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Making the Best Choices for Your Psoriasis

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PATIENT VOICES
My Psoriasis Treatment Changed My Life

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Emma Yarbrough

Everyone has something they’re really good at. I’m really good at growing. I was always absurdly tall. By the age of 11, I was already 5’10”. Now, at 28, I’m 6’1”. And my hair and nails grow faster than anybody’s I know. Part of me likes to entertain the idea that maybe I’m really a superhero.

On top of that, my skin reproduces too many growth cells–I have pretty severe psoriasis.

I vividly remember, as an 8-year-old, the doctors telling us it was psoriasis and it was incurable.

Up until I went through puberty, my disease didn’t mean anything to me. What I remember most about having psoriasis at such a young age is how it affected my mom. One of the things that can trigger psoriasis patches to develop is injury to the skin—and like I said, I was a giant. I was all limbs and I fell a lot. After I’d clumsily hurt myself, instead of my mom telling me, “Oh, it’s going to be okay,” she would get really upset because she knew that would be a new psoriasis spot on my body. It got to the point where if I fell and hurt myself, instead of going to my parents, I would go to the bathroom by myself and patch myself up because I didn’t want to upset my mom.

I’d see the doctor in our little hometown in Alabama, and he didn’t really know what he was talking about. Eventually, we started driving the two and a half hours to Birmingham to see a dermatologist every six months. But for a while, there weren’t really effective medications to treat psoriasis as severe as mine. About 80% of my body was covered in psoriasis patches. I tried medication after medication, and nothing really stuck. I tried homeopathic therapies, I stopped eating tomatoes, I did this awful tar treatment for 15 minutes every night for a while, I tried all the steroid creams; we even bought a light box to see if that would help. Some of the treatments relieved the symptoms and made me less itchy, but I was still covered in psoriasis.

When puberty hit, my psoriasis became a big problem. Kids weren’t so nice and middle school was rough, to say the least. I wasn’t awkward, though—I was funny. I had (and still have) this class clown thing going on. I wanted people to look at me on my own terms. If you’re staring at me all the time, look at me because I want you to look at me. Watch me do what I want you to watch me do. That definitely played a role in me becoming an actor.

When I was 14, I remember my dermatologist telling me about this new thing called a biologic that could clear psoriasis. I was technically too young to take it, but because my case was so severe, we would try it. However, the insurance company wouldn’t pay for it until I’d tried methotrexate. So I tried methotrexate for six months or maybe a year. And my skin actually started to clear.

Finally, when I was 15, I was put on a biologic. My skin cleared up slowly—but it did clear, for the first time. I wasn’t completely psoriasis-free until I was 19 and a sophomore in college.

The biologics changed my life. I never thought my skin would be clear. I never thought I would look like a “normal” person. Now that my skin has been clear for almost 10 years, psoriasis affects me differently. It’s not something I’m reminded of every day. But it’s really the linchpin around which all of the questions and problems and stresses in my life revolve. Dating, jobs, day-to-day life… it controls a lot. It has essentially made all my decisions for me. It’s still the umbrella under which my life operates.

I studied theater in college. I love performing, and I would love to act full-time for a living. But I’m not free to pursue that path—because of my condition, I need more stability than that life would provide. Like I said, the biologics changed my life. But they suppress my immune system. My body won’t react to these infections or show symptoms until they’re really serious, so I won’t even know I have them until it’s an emergency.

Having autonomy over my life is something that weighs on my mind a lot. I have to choose what I want more: the freedom to explore my passion, or a normal, psoriasis-free appearance. Thankfully, psoriasis is a surface issue—it’s not going to kill me if I’m not treating it. But mentally, how healthy will I be, covered in patches? Could I get work as an actor with psoriasis? What is the opportunity cost of that decision?

I’d love to figure out a way to reduce stress (a major trigger for my psoriasis) and maybe try some alternative therapies to treat my psoriasis, instead of relying on the biologics and binding my life to this disease. But the stress keeps coming, and it’s scary to think of setting aside years of my life to figure out how to keep my psoriasis clear without the medications.

I’m not angry about having psoriasis. I’ve never been good at anger. Psoriasis is one of the cards I’ve been dealt, but I’ve been dealt a lot of other cards. I’m smart, I have great friends and family, and I don’t have a deadly disease. I’m grateful for what I do have; I’m just still figuring out the rest.

A native of Eufaula, Alabama, Emma Yarbrough currently lives in Atlanta where she works as an arts administrator and part-time actor. Emma is an avid cook, dancer, and storyteller.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2015 Dec 18
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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.