My Health Experience: ‘One child asked if I had leprosy’
Exercise and a healthy diet help prevent my psoriasis flaring up
Rebecca Lee in the Q102 studios: ‘It’s important for me to keep the condition under control for my work, particularly because I’d like to do television work in the future.’ Photograph: Alan Betson
Psoriasis is still a taboo subject, and most people who have this skin condition are too embarrassed to talk about it. I have had it since I was a child and learned how to manage it properly only in my 20s. I am now 29.
When I was in primary school, my psoriasis was really bad and flared up between the ages of five and 10. My parents brought me to several doctors and I had various skin treatments– special creams, soaps and shampoos. I was always advised to stay away from perfumed soaps and bath products but I’ve never checked to see if I am allergic to anything in particular.
My arms, knees, scalp and stomach were covered in flaky, silver patches when I was a child.
Between the ages of eight and 10, my psoriasis was at its most severe and I ended up in the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, for “light therapy” for eight weeks, three times a week. My school work suffered and I nearly had to stay back a year.
The other children didn’t know what I had and some thought it might be contagious. Others thought I had head lice because it was at its worst on my scalp. One child even asked me if I had leprosy.
The teacher explained to the children that I had psoriasis, but that didn’t really help me at the time.
My parents used to tell me not to listen to the other children’s comments, but I became a bit of a loner in the playground.
Diet and exercise
I began to grow out of the problem a little towards the end of primary school, but was always aware that it might flare up at any time.
In secondary school, I ate a lot of crisps, chocolates and takeaway food. I wasn’t interested in fruit and vegetables and there were no healthy lunch options in my school. We just had a tuck shop full of crisps and chocolate. My psoriasis remained quite bad on my scalp through my teenage years.
It was really only when I left secondary school that I started to improve my diet and to exercise, and I now realise these moves have helped me hugely.
My psoriasis started to calm down a lot when I ate healthy foods and, particularly, when I exercised. I also realised that it was worse when I was stressed, so I exercised to deal with the stress and that, in turn, helped the psoriasis. I also realised that it flared up when I was run down and didn’t get enough sleep.
I have been working and studying since I left school. I did a certificate in business management at Dublin Institiute of Technology and then studied radio broadcasting at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dún Laoghaire. Then I studied journalism and did a degree in marketing.
At the moment, I am finishing a masters in marketing at the Michael Smurfit Business School. I love studying and I like to upskill constantly but sometimes it puts a lot of pressure on me because I have always worked while studying.
I still live at home with my parents and they are very supportive. I have worked part-time in Q102 radio station as a presenter/producer for the past seven years. I also write on a freelance basis. Because I work on the breakfast show on Q102, I get up at 5.45am most days. Sometimes, I am still in the office at 7pm but I try not to let that happen too much. I have to be careful not to overdo it.
As I am freelance, I take whatever work I get but if I feel stressed, I have to cut down a little. I try to make sure I get rest when I’m wrecked.
I have been going to the gym about three times a week for the past five years. This helps me manage my stress, which I believe is the root of the problem. I also regularly use the sauna and steam room in the gym which helps reduce flare-up and itching.
I cook for myself and eat a lot of vegetarian food. I have only one takeaway meal a week now. I had a lot of puppy fat left over from my teenage years but I lost all of that in my early 20s, which also helped.
The thing about psoriasis is that it’s incurable. But you can learn to manage it, just like I have. A lot of people compliment me on my skin now.
I still use the treatment shampoos when I feel it is getting worse. Sometimes I have to wear my hair a certain way to hide the patches on it, but I haven’t used the skin creams for two years now. I have had to cancel interviews with celebrities on a few occasions as I was too embarrassed to meet them during a flare-up.
It’s important for me to keep the condition under control for my work, particularly because I’d like to do television work in the future.
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