Interview #13: Nina Nelson

N.A. NelsonNina Nelson
Darien, CT

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

I first had eczema as a child but really didn’t use anything for it other than Keri lotion since my parents believed it was just something I had and there was no “cure.” Around 8th grade it disappeared. It reappeared when I was 30 and pregnant with my first child. The top of my hands became very itchy. The doctor didn’t want to use topical steroids, so he prescribed Protopic. At first Protopic worked beautifully but after a week, it started to burn and make my skin even redder, so I stopped using it. My hands got better on their own.


2. What was the name of the topical steroids? 
Protopic.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

After the birth of my daughter, my eyes became very itchy and red. I saw ophthalmologist after ophthalmologist. They diagnosed me with dry eyes and ocular rosacea. The eye drops (Restasis and over the counter wetting drops) they put me on didn’t work. So I saw a specialist from Yale. He tried the same things the other did…in addition to antibiotics ointments in case it was conjunctivitis. Still my eyes didn’t get better. In fact, they got worse. Finally, the doctor put me on a compounded steroid ointment. Didn’t help. We moved on to steroid drops. This whole eye thing went on for about 2 years. After awhile, he said he didn’t know what to do and that he didn’t want me on the steroid drops any more. I didn’t either, so I stopped.

That’s when the skin rashes started. And I saw dermatologist after dermatologist. And allergists. And gastroenterologists. And naturopaths. And acupuncturists. And neurologists (lupus).

Through it all, I was prescribes topical steroids, oral steroids, and steroid shots. From low potency to high potency, for my face, my scalp, my arms, my hands, my legs, I’d walk in and doctors would say, “Whoa, first we need to get rid of this flare with a steroid shot/round of prednisone, then once we get you back to normal, we’ll get you on some creams.” Of course it would work, until the steroid shots/pills wore off and then it would start all over again. And I kept trying different doctors thinking maybe THIS one will have the answer. Nope.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

One day I was googling online and I don’t even remember what I was googling…itchy rash on face/hand/shoulder maybe, and I saw an image of a girl with red circles around her eyes and a “muzzle mouth” just like mine and I thought, “That looks just like me.” When I went to the page, it was the ITSAN site and the more I read, the more I realized that this is exactly what I had…what NO doctor had been able to diagnose me with—even the best-of-the-best-who-other-doctors-referred-me-to-who-didn’t-take-insurance-experts in New York.

5. What made you feel you had RSS? 

When I read the symptoms and the history and saw the pictures of all the other people who were going through this, the similarities were too many to ignore. With every new bit of information or every video, and every study that was linked to that site, I kept saying, “This is me. This is me. This is exactly what happened with me. Oh, my God. I know what I have. I’m addicted to steroids.”

I was actually excited. Excited that I finally figured out what it was after all these years of knowing something wasn’t right but not knowing what it was. Excited that there was a cure. And I was ready to stop steroids that minute.


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

I was never diagnosed by a doctor. I had compiled a book of the past 12 years of medical visits, prescriptions, and pictures of me in various stages of flares and when I took them to my GP she looked at them and listened patiently to what I had to say. She said she didn’t think I was over prescribed or that the doctors did anything wrong, but she believed me and was very supportive in my decision to quit steroids and said that she would support me in any way to help me get through this. This included prescribing a low dose hydroxine for the itch and the insomnia and an anti-depressant if I got too low. The hydroxine didn’t really work for me and I never filled the anti-depressant prescription, but I was so grateful for her time, patience, and response. For the first time I felt like I was being heard and taken seriously.

7. What were your first symptoms?
Itchy eyes and then an itchy rash on my face, my scalp, and all over my body.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes, although there were some definite rough patches in my marriage

I think the hardest part is that without an “official” doctor’s diagnosis, the withdrawal is not taken as seriously as it would be otherwise.

Obviously, we are sick…we look sick, but I don’t think people realize just how sick we are—on the inside as well as the outside. They don’t realize how exhausted we are from the damage done to our adrenal system and the lack of sleep; how our confidence is gone because we look and feel horrible; how we are in a physical and mental state of torture because of the itch, and the nerve zings, and the sweats, and the cold chills, and the above things I already mentioned. There is no WebMD site to go to that explains that this is absolutely debilitating and patients need time off work and from family responsibilities to heal.

There’s no rehab center for steroid withdrawal like there is for other drug addictions, or pamphlet to hand to family and friends that explains what to expect.

And I felt guilty that I couldn’t be the wife my husband married, or the mother I used to be. But I also put my foot down and stood up for my health and myself. I demanded the time and the rest and the passes from a lot of things and this created friction. I spent huge amounts of money on dead sea salt and water for daily (sometimes twice daily) baths. But I believed so strongly in this diagnosis and my body’s ability to heal and I knew all I needed was time.

And that’s the second hardest thing about this fight…it takes a long time and that’s hard on spouses who are also losing out on time and life for an illness that is not even recognized by doctors.

But yes, my family was supportive. I hid out mostly from society at the beginning. I was so embarrassed that only my closest friends knew what I was going through. Even after I went public on FB and shared my pictures, my story, and all the links with people so they could share with others, I tended to be less outgoing than I used to be.

But that’s gotten better as my skin has gotten better and more time has passed. Now, I go out all the time even with a flare. Who cares anymore? Judge me, don’t judge me. I’ve been to hell and back; your opinion doesn’t matter to me.

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

No, I was lucky. I never had to be hospitalized. I kept infection at bay by taking Dead Sea salt, apple cider vinegar baths. And I’ve gotten cold sores since I was a kid, so I have a backup stash of Valtrex to turn to so I never got eczema herpeticum.


10. What was the hardest part of this condition? 

Phew. I have to pick one thing? I’d say not having the energy that I used to before I got sick. The brain fog was tough too…I wondered why I didn’t have the mental clarity. I guess the hardest part was not being my best person and feeling like I was missing out on life because of it.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal?

I will start my 28th month on Jan 18th, 2017, so I have 2 years and 3 months behind me. I began November 19, 2014. Every morning I put a big X through the day before as I marked the days off. It gave me strength to see all those crossed off days.

When I discovered RSS, I was on the first day of a 3-day shoot for a popular sleep aid commercial—I was playing the role of the wife of the man who couldn’t sleep. I tried to stop the topical steroids that day, but my skin immediately rashed up and my husband said, “Nina, you can’t do this to these people. They’re paying you to look good. You have to take it for the next three days.” He was right; I had a professional obligation not to show up looking like I fell into a patch of poison ivy, so I sparingly used the topical steroid until the last day of the shoot and then I stopped cold turkey.

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

Dead sea salt baths have been my oasis. I’ve done 20 min DSS baths since day one and am still doing them. I also did moisture withdrawal up until about 3 months ago. Now I feel my skin is healed enough that I use an essential oil mixture on it: jojoba, geranium, lavender, frankincense, myrrh, carrot seed, pomegranate, Vit E.

I also competed in 2 triathlons during this and I know the swims in the ocean and the pool helped to dry out the ooze. I think yoga helped with the detox and the running helped with the lymphatic system…not to mention all these things helped with my mental state. It gave me some power and control over my limited lifestyle. I itched like crazy during the workouts but I felt stronger afterward.

Rest. When I felt exhausted, I knew my body was going through a big healing push, so I slept. I felt so guilty sleeping during the day, but I knew it’s what my body needed, so I dealt with the guilt. I still got up every day with the kids for school, but sometimes I’d fall right back into bed after they left.

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

I was a commercial print model and actress so yes, I had to book out with my very-understanding agent this entire time. She’s been a big champion of mine and I’ll return to it when I’m sure I’m better. The good thing about commercial modeling/acting vs. fashion is that you never get too old—you can always do denture, arthritis, and grandmother commercials. ;D

I’m also a writer, so I was able to do that from home—although the brain fog was a real butt-kicker.

Because of having to give up the modeling, I ended up picking back up with a past job of mine, which is teaching hydrofit classes. I’m teaching twice a week at my local Y and loving it. It gets me out of the house, pays me, and gets those endorphins going…all things that are vital for my happiness.

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

No, but only because several times daily, I turned to the ITSAN and Topical Steroid Withdrawal Facebook pages for comfort. Just hearing about other people going through the same thing I was made me feel less alone during this. Posting on my own FB page helped as well. Social media was my therapy.

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

Stay strong. Head down and do what you need to do to make yourself comfortable. Eat healthy; sleep as much and as often as you can. Listen to your body, it will tell you what you need. Keep living, but above all, be patient and know that even if you can’t see it, your body is healing every single day—on the inside and then on the outside.

Sorry, I know that’s more than one thing.


Thank you so much, Nina! What a wonderful interview!

 

Feature #27: Donna & Whitnee

Donna MDonna Marinkovich

Age: 42

Career: Mum and recently back to my old life (especially since skin is so much better) but part time, art dept for film/tv in NZ

When did you cease using topical steroids: December 15th 2015, as soon as I had read the ITSAN site.

What type did you use: I wish I’d paid more attention but mixed in there was hydrocortisone, elidel, elocon sporadically on and more so off for over 30 odd years.

What is your favorite product for comfort? Ice packs particularly at night for the itch. I didn’t use any products during the early months (1-6) as did moisturizer withdrawal, but since my skin took a turn for the better I have been using Avene products, namely the spring water spray and Xera calm moisturizer.

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Physically – the insane itch can drive you pretty crazy, the trance of the itch-scratch cycle is all consuming. The skin flaking. Just the general pain, discomfort and constant awareness of how your skin feels so foreign and sore and alien. Mentally – not knowing what’s really going on, the doubt about whether you’ll ever get better (you do though!) As the healing is not linear, eventually one day you may have calm skin, but the next it feels like you have regressed again with no rhyme or reason, so you have to dig deep to accept and just surrender to all this on some level. I am still trying to practice this 15 months in. Trust is a big one, that your body knows what it needs to do to heal. I am humbled by those whose journeys with this are really tough.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? I couldn’t wait to hold my baby against my bare skin and not have it make me uncomfortable or anxious or itchy. The healing was so slow to unfold, but I felt elated when I saw glimmers of my ‘old skin’ again, and so grateful for my body and what its been through. It was awesome to not feel super self conscious of going out in public and showing my face. To feel the anxiety ease off a bit. And every time I settle from a flare, even though it’s only for a day or so, I am still grateful my body can get there and hopefully will one day stay there.


Whitnee SpringfieldWHITNEE

Age: 25

Career: Creative Designer – had to leave work due to TSW

When did you cease using topical steroids: 01.20.2017

What type did you use: Hydrocortisone, escalating to daily use of Betamethasone and Elecon. Also had 3 month course of oral steroids and Tacrolimus

What is your favorite product for comfort? Avene Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream has significantly improved my face and neck which were super tight, dry and flakey with slight oozing

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Due to debilitation I have had to move across the country to live with my mum to care for me. This means I don’t see my fiancé often and we have had to postpone our wedding. I miss him terribly.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? Marry the love of my life and return to my passion as a live performer (singer songwriter).

Feature #26: Casey & Tammy

CaseyCasey Pratt 

Age: 39

Career: Associate Professor of English

When did you cease using topical steroids: I stopped using all steroids on May 10, 2016

What type did you use: I used Desoximetasone .25% ointment, Triamcinolone .1% cream, and Clobetasol .05% solution

What is your favorite product for comfort? Dead Sea Salts and a basic zinc-oxide cream. And Instagram #tsw

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how hard the “not-knowing” is, and how hard it is on families (thanks for helping Mom & Dad) —that’s all true. But for me, the hardest part was the horrendous itching and sleeplessness. It was like being possessed by a demon.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? The first thing I’ll do when I’m healed (this question makes me cry) is play in the ocean with my wife and young daughters. I missed them so much while I was laid-out. Then I’m going to have a word with my dermatologist.


Tammy Tammy

Age: 42

Career: Administrative Assistant (but had to take 5 months sick leave from work due to TSW)

When did you cease using topical steroids: September 3, 2016

What type did you use: Clobetasol

What is your favorite product for comfort? Epsom salt baths, glaxal base cream, zinc cream, tea tree spray with peppermint

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? When I was at my worst, I would have to say the pain of my skin was unbearable everyday. The open cuts, swelling and the constant itch was so hard to deal with. Missing out on so many events and limited time with family and friends.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? Spend the day at the beach, and swim in the ocean

Feature #25: Iylah-Rose

Rhea and iys

Iylah-Rose

Age: 5 and a half years old

Career: Just started school this year (currently manages to attend 50% of the time, and homeschools the other half due to TSW)

When did you cease using topical steroids: March 11,  2016

What type did you use: She started on over the counter low doses in 2014 sparingly (Dermaid, Hydrocortisone Acetate 1%, mild potency), before being put onto moderate potency betnovate 1/5, cortival 0.02%. It would clear for a few days and she’d be pale white, before her skin would erupt in eczema worse than it was previously and she’d be put onto antibiotic cream (bactroban ointment) and a round of internal antibiotics (usually cefalexin) to settle what had turned into a skin infection.

This cycle continued for a few months, while she became more allergic to foods and environmental factors.

We finally got her in to see a reputable dermatologist and she was then put on further antibiotics, potent steroids- Eleuphrat (x2 daily for 4 days with 3 days break, the rebound flares in this 3 day break were horrid for her), Tacrolimus 3% (immunosuppressant protopic – we were told by the derm that this was better for her face because it didn’t have steroids in it, after which I questioned why I couldn’t just use it all over her body instead and his answer was “because it’s too expensive”, it was $50 for a 30g tub, it didn’t last long, we had no idea it was an immunosuppressant!), the next appointment her dosage was upped again, and we were told to keep up with the creams 3x a day for 7 days OR UNTIL IT CLEARED (this was after explaining how horrid the flares were when we stopped for her 3 day break as prescribed in the previous appointments).

She was already showing all the symptoms and signs of RSS, we had NEVER heard of it before, but knew she was getting more and more unwell, this was Dec 2015 and she could no longer eat anything (even her safe food of chicken and rice would cause a facial flare that was similar to that of the beginnings of an anaphylactic reaction) During this time, she had been given oral steroids 3 times in emergency (the latest being january 2016 after she ate half an orange and had painful hives for 48 hours straight).

By February 2016, she was no longer well enough to attend daycare, she was constantly covered in blood and sores, unable to sleep, needed her ventolin puffer twice daily, her IgE levels were 10 thousand times above the normal range and we decided with our GP to trial 6 months removal of steroids as all other triggers had been eliminated. When we contacted our derm and told him our decision, he ceased all contact with us.

What happened next was beyond hell. That’s when we found itsan.org and it all clicked! I remember being so happy we found the solution and thought, a few months is going to be hard but we can do this… after 6 months I remember promising her by summer she would be better, when summer came I promised her by next summer she will be better…

What is your favorite product for comfort? It has changed during the months, to start with she could not stand any water and we sponge bathed her a few times a day, she also spent the first few months in soft pj’s and resting as she had no energy. We did full GAPS with her to heal her gut, this was hard but she was so sick and so reactive she didn’t mind having soup every day (and gummies!). Then, by month 3, the only place she was comfortable was in the tub, the water had to be hot and she would stay in there for hours, sometimes up to 6 hours a day. She would watch movies in the bath, eat her lunch in the bath.. we spent a lot of time in the bathroom! This was her main comfort for months, and the only way to ease the constant crippling itch attacks and keep her body clean as her skin was raw and open with ooze, and again it was pj’s everyday, we even had day pj’s and night pj’s! She was wet wrapped all over to stop her from sticking to her pj’s, and her face was bandaged to keep the open rawness protected (even the wind would sting if she went outside)

By month 8, she was showing signs of healing and was finally seen by the specialists at the Children’s hospital, they applied for IVIG therapy for her (Intravenous Immunoglobulin) and this started in month 9 TSW, she has the infusion monthly via cannulation, and she absolutely hates the needle but when I ask her now what makes her feel better – she says her medicines from her needle. She has improved ten fold in the last 4 months, and although the hospital hasn’t agreed to her being in TSW (she is considered as severe eczema) it has been a godsend in helping her move forward, she was even able to start school this year! There was no way she was able to leave the house for more than 45 minutes a few months ago with out having a complete crippling itch attack, so it’s comforting that her immune system is on the mend.

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Not being able to play, to run, to jump, to go to school, to dance, to do sport, not being able to be normal like before steroids.

What is the first thing you will do when healed: Go to school full time! – Iylah

When we can afford to, we will be taking our family on a much deserved holiday! To the sunshine, to enjoy the water, the sand and the sun without any pain xx

Interview #12: Torrin Bennett

torrinTorrin Bennett

Denver, CO

 1. When did you start using topical steroids and why?  
Torrin started at about 4 months for eczema. Small patches first seen on his upper lip and back. 

2. What was the name of the topical steroids? 
He was first prescribed hydrocortisone. 

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 
Yes, over the next 8 years of his little life he was on and off of these steroids. Also, under occlusive wrappings (Wet Wrap Therapy for his last two years)
Hydrocortisone, Betamethasone Diapropionate .05%, Desonide .05%,Fluticasone Propionate .05% (external cream),Fluticasone Propionate 50mcg (nasal), Qvar 80mcg,Triamcinolone Acteonide .1%,Qvar 40mcg,Elidel 1%, Fluocinonide .05%, Fluticason Propionate .0005%, Mometasone Furoate .1% (cream), Mometasone Furorate .1% (ex ointment), Mometasone Furoate .1% (ex oint), Protopic .03%,Pulmicort 1mg (inhale), Qvar 40mcg.

4. How did you find out about RSS?
On September 11, 2014 I was researching hemp oil (anything to “cure” him) on Amazon. I was told to check out a few sites in that review and ITSAN.ORG was one of them. As soon as I read the signs and symptoms, I knew without a doubt Torrin had RSS. 

5. What made you feel you had RSS? 
He was full body red, extreme itchy, dry/flaky skin, water burned and stung him. 

6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor? 
Yes, his pediatrician listened and read the ITSAN material. Then to just educate her on RSS and/or if we needed any medicines, we confirmed the RSS diagnosis with Dr. Rapaport via telemedicine. 

7. What were your first symptoms?
Before we knew it was RSS, Torrin already showed signs of TSW ( “bad dandruff”, dry/flaky eyes and skin, redness, sensitivity to heat and water. When we stopped all steroids on 9/12/14 within a few days he became really red, itchy all over. His legs were swollen and could barely walk. The horrible “pins and needles”.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?
Yes, our family was supportive. Friends were supportive but many just dwindled away and stopped asking to do things (because we couldn’t). We had no life for 2.5 years, basically. 

9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? Why?
Yes,about 28 months in I took him into Urgent Care because his arm looked like eczema herpeticum. Thankfully it was not.
 
10. What was the hardest part of this condition? 
Everything! Watching your child itch himself till he was bleeding, the pain that followed, “pins and needles”, water like acid on his skin, watching his friends go to school, play sports, vacations, swim etc. We went from a very outgoing, athletic family to holed up inside their prison home for months and years. 
 
11. How long have you been in withdrawal?
Since September 12, 2014, 29 months. Torrin is still in withdrawal and has flares on his wrists, knees and feet but nothing like on or after steroids. He was able to bathe and swim after 1.5 years into withdrawal.

12. What do you use as comfort measures through this? 
At first baths and Aquaphor for 6 months into TSW. After that he chose moisturizer withdrawal so no bathes and very little Lemongrass Balm from Stephanie Home Apothecary and Honeypacificaco.com. Also, ice packs and fans.

13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status? 
 I have always stayed home with my boys. I only worked part time but had to give that up to take care of him 24/7. Our family, unlike many others, were financially stable.

14. Has this affected Torrin’s education?
Yes! He missed all of 4th grade because he was bed ridden. I homeschooled him online last year and some of this year. He went back to school on 2/1/17. He was also held back a grade. 

15. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition? 
No, we have not gone. Torrin seems to be doing fine and adjusting at the moment. Me, I’d like to go since I have been experiencing depression, anxiety and PTSD.

16. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be? 
Sometimes just allow yourself to just lay there and breathe if that’s all you can do at the moment. Sometimes that’s all I could do as I laid on my bathroom floor at 2am crying because I watched him go through so much pain. 

FAITH in God, HOPE that he will heal and the LOVE for my child is what got me through each day.


Thank you so very much for sharing your story, Torrin!

Feature #24: Taylor & Blair

taylorTaylor 

Age: 26

Career: Homemaker

When did you cease using topical steroids: December 9, 2012

What type did you use: I’m unsure of all the names: topical steroid creams, Ellidel, and a round of herbal pills that contained steroids

What is your favorite product for comfort? Shea Butter

What was the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Not being able to perform daily tasks because it was too painful to outstretch my arms or turn my head. Feeling self conscious in public or when meeting new people.

What was the first thing you did when healed? Wore short sleeves! Played outside in the heat with my two little boys.


Blair Dunkin-Salleyblaire

Age: 21

Career: Unemployed due to TSW soon to be a Licensed Esthetician

When did you cease using topical steroids: September 1, 2016

What type did you use: Locoid Lipo cream on and off since ’15, Fluonicide .01% for body for 8 months, 3 injections, and 1 round of Prednisone

What is your favorite product for comfort? Sticking my head in the freezer and Aloe Vera from a plant

What was the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? When I had a Staph infection on my face and arms for over 3 months and did not know it, and showers. Showers are torture.

What was the first thing you did when healed? Get a job at a Spa, wear short sleeved EVERYTHING, take long warm baths, and wear make up whenever I feel like it! Also I’m going to continue to be very out spoken about TSW in the Esthetics community, and hopefully develop a skin care line that specializes in the treatment of TSW, Eczema, Psoriasis, and Dermatitis related conditions of the skin; or maybe even opening my own spa with a TSW rehab package on the menu. Sky’s the limit!

More From Sufferers

Hey Preventables,

I wanted to make another blog just showcasing some of the things that are being posted in the groups. This PREVENTABLE condition is causing so much pain and suffering. All I wish to do is play a role in ending the overprescription of topical steroids so this pain can end. Please consider donating to this cause either through the project PayPal (preventable.doc@gmail.com), or through the donation link on the front page.

NEW 2

Way too many of us get laughed at in a doctor’s office. How inconsiderate, especially if we are bringing FACTUAL resources with us written by other doctors.

NEW 3

This is so much more than a skin problem. Our mental health comes into play and we need all the support we can get.

NEW 5

NEW ceri

NEW

Doctors are prescribing these drugs to be used on places the very drug itself says NOT to be used on. There needs to come a point where the “DO NOT USE PAST 2 WEEKS…. unless prescribed by your doctor” needs to be abolished. Just because the doctor says to do it, doesn’t mean the warning on the label goes away.

NEW4

NEW6

I, personally, did two sets of tapering oral steroids. My skin gradual got better on the pills, but as soon as it tapered off, I went right back into this mess.

NEW8

NEW9

How unfair this that? Even when there is proof, a doctor is going to deny it? It makes absolutely no sense.

NEW10

So many people who don’t believe in this say they think its outrageous that people are doing this and should go back to the drugs if they are suicidal. When will the thinking start turning towards saving people from this by actually prescribing these drugs correctly/actually finding out the cause of the patient’s problem instead of continuing to endanger patients and call them crazy for ceasing to use a drug that is literally destroying them from the inside out?

NEW11

NEW12

I saved the best for last. This hits home for so many sufferers.

NEW7

This is not about bashing steroids. This is about showcasing how overprescribing these drugs are ruining people’s lives in every way imaginable.