NYC Mount Sinai Integrative Medicine Conference

New York City is one of my favorite places, so when I was informed by Henry Erlich that this conference was being held in the Big Apple, there was no hesitation in buying a plane ticket.

The conference was this past weekend, May 13th-14th. I was only able to attend the primary day. However there was plenty of information to be absorbed. My main reason for going was to hear the prestigious and awe-inspiring Dr. Xiu-Min Li spill her knowledge on allergic disease, ASHMI, and her take on Red Skin Syndrome. She will be one of the doctors I humbly get to interview for the documentary this summer, and I am stoked! Such an amazing woman whose research I know will change the way we treat eczema in the next decade. I see a Nobel Prize in her future.

Dr. Li has a phenomenal opportunity while working at Mount Sinai, bringing together both Western and Eastern medicine in a clinical setting. No Western doctor will be able to deny her results and her rigorous efforts to show how wonderful Traditional Chinese Medicine can be (and is!) for our growing allergy and eczema problems.

Besides Dr. Li, there were a plethora of doctors participating, some even flying all the way from China. We had headphones and a translator present in order to understand everyone speaking.

At the bottom, I will be posting a video of Dr. Li’s talk and all that I was able to film. Sadly, I was told we couldn’t video anything so I wasn’t prepared. It was only very late the night before that I was told I was misinformed. I did my best filming with my heavy camera and old phone while trying to listen. It’s a bit shaky, so I apologize. It had been down pouring that day, which soaked my shoes, so most of the conference I was bare foot, attempting to sit on my feet in hopes of warming them up in that already frigid auditorium room.

But here are a few highlights from the conference:

1st Speaker: Susan Weissman

Her son, Eden, had horrific allergies, asthma, and skin problems. She found Western medicine was not helping their son improve. She is an avid promoter of Dr. Li’s work and is happy to say her son is finally able to enjoy life because of her protocol. She is the author of Feeding Eden, a memoir about raising Eden with all of his serious health problems. I think the most profound thing she mentioned was her question to Western medicine doctors: “How do we treat the entity of allergic disease?” Medicine seems to be extremely narrow-minded instead of looking at the body (or a condition) as a whole.

2nd Speaker: Dr. Xiu-Min Li

She gave a brief oration before her longer one at the end of the conference. The merit of her work is astounding and she emphasized how necessary it was to be able to show how TCM brings results that Western doctors can believe in and not have them be able to dispute them as “false” or “not supported.” All of her work has to be proven through science.

4th Speaker: Shi-Ming Jin, MS

*Apologies since I skip over a few speakers*  I loved how she spoke about how the integrative world is striving to be more innovative and adaptive to Western world medicine in hopes of showing how TCM is helpful and important in giving patients relief.

8th Speaker: Jing Li, PhD, FDA Botanical Review Team

Basically, there are FDA guidelines/guidance for using botanicals (herbs) in medicine. They are tested in clinical trials just the same as Western medicine, so they are treated equally. It can not be written off. A demonstration of quality control was given, and how they wish to minimize any chemical, biological and pharmacological variations to obtain consistent drug substances.

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10th Speaker: Ke Xing Sun

He gave a speech about how using TCM is about keeping harmony in health with our whole body working together as a unit. We are individual people with individual needs, something Western medicine does not always provide. We should be more patient-centered with medicine. He also advocated health in daily life, reiterating how prevention is key.

11th Speaker: Arya Neilson, PhD

*She was a stellar speaker* She deals with acupuncture and the benefits it can give to certain patients, even those with eczema. One of the most interesting things was how this type of treatment post-surgery can help with opiod sparing since we, in the US, take up the vast percentage of opiod use around the globe. Opiod abuse it sky high and having this available is quite a remarkable treatment. Acupuncture is now even included by Western doctors in some therapies! When it comes to allergies and eczema, there was a study done to show how dust mite IgE levels were down regulated after using acupuncture, and how itching was reduced in eczema patients. However, acupuncture is more of a rescue therapy for patients and herbs should come first in eczema treatment. (She is featured on the video)

12th Speaker: Scott Sicherer, MD

He spoke eloquently about his field in allergy/immunology in babies and what could be causing such an exponential climb in allergies these past few decades. No one is for certain, but he feels having exposure to the skin could be a factor. For some reason, there has been found to be peanut dust inside of homes, which is where skin contact could become an issue. If babies have eczema, they are at a higher risk for allergies. He would use oral immunotherapy to try and desensitize the allergy, hoping to eradicate or raise the threshold. Scott touched upon using biologics (omalizumab) for some cases for 20-22 weeks (it’s an anti-IgE), but he says it doesn’t mean it’s going to be any more effective (just perhaps speeds the process).

14th Speaker: Rachel Miller, MD

Rachel continued to speak on allergies and issues in infants and children, focusing a bit on pregnant woman. She showcased how if a pregnant woman is under stress, her child is more likely to have wheezing. She also explained how methylation and DNA does play a role in some of these areas and how Dr. Xui-Min Li’s protocol, ASHMI, has shown good results in pregnant mothers.

16th Speaker: Anna Nowak-Wegryzn, MD

She gave a very in-depth speech about allergies and infant treatment. When she mentioned starting oral tolerance as early as 1 year old, a question popped into my mind. If we can detect and start to treat allergies at that age, why is it that Western doctors are so quick to lather steroids on a baby, but claim they can not test for allergies until about 3 years old? That’s something that I feel should be addressed. When it comes to peanut allergies, she said she personally thinks using boiled peanuts instead of baked are safer to use for desensitization without losing efficacy.

** Funny side note** Dr. Xiu-Min Li came up and asked a question during Q&A. She asked it in Chinese, and the speaker answered back in Chinese. Everyone asked what was said so Dr. Li offered to translate. She started to do the translation, but didn’t realize she was still speaking in Chinese, so someone stopped her. She didn’t realize she wasn’t speaking English. We all had a laugh.

18th Speaker: Julie Wang, MD

 She spoke about a drug trial (See pics below)

20th Speaker: Dr. Kamal Srivastava, PhD

One of his best and to the point notes was that IgE is central to the pathology of allergic disease. Another subject he touched on was FAHF-2, which is another herbal formula much like Dr. Li’s ASHMI. Berberine, an herb, is the most potent at reducing IgE levels, and can even help lower glucose. However, it is very badly absorbed taken orally, so they are trying to make it more effective (perhaps, adding to a molecule).

22nd Speaker: Dr. Ying Song, MD

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23rd Speaker: Anne Maitland, MD, PhD

She studies Mast Cell Activation Disorders. Anne used the Great Wall of China as an analogy, how it’s not always effective for keeping the bad out. Mast cells can release different things, like histamine or tryptase, and just like a police call, you want to send the correct team out to help for the correct situation. She also touches on how when we figured out how to decrease certain bacterial-based diseases (like Measles), hypersensitivity disorders increased (like allergies). Naps, apparently, are something we need more of to help with stress (which I totally agree!).

24th Speaker: Julia Wisniewski, MD

She spoke about our skin barrier and how we shouldn’t use alkaline soap on baby skin. The best thing she mentioned however was that at the latest AAD meeting, she saw a slide that said steroids do, in fact, have the ability to cause allergic reactions in patients. Near the end, she spoke about Vit D and how it’s definitely important for our bodies.

The last two speakers were Tiffany Camp Watson, the mother who gave her testament about using Dr. Li’s protocol, and then Dr. Xiu-Min Li herself! They are both on the YouTube video speaking. Most of the video is of Dr. Li speaking. After 6:30 mins, it is all Dr. Li and her presentation.


I hope this was informative and I can’t wait to have all my equipment in to shoot these upcoming interviews! 2.5 weeks to go!

Feature #32: Kirk

KIRKKirk Robertson

Age: 19

Career: Self employed Personal Trainer (currently on hiatus)

When did you cease using topical steroids: 29th of December 2016

What type did you use: Eumovate

What is your favorite product for comfort? Dead sea salts

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? Not being able to build my business or build on my plan of becoming a professional natural bodybuilder

What is the first thing you will do when healed? Train with my girlfriend and go out for a meal with my family.  Followed by an overdue night out!

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!

Interview #11: Jen Hall

fullsizerenderJennifer Hall

Jacksonville, FL

“Nothing is wasted” I heard this from a T.D. Jakes sermon. It basically means that no matter what suffering you’re going through it won’t be wasted…it will be used in some way for your best benefit. It will make you a stronger, wiser, more resilient person who will be more appreciative for the little things in life. You can even use your pain and experience to help others. This saying held true & gave me faith through my healing process (and still does till this day), it kept me going and looking towards the future and how I can use my experience in some way.

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

10 months old. At around 7 months old my parents noticed that I had spots of a skin rash, I was really itchy and the doctors told them to use over the counter creams to keep the symptoms at bay. When they noticed it was getting worse, to the point of wrapping my arms in gauze to prevent me from scratching my skin to bleeding, they took me to a dermatologist and they prescribed me topical steroids.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

.025% kenalog (triamcinolone ) cream

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes, higher potencies of triamcinolone (the main steroid I used for 26 years of TS use) as well as Desonide for my face, a mixture of steroids and lubriderm, and steroid shots of (I believe) triamcinolone in my hands and feet.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

I didn’t know there was a name for it until I found itsan.org. I had been withdrawing from the topical steroids for a little while already just because I was fed up of being sick and looking into natural remedies to heal my skin. I had found eczema-natural-healing.com and followed the woman, Donia’s story and how she stopped using the creams (and worked on cleansing and diet) and healed her skin. I took the same approach she did and I believe it was months later I found out about itsan.org and that there were doctors who had a name for it: RSS and TSA (topical steroid addiction) and were promoting cessation of steroids to heal the skin.

Following Donia’s approach inspired me to share my own story on my blog eczemaholistichealing.wordpress.com and help others just as she has! I receive many emails from all over the world from eczema warriors and I assist them with advice with diet, supplements and essential oils. I also truly believe that my overuse of topical steroids for 26 years led me to have cancer: stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2008. This overuse of topical steroids has also lead me to have Keratoconus in both of my eyes (but worse in my right) which I will have to have treatment for soon to correct the misshaping of my cornea and poor vision.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

All of the symptoms matched up to mine. I’m darker skinned but you can still see redness in my tone. I could never go a day without using some form of topical steroid on my skin, I was constantly itchy, if I would stop using the medication at any point in time my skin would revolt and flare up.

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

When I found out about taking the steps to naturally heal my eczema I knew that no doctor would understand so I just grinned and bared it by myself. I did have a dermatologist at Duke University Hospital that I had before I started TSW (and whom I’d get prescriptions from). When I scheduled an appointment to see her and tell her about what I was going to do as far as cessation of the medications and taking a holistic approach, she flat out told me “well there is nothing we can do for you here, I prescribe medication, so… sorry.” She had no alternative treatments for me, no information about diet or any info on how it truly is possible to be addicted to topical steroids. I even believe that she had said “there’s no cure for eczema“. I still plan on one day showing up and showing her how I got through this and how I’m much better off than I ever was on any cream she wanted to prescribe me! The only doctor who supported me was my oncologist at Duke University. I even showed him horrific photos of the beginning stages of my TSW and he was so impressed by how far I had come (6 months in) and he praised me for taking such control of my health and choosing this route of healing. He even offered info for a holistic doctors that he knew, but I couldn’t afford it.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Hot red skin, raised bumps, intense itch, hot and cold feverish symptoms then came the ooze… the dreaded ooze with huge cracks in my skin. My legs and especially my feet looked like I had a flesh eating disease because the skin was so raw, open, bloody and oozy. The pain and leg spasms were insane, like ants crawling UNDER the skin, and tingles like pins and needles. Showering gave me anxiety as the water stung and burned like crazy, I ended up going months without showering and just washing up not only because of the pain but also because getting my raw legs and feet wet just made it worse.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes, very much so. I’m so thankful for my mother for physically taking care of me for so long and for both of my parents for helping me out financially. My parents both felt so terrible and guilty that because of taking me to the dermatologists to use these meds all of this time had got me in this situation.

Just like thousands of parents just wanting to see their child better, they did the best that they knew how and what they thought was right, to take me to the doctor. My mother and grandma would always pray with me and encourage me to keep my faith, let me know that God is always in control and this suffering won’t be in vain. My friends were super supportive and so kind throughout all of my health issues. They never made me feel like an outcast, always encouraged me and spoke healing into me. Still to this day they tell me how much they admire my strength of all that I’ve been through. Hearing those words from them always keep me going.

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

I have never gone to a hospital for TSW as I already knew doctors wouldn’t understand and just want to give me steroids, antibiotics and pain meds. I also couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for a holistic doctor or naturopath. The one time I went to a clinic for a signed doctors note to excuse me from work, the doctor looked at me as if I was a fool and flat out said that what I was doing “clearly wasn’t working” and I needed to immediately get back on the steroids.

 

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

Symptomatically the ooze for sure… the smell of it is so awful, the icky sticky feeling it leaves on your skin and when it sticks to your clothes is aggravating, the way it crusts and hardens and itches is maddening. With all of that I know that the symptoms are good things, they show that the body is cleansing properly and getting all of that gross toxic metabolic waste out, by any means necessary. Emotionally and mentally would be holding on to the faith and hope that this will end someday, and digging deep to continue fighting. Just not giving up and giving in to suicidal thoughts that would plague my mind from time to time.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

Since March 2012. I still cannot believe that I will be 5 years topical steroid free in March 2017! I can honestly say that I’m about 90%-95% healed, with just some irritation still from my knees down. My legs are just flaky and itchy at times and my feet are the same but with small areas that can get ever so slightly oozy. I’ve been able to comfortably wear socks and sneakers more recently, which is a huge milestone! Some days I have to just wear sandals (thank goodness I’m in Florida lol). I just have discolouration and wrinkling that is really left to repair, but no intense symptoms like the years before thank God!

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

Always reminding myself that “this is temporary” also that, “this pain and struggle will take a fraction of your life to endure and heal”. Lots of prayer and listening to uplifting sermons and gospel music. Reading positive, inspirational books. Crying instead of holding it all in. Crying on the phone to my mom and hearing her encouraging words. Listening to dance music, watching lots of movies and getting crafty. Constantly staying educated about detoxification & healing with food and natural remedies. Seeing my friends and laughing my booty off. And always, always having gratitude, even when I was in the deepest darkest hole I gave thanks to God because I knew the the only way out was to battle through it and that each passing day was one day more without topical steroids… one step closer to full healing. I always tell my readers to give thanks for the good and bad, the breakthroughs and setbacks, because the body doesn’t take overnight to heal because it didn’t take overnight to accumulate toxicity… it will take time and to always trust its natural ability to heal. Have gratitude for the pain because it shows that your body is properly cleansing and that you are becoming the healthiest version of yourself, free from the dependency of topical steroids!

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

I’m currently looking for work, but with my eczemaholistichealing.wordpress.com site I make a small income from the supplements and essential oils that I use and recommend (feel free to reach out for more info: eczema.holistic.healing@gmail.com). I was able to work retail for 1/2 a year, but a TSW flare brought me to quit my job as it affected my legs and feet, making it impossible to put on shoes and stand for any long length of time.

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

I have not, and I would’ve benefited from it for sure in the darkest of times. I found my therapy to be connecting with others through support groups as they knew the struggle first hand and we could all encourage one another, even if it was via the web. I found it amazing at how many people all over the world were suffering and feeling the exact same horrific symptoms as I was, especially when in the very early stages I felt like I was completely alone. It’s also wonderful to see so many doing much better and enjoying life to the fullest!

 

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

Don’t ever give up, you are a warrior and this pain and suffering you are feeling is temporary… it is literally a fraction of your life dedicated to repairing. It may seem like it’s dragging on forever but it WILL end, the body is so amazing at self healing! Always keep the faith and always have gratitude. Treat your body like the temple that it is with healing foods, lots of rest, exercise and loving thoughts. Focus on the future and the amazing things that you will do when you’re body is healthier, how you will live life fully, be more compassionate to others, share your story to encourage others and be of service in any way you can. Remember that this isn’t “happening to you” but it’s “happening FOR you” to be the healthiest version of you! Continuing the steroids for years and years would’ve only increased the toxicity in the body, and would’ve led to other health issues like myself with cancer and now Kerataconus. TSW is a huge battle to endure and embarking on it is the bravest thing you can do, commend yourself and keep on fighting!


Thank you so much, Jen, for this phenomenal interview! 

Interview #10: Kline

klineKline (and Loren, Kline’s mother)

Lake Tahoe, California

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

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

Kline started at 4 months old for baby eczema.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

Desonide and antibiotic compound.

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

His eczema kept spreading and getting worse What kinds? I think dermasmooth was the highest potency we used.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

Google.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

He looked just like everyone else…red sleeve and all.

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

We saw Dr. Rapaport at 6 weeks off topical steroids to confirm it. Yes, Dr. Rapaport and some homeopathic and chiropractor.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Full body flares.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes.

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

No.

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

The length of the withdrawal and watching your baby suffer and not be able to help them or speed it up.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

Started February 21, 2012, 4.5 years ago. Kline is still in withdrawal but living his life and much, much better…the itch and skin is managable but not perfect.

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

Popsicles, ice packs, lavender oil, EPROMs salt, Shea butter with essential oils, gauze and tape.

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

I had to take a night job because Kline couldn’t go to school.

14. Has this affected your Kline’s education? He had to redo kindergarten

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

Yes, I think we all have PTSD and depression from this terrible life changing ordeal.

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

 

Take each moment by moment ..don’t get your hopes up on a time frame for healing, expect more flares to come. And ask for help! You are beautiful and strong and can do this!!!


Thank you so much, Loren, for taking the time for this interview!

Interview #9: Mattiel Brown

mattielMattiel Brown

Atlanta, GA

“All Things Must Pass” – George Harrison

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

When I was about seven years old, I used Desonide cream very sparingly for eczema around my mouth and ears. This was not the period where I became addicted to steroids, though. I was fine as a teenager and only experienced very occasional, small spots of eczema.

2. What was the name of the topical steroid?

Desonide .05% cream (and I also used some Protopic)

3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids? 

Yes, but I didn’t use the whole tube and not for very long.
Triamcinolone cream. Used for small spots of eczema around mouth.

4. How did you find out about RSS?

Video of Dr.Rapaport’s interview on youtube.

5. What made you feel you had RSS?

My eczema was spreading to places that I’d never had it before – my neck started breaking out, my back… it was just a sign that something was NOT normal.

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

Diagnosed with eczema, told that it was a very hard disease to treat. I did not have a supportive doctor until I met a “naturalist” doctor named Dr.Maziar Rezvani in Marietta, GA. He helped me through the later stages of my withdrawal after I explained the situation to him. Very supportive doc.

7. What were your first symptoms?

Rashes spreading to unfamiliar areas, very sensitive skin, burning, swelling eyes, yeast infections, and after using Protopic I started to get styes in my eyes and even a cyst in my arm. These were all very strange symptoms to me and a sign that something was not normal.

8. Is your family supportive? Friends?

Yes, my mother and boyfriend were extremely supportive and believed in TSW after I explained the situation thoroughly.

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

No.

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

Physically, it was very difficult. But mentally – I was really a wreck at about one year into my withdrawal and I had to see a counselor. I was in a very, very dark place and couldn’t sleep, hated having to go through the day, and was in a lot of pain – I was so depressed. Worst experience of my life was the mental toll this took on me.

11. How long have you been in withdrawal? 

April 2014 / August 2016. I would say it took 26-28 months for me to say I’m definitely healed.

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

I got a prescription for muscle relaxers to help me sleep.

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

I am employed and I stayed employed during my whole withdrawal. The only time I took off was two weeks last summer to collect myself mentally when it was getting really tough.

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

Yes, I had to see a therapist. It helped me a lot – just to have someone to talk to and to see their outside perspective.

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

This will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do in life. Period. It will end, but it is a long, difficult process and you will need support from friends and family (and hopefully a doctor). It’s a very hard situation to explain to other people (especially traditional dermatologists), and it’s even hard to understand what your body is going through when you’re suffering from it. And as hard as it is to believe, you will look back on this experience as a tiny fraction of your life. A period of your life that REALLY sucked but it ended. It DOES end.


Thank you for such a terrific interview, Mattiel!

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!