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By Kristina Hamlett
In the fall of 2014, a dry patch appeared on the bridge of my nose which over the next year turned into plaques, sores, scars pink and brown, all over my body—in my ears, on my face, scalp, legs, breasts, buttocks, pelvis, the bottom of my feet, toes and fingernails. There was a time when it was difficult for me to walk due to plaques between my thighs. I suddenly found myself fading, retreating to the couch and underneath covers. I became a devotee to products and tricks to hide all of my insecurities that came with psoriasis.
At first, I tried steroid creams which was only a temporary solution. I was scared of the side effects of biologics explained to me by my dermatologist. Over several years, I developed rules for myself about how much of and when I would reveal my body. After a couple of years, I learned to cope enough to start to become open with my writing and working in the reentry field where I interview strangers every day. I was asked rude questions like “What happened to your face?” by people who knew me and those who had yet to learn my name. But I pressed on and in 2019, I started training to compete in a Strongwoman competition and I won third place.
After many years of avoiding medication, I took the plunge and chose to start injecting biologics. After about a month, I could see the old me again. All of the things that I thought were no big deal, the routines I had adopted—sweeping up dead skin from the floor on my side of my bed, beating the skin from my sheets, inspecting furniture, bras and clothing for blood stains, the constant application of extra-strength moisturizers and steroid cream throughout the day, these “no big deals” took an incredible amount of energy and time from me and brought on the highest levels of anxiety. Unexpected waves of relief washed over me as I began to heal. It would flood my senses when I woke up, put my feet on the floor and saw the cleanliness of the wood, running my hands under water and instead of seeing nails caked with skin and blood, they were clear and stepping out of the shower, only to realize I didn’t wince or scream once from the water hitting an open sore or that I hadn’t run a cloth over my keyboard to rid it of evidence of my disease in days.
My confidence soared. All of my other challenges: fibroid tumors, PCOS and obesity didn’t seem to faze me. I had already proved I could lead a life as a “strongwoman,” so being able to watch that veil fall from my face— my entire body felt like it possessed a superpower. Suddenly, I felt the need to have long twists in my hair. I wore short sleeves without thinking of plaques, dry patches and prying eyes. I could think of my writing career being more face forward without the intrusion of doubt. I hosted a poetry series, co-created and facilitated a yoga and writing workshop in person with no thoughts of scars.
After a birthday trip in the fall, I came home with a nasty cold, wheezing and coughing. I couldn’t have predicted what happened next. In a matter of days, my hands and both sides of my arms were covered in guttate psoriasis. The rest of it returned as if they were seeking revenge for their disappearance. By the time Christmas came around, there was no way I could travel to see my family. The backs of my legs burned, and I was constantly trying to stop myself from clawing the skin from my thighs, buttocks and pelvis. I spent most of my days in our recliner, maintaining my work schedule and hoping to never have to pick flakes from my eyelids and brows again. I begged my husband on a few occasions to shave my head so I wouldn’t have to deal with the intense need to scratch my scalp. I ended up cutting most of my hair and I retreated to my parents’ home in Florida for a couple of weeks in February to rest, sunbathe, swim in saltwater and attempt to heal. After almost five years on a plant-based diet, I followed the recommendation of a doctor and began eating meat again (no dairy) but have spent several months without any grains or soy products to aid in the process.
My immune system played the cruelest trick—allowed me to believe I would be able to recognize myself again and then snatched it back just as I began to settle into what ended up being a fantasy.
I know anyone can say it really happened. It can’t be a fantasy because the clearing actually happened, but when I look at myself in the mirror, completely naked and vulnerable, I don’t see the evidence of what was, the promise my body failed to keep.
It doesn’t mean I have to creep back in the shadows and stay isolated. My first book of poetry, She Lives Here was published, and I made my deepest connections while trying to hold this fractured image of myself together over these last several years. I recently moved on to a new medication, delivered my first keynote speech and accepted two new teaching positions with little visible improvement in my appearance. I am able to move around again and have even signed up to start Strongman training next month, but all of my clothes must remain loose and my creams and steroids usually remain at arm’s length.
It does mean I have to practice radical acceptance and accept the unpredictable nature of this disease; accept I will experience shame and exhaustion; accept moments will exist when I forget about psoriasis because I am living fully in the present and someone will remind me of it; and accept my need to open up about this or it will swallow me whole and I will find myself retreating to the couch and underneath the covers again.
Accept that I love my entire body and what it can do more than what it has tried to take away.
Kristina Hamlett is an author, speaker and blogger living in Richmond, Virginia. She is the creator and host of “From the Page to the Mic: A Poetry Reading Series” and the author of What I Love About You: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Proposal and Vows and She Lives Here published by L10 Press.