Feature #30: Meghan & Kristen

Meghan PicklesMeaghan Pickles

Age: 13

Career: Student

When did you cease using topical steroids: Feb 2016

What type did you use: Hydrocortisone 1%, Betamethasone, Avantan fatty ointment

What is your favorite product for comfort?  Epiderm, Tubifast Wet Wraps, safe soda bicarb of the bath and the body, Queen Bee Balm (Bee Skin Recovery)

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Enduring the worst pain of my life, oozing skin, shivering and feeling freezing cold even in hot temperatures, the skin snowing and rejuvenating every three days to raw skin, the intense burning, constant dilated capillaries that leave the familiar red mask of TSW, the lack of support from specialists and then being threatened we would be reported to child services for refusing steroids! Losing most of my friends.

What was the first thing you did when healed? I went to a BBQ for 2 hours, I was free, I was out of the house without wet wraps, I went shopping and tried on new clothes instead of staring on in pain watching my friends do what I couldn’t do. I lost nearly a year out of school, but now I’m healed and it’s all over.


Kristen BKristen B

Age: 21

Career: ECE/ Nanny

When did you cease using topical steroids: Feb 19th, 2017

What type did you use: Hydrocortisone, Ellidel, Protopic

What is your favorite product for comfort?  Ice Packs, Aquaphor, burning my arms when itchy

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Having to re-home some of my pets, the draining of my self-esteem, having to go to bed with multiple ice packs and a fan since I can’t fall asleep otherwise, and the financial hardship having to spend tons on remedies.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? I plan on working out, eating whatever I want and not having to worry about a flare, go out with my friends, play with all my animals again that are making me flare up, and just enjoy life in general again.

Feature #29: Michelle & Laura

Miche;le Li.PNGMichelle Li 

Age: 25

Career: Data Scientist

When did you cease using topical steroids: July 2015

What type did you use: Elocon in childhood, other hydrocortisone creams of various strengths for eczema around eyelids and lips, and immunosuppressants (elidel, protopic) in my teens.

What is your favorite product for comfort? A balm I make using shea butter, jojoba oil, cocoa butter, peppermint essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil.  The essential oils are very cooling and help relieve the itch…sometimes.

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? The hardest part about TSW is the roller coaster of flare-ups. Sometimes you think you’ve beat it, but another flare-up will come, in a different part of your body. It’s really hard to keep a positive attitude when that happens.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? I’m doing everything I want to be doing! I’ve made a big effort to keep chugging along, advancing in my career, traveling, and doing as much as I can without causing my body stress despite my flare-ups… But maybe, going camping and not having to worry about infections or having a good nights rest would be the first thing I do once I’m healed.


Laura MathiesonLaura Math.png

Age: 29

Career: Unemployed due to TSW and anxiety

When did you cease using topical steroids: 28th May 2014

What type did you use: I only ever used steroids topically, these include Hydrocortisone, Betnovate, Fucidin H, Fucibet and Elocon. There are many more but I can’t remember them all. Other treatments I have tried include Traditional Chinese Medicine, hypnotherapy, UVB light treatment, homeopathy. I was still using steroids when trying these other therapies in the past.

What is your favorite product for comfort? At the start of withdrawal i used tubs and tubs of 50/50 ointment. Later I found Dead Sea Salt baths very soothing. I’d use zinc infused bandages when oozing. Later into TWS (about the 2 year mark) I started using Elaj, and I still use it to this day.

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? The hardest part for me is the anxiety and depression; not wanting to be seen by anyone and shutting myself away from the world.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? The first thing I want to do when I’m healed from TSW is hold down a full time job long enough to save enough money to go travelling for a few months.

Feature #28: Kayla & Kleidy

Kayla.pngKayla Clarke 

Age: 26

Career: 3rd year resident of Naturopathic Medicine

When did you cease using topical steroids: Dec 19 2016

What type did you use: Betamethasone valerate 0.1% on and off for 18ish years

What is your favorite product for comfort? A big fuzzy blanket, a hot cup of tea, and cannabis salve

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Acceptance. For a long time I couldn’t accept what was happening to me. I thought (being in Naturopathic medicine), I would be able to find a quick fix. Not the case. I can support my body where it needs help, but in the end, I have to let it do its thing.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? Hike up a mountain and get all kinds of sweaty.


Kleidy Sevillakleidy sevilla

Age: 10

Career: Grade 4 student

When did you cease using topical steroids: June 2016

What type did you use: Prednisone, elidel, hydrocortisone in different strengths

What is your favorite product for comfort? Only product I can handle is vaseline, love icecream to keep me cold because I’m hot all the time. Also love to hear music to calm me down.

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Not being able to have a good night sleep. I’m always tired.

What is the first thing you will do when healed? I am going to wear a bathing suit and go to the swimming pool.

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