A WOMAN says strangers would ask if she had been “bitten by bed bugs” and move away from her on the train – fearing she was contagious.
Bree Pease’s breaks out in spots all over her torso, arms and legs.
So itchy, in fact, that Bree’s skin can bleed and it impacts her daily life.
She says: “I’ve had people move away from me on trains, tap me on the shoulder in grocery stores while I’m listening to music just to ask what’s ‘wrong’ with me or stop me in the street.
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“But it actually motivated me to spread awareness for my condition, in hopes that the next person they see with psoriasis they approach in a more positive way.
“I started to realise that people are only asking questions and looking at my out of curiosity.
“All I had to do was explain my disease to them and that would break the ice.”
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Bree was just 15 years old when her psoriasis started appearing, which she believes is linked to the stress of her parents splitting up, moving schools and a “toxic” relationship.
It started on her left elbow, about the size of a 10p piece, but within a year, the itching and red patches had spread all over her body.
She says: “It was hard when people looked at me strangely or asked questions like ‘what’s wrong with your elbow?’.
“During a flare up my skin is warm to touch, itchy to the point of bleeding and can spread rapidly.
“Some fabrics and clothes are incredibly uncomfortable to wear and all of these combined can make daily activities very hard.”
It’s not just her skin that has suffered, but her mental health outlook too.
Bree said: “Psoriasis is more than just skin deep. It affects me in all aspects of life.
“It affects my sleep, work, stress levels, anxiety levels, depressive thoughts and can cause other inflammatory diseases in the long run.
“I also started to get early symptoms of psoriatic arthritis – a type of inflammatory arthritis.
“It causes stiffness, pain and swelling of the joints and can cause permanent deformity and/or disability if left untreated.
“In the past, I’ve taken block sick days off work, skipped social events and avoided playing group sports.”
The model said she was first thought to have a fungal infection – despite her dad’s history of also having psoriasis – and when she was at last diagnosed, no treatments worked long-term.
There is no cure for the condition, which affects around two in 100 people in the UK.
It flares up, causing severe symptoms before a period of no symptoms, in most cases.
The condition is thought to be caused by a problem in the immune system, leading to the production of skin cells that is faster than normal.
As a child, Bree remembers her Dad, Andrew, 46, using biologic treatments for his psoriasis – a type of treatment which blocks overactivity in the immune system.
She said: “As a child I remember my father being in a lot of discomfort so I am very happy his found something that works for him.
“Dad would love me to follow in his footsteps and get approval for a biologic treatment.
“Of course, as a father and feeling the same pain I’ve felt, he wants me to be free from it all.”
Holding off medication
But, while Bree is open to trying other treatments in the future, she is happy to use holistic approaches to manage her condition for now.
She said: “Thinking into the long-term, suppressing symptoms of my disease and becoming dependent on medications for the rest of my life did not sound enjoyable.
“Everything changed when I realised that maybe I have more control over my skin than I thought.
“I decided to focus on my physical heath, mental health and confidence.”
Bree weaned herself off steroid creams that she had used “for years”, explaining: “Some people who have used steroid creams for an extended period of time can experience steroid withdrawals.
“This is when the skin has become dependent on the steroids and can result in an extremely aggressive flare-up for years on end.
“After using these creams for years I didn’t know what to expect and was worried about how I could deal with the itchiness.
“I am now 100 per cent off medications and despite it being hard at first have found ways to manage the itch.
“A cold shower, plenty of rest, gentle exfoliation and a lot of moisturiser is the best I can do in a flare-up but I’ve found an overall holistic approach to life has given me the best comfort.
“Since I’ve been health-focused, I might still have visible spots but the itchiness has all gone!”
Bree has not required treatment from a dermatologist for the past three years and “couldn’t be happier” – though she adds: “If things progressed to a point I couldn’t handle I wouldn’t hesitate to see a professional.”
Bree is now determined to share her journey to help empower others, and said: “It used to feel like a curse but now feels like my biggest blessing.
“I’ve realised that my psoriasis isn’t me – I am not my body, I am the thing living inside.
“I don’t blame people for not knowing much about psoriasis.
“There is no cure for these diseases and people often are quick to give their remedies or advice but the best thing you can give to someone who is clearly struggling is love and acceptance.”