my ability to perform my duties. I am pleased to share that my strength and physical duress has improved over the past 5 months and I only hope to continue getting better.
14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?
Yes, I would very much like to go to Therapy because of TSW. I have all of the classic markers of PTSD from this condition, and because of the extreme amount of mental stress I endured. I have had a resurgence of mental symptoms and new ones (that I do not wish to share), that do get in the way of my daily activities because of TSW. The amount of trauma and pain that we all go through with this condition is absolutely extraordinary and severe.
15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?
IT GETS BETTER. It may feel like this pain will last forever, but it does not. I remember that hopeless feeling very very well- but we do get better and I am proof of that.
Thank you for such a terrific interview, Danae!!!!!